Long-time friend, Bob Pelzl, slip-striking a big ‘bow on one of the lakes on the Vermejo Ranch property.
Striking a fish—from trout to tarpon—properly requires more than just rearing back and hoping for the best. For trout anglers, the “slip-strike” method of hook-setting is an important skill to learn, especially when fishing with light tippets.
The slip-strike technique applies when there is little or no slack on the water between rod tip and fly. This method requires the angler to allow line to slip through the guides on the set (Figure 1). With a normal strike, a dearth of slack may result in too much sudden pressure on the terminal tackle, and that’s that (and who hasn’t been there before?). Lots of pressure may be desirable when hitting big fish with heavy leaders, but it can be trouble when wispy tippets (and potentially still-sizable fish) are involved.
Figure 1. Allowing line to slip (1) through the guides as the rod tip is raised (2).
If there is no slack at all (as might occur when retrieving with the rod-tip close to the surface), then line will have to be slipped during much of hook-set motion. Taking into account the factors of rod-bend, line-stretch, and the line-angle, the total amount of line slipped under such circumstances equals approximately 2/3 the rod’s length. That slippage would leave the rod in a near-vertical position with only the upper section showing much bend. Keep in mind that the idea of “near-vertical” is really only applicable when striking, well, vertically. If you need to strike to the side, you can also slip-strike, and the rod will have a similar bend, just expressed at a different angle.
If there is already slack on the water, the slippage becomes reduced in accordance. For example, with 3 feet of slack on the water and a 9-foot rod, slip perhaps 3 feet of line out on the strike. This may seem a difficult factor to judge at first, but with very little practice it soon becomes second nature (try it on the lawn and see how much line you need to slip to get various results).
In a situation where there is little or no available slack to slip (just after the initial presentation, for example), you can simply allow line to run freely from the reel as the rod is lifted (this is sometime called a “reel strike”). It is, of course, important that the reel’s drag be pre-set to a level light enough to prevent snapping the tippet.
Once the fish is on, you may indeed want to change rod angles from the slip-strike position. A slip-strike can help to initially “clean” (lift) line from the water, which may be useful, but then be ready to move the rod into a different position (perhaps rather quickly) depending on the circumstances.