Proper Stripping Technique for Fly Fishing
The other day at a presentation a person asked me “what is the most common error I see in my fly fishing guide trips”. My answer was without a doubt stripping technique. Maybe this is due to the fact that most fly fisherman are trained on trout rivers and streams with moving water. That being said, most trout anglers have also at some point experienced lake fishing, or will in the future. Even in streams and rivers, many anglers are realizing the value of throwing big streamers to aggressive browns and big rainbows. The proper stripping technique is something that I learned from salt water flats guides where the fishing is extremely technical and any mistake made by the angler will be taken advantage of by the fish. This materializes in lost fish, hookups missed, and on a tough day, that can be the difference between landing a few fish and going home skunked.
So what makes a bad strip and what makes a good strip? Well, it’s a very visual lesson that can be applied in a swimming pool or on your next fishing trip. In my first video clip, I am practicing the stripping errors that I most commonly see. If you look at my rod, it is pointed out toward the fly and it is not in close proximity to the surface of the water. The tip is approximately 2-3 feet above the surface and what happens is that I get a bow in the line. So when I strip, instead of having direct contact with the fly, my line has to clear this bow first. When I make a strip instead of getting 12 inches of movement in the fly, or the full strip, I might only get 6 inches, or half a strip’s worth. Not only does this impede action on the fly, but it also leaves slack in my line. When a fish strikes my fly, I now have to clear this bow and get a minimal amount of fly movement which leads to a weak hook set, less hook penetration, and a lost fish. We may think that the fish did not eat or that we set the hook too soon, or too late, when in reality our rod position had us doomed from the start. In this clip I also demonstrate a few other mistakes in the technique. The first is body position; I am very upright causing the rod to stay high above the water. My knees are stiff and my back is perpendicular to the water’s surface. As a result, when I stand like this is becomes hard to make an anatomically correct strip and I end up pulling line to the side away from my body. This error leads to line being laid down wrong under me and more chances of stepping on line or wrapping it around obstacles, for instance boat features, or on land, it goes into sticks and shrubs. All the makings of a frustrating experience…
In the next video clip you will see me bend at the knees, my back is more parallel to the water and my whole body is lower to the water in a much better attack position. This slight adjustment also makes it easier for me to keep the rod tip closer to the water and depending on the amount of wind chop on the surface; I may even want the tip of my rod in the water, breaking the surface tension. So now, there is no bow in the line and when I make a strip, the full length of my arm movement is reflected in the movement of the fly. The fly itself receives a sharper pull and better “kick” from the materials which imparts more action to entice a fish to strike. The lower attack position also sets me up for a more anatomically correct strip. I can pull straight down from the rod toward the ground. Not only will this keep you from tendonitis type pains at the end of the day, but it will also keep you fishing longer before fatigue sets in because you are able to use gravity to help throw your line straight down, leaving your muscles with more energy for casting and fighting fish. The fly line will make smaller and more manageable coils that stay in place, facilitating the next cast. Another advantage to the body position is when I do get a strike, I can lift at the torso and use more force on the hookset and control head shakes from the fish with the rod.
Use these tips to create a more effective stripping technique which will result in less fish lost and less fatigue. I always say, when you make technical errors in fly fishing, you end up working much harder than you need to. Good luck!