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How to Set the Hook on Trout Every Time

We’ve all been there—you have a trout on the line, but before you could set the hook, it steals the bait and swims off. As frustrating as this can be, there are some tips that can change your game and help you set the hook on a trout, every time (well, almost every time).

To set the hook on a trout, you first have to keep your line tight and wait for the fish to strike. Once it does, you can either jerk the rod over your shoulder or twist at the waist. Timing is more important than force.

Now that we know how to set a hook, what other tips can help us set that trophy trout more often? Well, there are a few.

What size hook to use for trout fishing

If you’re new to fishing, then you may not know that as the hook’s size number goes up, the actual size gets smaller.

For example, a size 10 hook is smaller than a size 8.

Now, when you’re fishing for trout, using the right sized hook is paramount. In most scenarios, the best-sized hooks to use are sizes 14-8. These will work for most bait and lures when fishing for trout.

Trout have smaller mouths than bass and other popular game fish, so using a smaller hook is suggested.

If you use a hook too large, there’s a chance the trout will spot it and choose not to bite, or bite the bait only to feel the hook and spit it out. There’s also the possibility of the bait being stolen off of larger hooks. If this happens to you, consider downsizing the hook (and probably the size of bait too).

What size hook to use for rainbow trout

Rainbow trout are some of the most popular and fun trout to catch in North America. You’ll likely find much of the stocked trout you come across are rainbows. Because of this, they were likely raised on corn pellets and have a natural preference for it.

While many different kinds of lures and bait are effective, they commonly require small hooks to set the trout.

Either way, stocked or not, when it comes to rainbow trout, hook sizes 4-8 work best.

The sizing will come down to what kind of bait you’re using, so make sure to carry a small variety of hook sizes.

What size hook to use for brown trout

Brown trout, sometimes golden or silver in color, are originally from Germany, and can be caught in most states in the US.

For brown trout, using a hook smaller than a size 4 works well. Brown trout normally take bait such as nightcrawlers, minnows, and spawn and prefer smaller hooks. Any bigger and they’ll likely spot it.

What size hook to use for brook trout

Brook trout are actually not a trout and part of the Char species. An easy way to tell them apart is by their “worm-like” markings on their back. Unlike brown trout, brook trout are actually native to eastern North America.

Since brook trout can be smaller than other species, a size 12-16 hook is most often used.

For bait and lures, smaller spinners, worms, and grasshoppers work exceptionally well for brook trout.

How to set a hook when spin and bait-casting

Setting the hook while spin or bait-casting is fairly straight-forward. For starters, you can either choose to snap the rod upward or to your side. While setting to the side can work, it can be more difficult to keep the line taught and the hook engaged. For this reason, many prefer to snap the rod upward when setting the hook, and keeping it at a 45º angle.

A good rule after you set the hook is to keep reeling the line in when you can, but not pulling too tight (after all, the fight is part of the fun, right?). If you feel the line getting too tight, it could snap, so make sure you check your drag. You do want some drag to reduce line tension and allow the trout to tire out. Reeling in trout should be a give-and-take.

As long as you keep the line slack to a minimum, and tilt the rod either upwards or to your side, the trout should stay engaged and the hook set.

How to set a hook when fly fishing

Setting the hook when fly fishing is similar, except that the fly is usually sitting on top of the water. If you see any movement in the fly at all, any twitches, you should try setting the hook. Chances are a trout has been testing it.

When it comes to setting a hook on trout while fly fishing, there are a couple of different methods.

Strip set

A common way to set a hook on trout is to use a strip set method. This involves pulling in the slack that you have on your fly fishing line with your hand while keeping your rod still. Only a light force should be used – a small tug with your hand will work fine. From there, angle the rod to the side and allow the fish to tire out while still keeping a taught line.

Lift set

If you aren’t a fan of the strip set method, then you may want to try a lift set. Start by keeping the line a bit more taught, and when you see or feel the lure getting tugged, lift the fly rod upward or to the side while keeping tension on the line with your hand. If you can do both at the same time, the hook should set.

When performing a lift set while fly fishing, it’s a good idea to use more side-pressure than upward-pressure. You want the trout to tire out as opposed to dragging the trout to the water’s surface. While this upward approach might work for spinning reels, it’s less effective when fly fishing.

How to take a hook out

To easily take a hook out of a trout, get a firm grip on the trout either by the body or the mouth. Grab the eye of the hook and push backwards toward the belly of the trout. The hook should come free without much twisting or pulling.

If you’re using a lure with multiple hooks on it, there’s a chance that the fish can flail and hook your hand. In this case, it can be best to hold the fish by the body or tail.

What to do if a trout swallows the hook

If a trout swallows a hook, you’re going to need a set of needle-nose pliers. You can start by holding the fish up by the mouth with one hand. If the hook is shallow enough, you can try to take it out with the pliers. If it’s deeper, then try carefully navigating through the gills with the pliers to remove the hook.

It’s important to have a firm grip on the trout’s mouth so it doesn’t cause further issues.

If you can’t fit the pliers through the mouth, don’t force it as it can damage the trout’s mouth. Instead, consider going through one of the gills.

If you do have to go through the gills, pass the pliers through the gills gently, and grab the base of the hook. Point the eye of the hook towards the belly of the trout and with a small amount of force, it should release. Keep holding the trout and its mouth open while slowly pulling the released hook out.

Additional tips:

Go with a light setup

Even though you can catch trout on a heavier setup, by using a light or ultralight rig, you’ll have an easier time feeling the line for bites. And when it’s easier to feel the bites, it’s easier to set the hook. A light setup can also be more fun and challenging to reel in the trout.

Plan ahead

Do your research on which hooks, bait, and rigs work best for the type of trout you’re catching. Bring multiple baits and lures so you can adjust if they aren’t likely a particular one.