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Fish Charges Downriver, Should I Break It Off?

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Another thread reply that got pretty in depth and I thought worth saving here

My streamer rigs are stepped down in tolerance from a 50 pound double loop at the tip of the fly line to the 12 pound tippet. Various connections are 25 or 35 pound so if a fish breaks off it is the tippet that goes. That heavy braided loop at the tip of my lines is more about protecting my welded loop line than the break strength. All of my backings are 30 pound strength and I make sure I have good knots connecting backing to the rear of my fly lines. If you have 30 pound back line and a 12 or 15 pound tippet it should be the knot at the fly that snaps not the backing connection. It is also worth mentioning that my fly lines are all in the 140 foot total length range so you have a lot of time to figure things out before you see back line going through the tip. I haven't been into backing for many years and of course I'll be happy to tell you why I think that is

Because I live where I do I have frequent encounters with fish capable of doing what you describe. Some fish just decide that the shock of being hooked is too much to deal with and they will bolt downriver. It has taken years and many experiences with fish to figure something out. When I say figure something out I am not suggesting that my fix always works but I'd go as far to say that it works about 85% of the time.

The fix: When a fish bolts our response is usually to tighten the drag and try to stop them. This is the natural response I think but as I said, I've had some practice which is a luxury many folks don't have before their encounter with a truly large fish.

I have found that once I know that a fish is solidly hooked it pays to determine the fishes reaction to being hooked and to make the determination as quick as I can. What do I mean by determination? I mean is the fish a runner or a slugger who will primarily stay in the immediate area where it was hooked and thrash around to some extent. When I get a runner, if it goes upstream I let the drag do its work. If it goes downriver I release the drag completely.

Remember, this is my own experiences to which I am referring and I do not say it works 100% of the time but..................

Think about it, you have a fish hooked and are putting tension on its head and jay trying to pull it toward you. The fish is frightened and will do the only thing it can to escape the unknown threat that has hold of its jaw and in pulling. It will go the opposite direction. Most of them in a fairly swift current will instinctively use the current and go downstream. This is not premeditated on the part of the fish, it is a survival instinct so they turn away and run.

If you release the tension way before the fish has stripped an entire fly line and is pulling off the backing, most will slow down right away. A very high percent of those I catch will actually stop the downstream rush and turn back toward where they were at before being hooked. Whether they are trout, steelhead or salmon they have to some extent became familiar with the place they were living or holding at prior to being involved with you and your fly. This familiarity with a certain portion of the bottom structure and currents I believe gives a fish a sense of security and home presence. My observation is that they seek to return to that spot if allowed to do so.

Now I know this sounds preposterous to release the drag early on but remember this fish has indicated that it intends to go downstream. I generally couple the release of tension with my own downstream movement unless conditions will not allow me to move down. If your release of tension does not stop the run and you see the fly line go through the tip top it's time to start thinking about stopping the reel and snapping the tippet.

I know it may be difficult for readers to try this technique but possibly not either. I have seen 40 pound king salmon leisurely swim back to the exact area where they were holding prior to grabbing my fly. The same goes for all other species of salmon and trout also. Let them relax, quit pulling on them and they calm down pretty quickly.

Once a hooked fish has calmed and moved back into the channel where it was prior to being hooked I begin to slowly exert some side pull pressure. his is done with rod tip near the surface or land if I'm on shore and you try to bring the fish nearer to your position. Pull by pull easing up if they start to show signs of bolting again and you will move the fish closer. This is done with the age old pump and reel technique deep sea fishermen have used ever since they had reels. You use the rods leverage to pull, you use the rods length to lift them toward the surface then quickly reel up the slack and drop back near the water level and pull again.

When you are able to turn a fish right at you, head first, this is the green light to back off away from shore and reel fast as you go. They are great at stripping a reel when tearing off down rive with you upstream and to their rear but they can't swim backwards worth a damm! Once I turn one (a big one) head first coming at me very few are not landed. Drag a big one into about 3 or 4 inches of the calmest water you can find then lost the rod because it'll take both hands to subdue the fish. Big one means control the tail. Once you have the wrist bone at the caudal fin in your grip you have the fish.

When you have the fish of a lifetime hooked I don't recommend allowing anyone to try netting the fish. A true monster will outsize all but the largest nets and unless the fish has been played to the point of exhaustion many are broke off when they see the net or net man close. Not very elegant but dragging a big boy into the shallows is the best method I've found.

I don't know if that is of any help to the original question but it's too late now, I wrote that. I could write at great lengths about the things I've observed and then put into practice which have proved to be useful at least for me.


  1. corn fed fins's Avatar
    I'm from the same attic space of thought about fish running down river. The "no force" felt allows them to calm down but this can be for just seconds. When line gets stripped and I release the drag, these down river fish typically eddy out rather quickly(next hole) BUT if they swim back up the eddy and/or the excess line is pulled by the current, many take off again as line pressure returned. So, if I can get down to where they eddied before this occurs I'm golden as I can keep them there. If the bank requires a bit of negotiation I can almost guarantee that this fish resume a down river marathon. In those cases options are limited; attempt it again or break the tippet. So, for me, it becomes a game of should I attempt to turn the fish, risk pulling the fly, or playing a down river game. For me, while wading, this decision all depends on the location in the hole where the fish was hooked. Hooked in the current and I let them run. Hooked outside the current and it makes a run for the current, I attempt the turn. I would say I'm 50/50 on either of the options. Current or turning fish, accompanied with tiny flies, don't bode well for landing odds. lol
  2. Ard's Avatar
    Hello and thanks for sharing your experience regarding the down river charge. I didn't go into the business of line tension because I was running a bit long as was but you are quite right about the line bowing with the current and placing tension on the connection at the fishes end. One thing that helps to some degree is that I am using 13 1/2 foot to 15 foot rods so line control can sometimes be a little better than with shorter rods.

    Good point you've made,