If you’re swinging wet flies in a rocky river like the Dean, your fly is occasionally going to hang up. Flies snagged on wood can be difficult or impossible to remove, but flies snagged on a rock can really frequently be freed without ever leaving your spot.
The belly of your swinging fly line pulls steadily on your fly. As your fly comes around during the swing, if it hangs up on a rock it’s probably going to be on the side of the rock away from you, and downriver. The problem is that the force of the river current pulling on the fly line keeps the fly in place on the rock. The key to a quick and easy hook exit is to remove that pressure on the belly of the line. Here’s how!
- When your fly hangs up in mid-swing, make a roll cast that lands the head on the outside of the spot your fly has hung. This is critical – if your head lands inside the fly, you’re not going to be able to pull it free. Note that if you’re swinging with a tight line, you may need to pull off a couple of strips of running line before you make your roll cast, in order to shoot some line and get your head outside the snagged fly.
- As the head floats downriver outside the spot of your snagged fly, pull off another couple of long strips of line. You need enough line out that your head can be swept below the spot of the snag, still outside the fly.
- Once your head gets downriver of the snag, lift your rod hard, like doing a vertical hook set. Your running line will come tight against your head, and since your head is downriver of the fly, the force of the river will release the tension on the fly and pull it downriver. Voila – you’re free!
- Reel up some line (remember you stripped off a bunch). Take a step down so you don’t bury your fly into that same rock again. Keep fishing.
SAFETY ALERT: No fly is worth going for a swim in sketchy fast water. If your fly is snagged up in mellow shallow water and this method fails, fair enough – walk down and grab it. If it’s hung up in the meat of the swing, or if you have any doubt whatsoever about being able to retrieve it safely, just break it off and re-tie. You’ll be safer, and you’re much better off from a fishing standpoint to not tromp through the water you’re about to fish on a fly retrieval mission.