Bass Basics: Setting the hook and reeling in the prize

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Logan Crumley

How do you know when a fish bites? Several things could happen. You might feel a hard jerk on your line or see the line move. If you’re using a bobber and it goes completely underwater, that’s a sure sign. But a slight movement of the float could mean a fish is about to swallow your bait or lure, too.

When one of these things happens, you should reel in slack and keep your line taut. This increases sensitivity so you can feel the bite and be ready to set the hook, an action that causes the hook point and barb to penetrate the fish’s mouth, reducing its chance of escape.

After you reel in the slack, point the rod tip toward the fish and then snap the rod tip back, either toward your shoulder or to the side. Then, after snapping the rod, begin reeling. This is important because it helps ensure the fish gets hooked. From this point, keep constant pressure on the fish and reel it toward you as it tires.

Fish react in different ways to the sting of the hook. Some jump. Some head for cover. Some swim straight away. It’s up to you to play, or fight, the fish properly until it is near enough to land.

Playing small fish is easy. They’re not strong enough to give you much of a fight except on extremely light tackle. Playing big strong fish like bass, catfish, pike, stripers and muskies is another story altogether, especially when light tackle is used. With heavier rods and stronger line, you may be able to power them in quickly. But on lighter tackle, the job will be more difficult and time-consuming. Play the fish carefully or you risk losing it.