Fly Fishing Line Retrieval Techniques

Fly Fishing Line Retrieval Techniques

How is Your Line Retrieval Method?

Line retrieval methods for improving fly fishing include various techniques depending on the situation at hand. Many anglers think of line retrieval as simply stripping in fly line to keep in contact with the fly pattern. Line retrieval includes this and much more. The method also enables the angler to present the pattern in the most natural way to the fish. In other words, the technique of retrieval often plays a large role for active presentations to represent life to the fly pattern. Active presentations include methods that you impart action to the fly. Examples of active presentation include streamer tactics, wet fly tactics for minnow mayfly hatches, and others.

The retrieval method plays an integral part in your overall casting abilities. The retrieval method you choose to develop is a line storage mechanism. The fly line should not be stored in numerous coils or in the water because both will require increased false casting ­that should be kept to a minimum. Many small coils have a tendency for fly line knots at the first stripping eyelet (animation below). Fly line should not be left on the water during the retrieval because it has a tendency to wrap around the angler, rock, sticks, and other objects.

Surface Tension and Fly Casting

Fly line and the surface of the water have a strong attraction due to the surface tension that hinders shooting fly line from the water. Most anglers could all stand to reduce their false casts to one back cast and the final delivery cast. The traditional method of storing numerous small coils will never enable the angler to shoot fly line great distances. Many casters practice shooting line on dry land but when it comes down to executing this on the water it is usually a different story. Below are a few of the techniques worth learning to increase your efficiency in the stream.


The method you choose to use on the water should enable you to keep in contact with your artificial so that when the strike occurs you have a chance to set the hook. For example, suppose you are angling for trout on a steep mountain stream that has a flow rate of 8 fps (feet per second). The traditional retrieval method of stripping little coils below the rod hand will not keep up with the fast water flows­. If you stay with the traditional retrieve, you will tire quickly because you must work frantically all the time to remove the excess fly line from the water. The solution is to learn another method!

Vector Pull Method for Trout Fishing

The line retrieval method should also minimize the amount of motion made by the angler. Line retrieval methods for improving fly fishing include many methods. The traditional retrieval method of stripping below the rod hand produces the maximum amount of movement you could use on the water. Fish are wild creatures whose very lives depend on such cues as subtle movements. Minimize your motion on the stream by implementing a line retrieval that matches the water fished and the pattern used. The vector pull method offers well over 400% less motion between you and the fish. It also manipulates four times the amount of fly line for each retrieve.

Traditional methods of line retrieval are poor choices for removing large slack build up in the fly line. Setting the hook and learning to play fish is just as important as fly casting. Fly casting and fly fishing is a game of angles when making presentations. Those who make it join the elite few anglers who are successful have perfected their angles. It is a double-edged blade at best. Beginner anglers want to fish with “straight line” on the water so they can capitalize on the hookup. They are often missing dozens of fish that were willing to take their fly if it could only be presented naturally without drag.

Minimize Movements for Trout Fishing

Another added benefit of using this method is that it remains very smooth! The mono sighter when tight-lining is not bouncing all over which makes it easy to detect strikes. Most of the time when watching folks tight line they strip lots of short pulls which bounces the rod tip. The less the tip bounces when dead drifting the better for strike detection.

As soon as the fly moves in a direction that is not natural then it is called drag (like a leaf floating down the stream). The vector pull methods for setting the hook can remove over 24′ of slack in an instant. Learning to set the hook by striking low and implementing the vector pull is the key to rarely ever miss a strike. Striking low uses the surface tension of the water to aid in setting the hook. The classic rod held high position is one of surest methods for having poor hook up ratios during the strike.

The vector pull method can match the speed of a large fish swimming directly towards the angler. This sometimes happens on heavily pressured waters. The fish often gets off when slack is created due to the fish swimming toward the angler. The vector pull can match the speed in the majority of these kinds of examples when others fail. Hundreds of clients have claimed that their percentages of hookups increased dramatically once they perfected the vector pull technique. This technique has aided numerous anglers that I have had the opportunity to teach and it is sure to improve your hookup ratios. The technique is illustrated in the animation below.

Vector Pull Animated


The vector pull technique appeared in Fly Fisherman magazine in February 1996. This technique has helped thousands of anglers increase their hookup percentages. The technique is thoroughly illustrated in the book Casting Angles. It is my standard method of retrieval for working water with dries and nymphs. The motion seems awkward to newcomers at first, but it quickly becomes learned with a small amount of practice. The real advantage of the technique is that it is the only one I know of that can keep all casting on the stream to one back cast and a delivery cast (it also increases hookups as well). Your line retrieval enhances your cast as well as your hook up percentage!

Hand Twist Retrieve


The hand twist retrieve is a must for the nymph fisherman. The motion begins with the palm up and proceeds to the palm downward position. Many think of this retrieval as simply used in very slow waters. The hand retrieval is not designed for fast water flows, but when mastered correctly offers the fly fisher many advantages. The line hand is always in direct contact with the fly line during the hand retrieve, which ­increases sensitivity. This can be incredibly productive while rolling the bottom depths nymph fishing.

Strip Retrieve

The strip retrievals for fly fishing are used mainly for active presentations. For example, large streamers are typically more productive by teasing them through the water column at varying rates. Strip the line slowly from below the rod hand and end the last few inches with a quick, short strip. It is similar to the traditional retrieve except that the slow quick motions for imparting action to the fly are quite different. This imparts a life-like undulating motion to the materials used in the fly’s construction like marabou or fur strips.

This action may also be replicated by flicking the rod tip after each retrieve. A productive retrieve for mayfly swimmers that closely represents the naturals is very short strips of only a few inches. All retrievals can use a subtle shaking of the rod tip during the retrieve that is often quite productive for hopping, skating, and dancing the fly during heavy egg laying for dry flies.

The strip retrieve is not an ideal method for passive presentations. Passive presentation refers to drag-free drifts. The top animation of coils illustrates a common occurrence on the stream for many anglers. The method you choose for line retrieval plays a large role in preventing frustration. Large loop coils help prevent knots on the stripping eyelet ­for good. Practice these techniques on dry land several times before implementing them on the water.