How to Feed Fish Like a Pro

Simple steps for the best fly fishing presentation in salt.

September 6, 2022
pat ford_onthefly
Tarpon on fly tackle is no easy task, so make sure your fishing fundamentals are strong when the opportunity presents itself. Pat Ford

The most important thing to do after a good cast is to remain calm and pay attention to the reaction of the fish. If it spooks, so be it — move on to the next one. If it doesn’t, resist the urge to immediately begin haphazardly stripping your fly. You never want to strip for the sake of stripping. Move the fly with purpose.

If you find an extra-happy fish, sometimes the splat of the fly hitting the water kicks them into feeding mode, and you don’t have to do anything besides strip-set — setting the hook with a pull on the line — and enjoy the fight. But if you make a presentation to a lackadaisical fish and it doesn’t spook or eat right away, let the fly sink, ­creating the impression of a crab or shrimp seeking safety on the bottom. Many times this lifelike movement convinces the fish it has found its next meal. If your fly hits the bottom and you haven’t gotten a favorable reaction, begin your stripping sequence. A fish can’t eat what it doesn’t see, and the goal of your initial strip is to make sure the fish sees your fly. Once the fish sees the fly, you’ll know if it wants to eat. The trick is feeding fish that don’t want to eat.

Stripping and Stopping When Fly Fishing

Once you’ve made your first strip and the fish notices your fly, follow this general rule: If the fish gives chase, stop and let it drop. If it doesn’t, strip again.


Predatory fish know that shrimp and crabs stand the best chance of escape on the bottom. When prey flees, predators panic, and panic forces the feed. You want to create a sense of urgency, give the impression that the fish’s meal is about to get away. Stripping is the technique that gets the fish’s interest; dropping the fly is the tactic that gets the fish to commit to eating it.

Avoid the natural tendency to move the fly continuously. This might keep the fish interested, but if you never stop the fly, you run the risk of spooking the fish. Remember, you want the fish to eat and therefore, you have to give it a chance to do so. When you stop the fly, you allow the fish to catch up to its meal. If you don’t give it that opportunity, you run the risk of teasing the fish too close to the boat, where it is likely to spook.

Strip-Setting When Fly Fishing

Trout-setting — lifting the rod to set the hook — remains the cardinal sin among saltwater fly-fishermen. ­Trout-setting works great in rivers and streams, but in salt water, a strip-set greatly increases the odds of a solid hookup. We’ve established that by strategically stripping and stopping your fly, you can effectively get fish to commit, but as a bonus, this same action sets you up for a proper strip-set. Why? Because when you stop stripping to let the fly drop, you instinctively move your line hand back into position for another strip, and a strip-set is basically the same motion, only a little longer and harder. If you are continually stripping the fly and the fish catches up to it, there’s a good chance the fish will eat when you are at the end of your strip, with little range to strip-set. You want your line hand near the reel when you begin the strip-strike so you have room for a long, firm strip.


Once the fish eats the fly, don’t pull it out of its mouth. That might sound easy, but when you see the pectoral fins flare and the mouth open, even the best anglers can get buck fever. Strip naturally until you feel weight, then strip again, so you’re certain the fish is on, before you lift your rod.


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