How to free a snag and lose less tackle when fishing?

I just got back from a few days of trout fishing mountain streams. With all the mountain streams frozen solid, it had been a while since I had been fishing. So my casting was a bit rusty, over the 12 hours or so I spent fishing, I managed to lose half a dozen lures.

In this article, I will discuss ways to lose less tackle.

The best way to free a snagged lure or hook is to start by introducing slack into the line. Do this by opening the bail arm. With the tension removed, hooks often free themselves. When this fails, try pulling the hook free by applying pressure from different angles. If at all possible, it is best to apply pressure from the direction opposite to that which caused the hook to become snagged in the first place.

1) Be familiar with your gear.

To cast with any degree of accuracy, you must be familiar with your gear. The more time you spend fishing it, the more accurate you become, and that reduces the chance of overcasting and tangling stream side vegetation.

On my weekend trip, I was fishing with not only a new line, but also a new rod. So I kept overcasting, I was putting too much power into the cast which resulted in my lures getting stuck in the trees.

This is a case of practice makes perfect. With practice and familiarity with your gear, it is possible to hit the exact spot you are aiming for which reduces the chance of snags happening in the first place.

I remember I was once fishing a small river with a friend, and we were competing to see who could land the most trout. We were not being civilized and taking turns, but casting as quickly as possible trying to hit the best spots first.

Well, on that day, more often than not we were both casting to exactly the same spots at the same time so our lures kept colliding mid-flight. For two lures to collide mid-flight just goes to show how pinpoint accurate casts must have been. I did end up losing that head-to-head competition 3 trout to 5.

2) Make sure your gear is in good condition.

When trout fishing we often fish with line with a breaking strain between 2-6lb. Such thin diameters leave not much room for error. So it is of paramount importance, that all your fishing gear is working how it should. I will go through a short checklist for issues to look for.

  • Make sure the roller bearing on your reel is rotating smoothly. At times the roller can start to corrode and become seized. This greatly increases the abrasion the line experiences while fishing. If the roller is seized, sometimes it can be freed with a lubricant, but often it needs to be replaced.
  • Make sure your rod’s guides are smooth and not cracked, chipped or have any sharp edges. Any damage to the inserts of a guide can easily damage the line. The guide at the rod tip is by far the most important. It is also important to check to make sure the rod guides are aligned properly, if the tip guide is slightly crooked it will cause the line to cast off to the side destroying any resemblance of accuracy.
  • Check the line itself for damage. Look for abrasion, even a tiny amount of damage can cause line to break. Equally as important, is to make sure there are no wind knots in the line, a wind knot might seem harmless but they greatly reduce the breaking strain of the line. If you see knots or line damage, then you have to cut that section of line off and retie your terminal tackle.

4) Best ways to free snags

No matter how careful you are, and how accurate you cast snags do occur and when trout fishing they occur quite often. We often need to cast around structures because that is where trout live.

So what are the best ways to recover a snagged lure?

Well, the only surefire way to get a lure back is to wade out and retrieve it by hand. But, this is not always possible. Maybe the water is too deep, or like on my previous trip too cold. Other times, a spinner might end up high in a tree?, if you are very careless they can even become wrapped around power lines.

At other times, a lure might be easily retrievable, but doing so will spook every fish in the pond.

What I suggest doing, is to pause and observe how the lure is stuck.

Try and see how it is stuck, and what it is stuck to, and plan accordingly.

Normally it is a good idea to start by removing all tension from the line. Do so by opening the bail up, and removing all tension. Doing so can cause the lure to drop free, and the current will carry it away from the snags. Other times, the current will carry the slackline downstream and that pressure will pull the hook free of the snag.

My next action is to try and retrieve the lure from a different angle. If I am pulling the lure directly towards me, I will move either downstream or upstream and try and pull the lure away from the snag. This works very often.

There are also some commercially available hook retrieving products that work in a similar fashion, you clip them onto the line and work the tool out into the current where it pulls against the stuck the hook. Sometimes they work.

So, you tried everything, and the lure is still snagged?

Well, the only option is to use brute force.

The best way to brute force a snagged lure

But, I do not suggest upping the drag and pulling with your rod. Because doing so can easily break the rod or damage your reel.

It is best practice to place your rod down in a safe location, then wrap the line around a thick branch or solid object and use this to pull the line directly. This prevents unnecessary pressure from getting applied to your rod or reel.

Unless you enjoy line cuts, It is not a good idea to wrap the line around your hand and pull. But if you must do so, I suggest wearing a glove or at least using some clothing to protect your skin against cuts.

Even if you do decide to brute force, do not pull in just one direction. But mix it up a bit and change directions several times. Ideally, concentrate the pulling pressure in the opposite direction which caused the snag in the first place. It still might come free without breaking the line.

After brute forcing a lure back in, it is always a good idea to retie any knot. The extreme pressure can weaken them. Also check the line for other damage.

Things not to try to free a lure wrapped around a branch

So. When a lure gets caught on a branch. The first thing I do, out of laziness is to flick the lure off with my rod. This rarely works, and can even make the situation worst because the inertia encourages the lure to wrap itself even tighter around the branch. Bad habits are hard to break.

When that fails, I often try to force the lure by increasing the drag and trying to pull it free. Sometimes this works, but at other times it just forces the hook to dig in deeper. Breaking off, or moving the entire snag becomes the only option,

5) Throw rocks and things at the snagged hooks.

This tactic works best from the shore.

Sometimes hooks become snagged or caught just out of reach, in such cases, the simple act of throwing a rock or random objects can be used to dislodge the stuck hook.

Yesterday while fishing, my lures were often getting snagged on the shelf ice. So I started picking up rocks and chunks of ice and throwing it at the lure. The impact was often enough to push the lure free. Sometimes, the rocks broke the ice instead, which also freed the lures. Be careful, and try to hit the lure rather than just the line.

This technique can also work to break off dead tree branches that have caught lures.

6) Use a Rod, Oar, Paddle, or long branch to free snag lures.

When a lure is stuck just out of reach, another useful trick is to use a long object to try and free a stuck lure.

When kayaking, I often use my paddle to free lures by pushing the blade against them. But the same can be done with an oar, boat hook or even a sturdy tree branch.

Some people use the rod tip to do the same thing, but pushing too hard can easily damage the rod. So I advise against it.

7) Use a heavier fishing line to free a stuck lure,

Another trick worth using to free expensive lures is to deliberately snag the offending branch with a much more powerful rod and fishing line. Then brute force the offending object to the shore and manually recover the snagged lure. It is also possible to use a rope and cheap grappling hook.

Now, this technique only works if the snagged object is movable.

A submerged branch that is heavy enough to break a 4lb trout line, might be easy to free and recover if you were to snag it with a 30lb offshore setup. So when fishing from a boat, I always keep a heavy duty offshore setup onboard for just such occasions.

On more than one occasion I have pulled in submerged logs that contained multiple snagged lures and rusty hooks.

How to prevent snags from occurring?

There are some ways to reduce the likelihood of snags from occurring.

One of the best ways to reduce the number of snags is to change to single hooks. A single hook, is significantly less likely to snag than trebles. If I plan to fish around a lot of structures, I always try to use single hooks.

It is not something I personally do, but it is also possible to use a very soft hook. A hook that bends before the line breaks. That way if the lure gets snagged, you can apply enough pressure to straighten the hook and hopefully retrieve it. The downside of using such a soft hook, is that they can straighten during the fight.

On the subject hooks, I suggest pinching down all barbs. It is significantly harder to free a barbed hook from a snag (or your finger) than one that is smooth. So removing the barbs before fishing helps a lot.

Finally, some lure designs are less likely to snag than others. For example, the longer bade used on Rooster Tail spinners can at times act as a barrier preventing the hook from getting caught on the bottom. So if fishing around a lot of branches, then a Roostertail or any spinner that uses a willow leaf blade should snag less often.

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