5 Reasons You Keep Losing Fish (+How to Improve)

An angler's guide to the 5 main reasons why you keep losing fish, and how to improve it in a long run and catch more!

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the five main reasons why you keep losing fish.

Some people might call me an experienced angler or guide, but one thing that I know for certain is that I’m an absolute expert at losing fish.

A rainbow trout jumping out of water

If there’s one person that can really teach you about losing fish and show you all the mechanics behind losing fish, it’s me.

I’ve made all the mistakes in the book, and I’ve put in a lot of time and effort at losing fish. The only other person in the world that I know of who loses more fish than me on a consistent basis is Chris, our videographer.

Now, I’ve really become an expert at losing fish, and I thought that it’d be a good idea to share all this knowledge of mine with you so that you don’t have to keep losing fish.

Let’s dive in.

Watch the 5 Reasons You Keep Losing Fish (+How To Improve) Video

YouTube video

#5 Incorrect Tippet

I’ll start off this list in reverse order, and I’ll end it with the main reason why I think you keep losing fish.

For number 5, we have the incorrect tippet for the application.

I’ll exaggerate a bit to illustrate my point. You won’t fish 5X fluorocarbon tippet to a giant trevally, and you won’t fish 100 pound monofilament leader to a trout. It just wouldn’t work, and it just doesn’t make sense.

tippet ring step 1

You need to match the breaking strain of the tippet to the intended application. In short, if you’re using too-light tippet, you’ll break the fish off, and if you’re using too-thick tippet, the tippet will either not go through the hook’s eye or the fish will be spooked and refuse the fly.

I’ll focus on trout and similar freshwater species for the purpose of this article. There’s no hard and fast rule, like a rule in the bible or something, that says you can’t use this or you can’t use that for a fish, but this is what I use.

For rod weights between 1 and 3 weight, even including Euro nymph rods, I use 5-7X.

If you go to 7X, it allows you to become undetectable to the fish, and the rods are light enough that they don’t snap off the light tippet.

For rods between 3 and 5 weight, I fish 5X, 4X, and 3X. In stillwaters I’ll go to 3X.

In larger rivers, you can fish streamers with 3X, and then for larger rods — 6, 7, or 8 weights — I go 3X, 2X, 1X, and even 0X, if I’m really fishing to larger fish.

#4 Setting the Hook

The number 4 reason why I think you keep losing fish goes hand-in-hand with tippet selection. I think people generally set too hard.

If you’re using sharp hooks on most freshwater species, a short and firm little set is absolutely perfect.

Blank Hook in Fly Tying Vice

Remember, you’re not trying to set a massive 10/0 hook into a great white jaw. It’s really not necessary, and you’ll keep breaking off. A short and dedicated set will absolutely do the job.

The more you fish and the more time you spend with your rig, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become in your tippet, your complete leader, and how hard you can set.

For instance, I know that if I have my 10’ 3wt Nymphmaniac in hand, I can set quite hard because it’s a long and forgiving rod. But I can’t set in the same way if I use light tippets on a 6 weight. It’ll simply break off.

Spend as much time as you can on the water with your rig, and you’ll build confidence and get to know it very well.

#3 Tension

One of the biggest reasons why inexperienced anglers keep losing fish is tension.

Especially when you’re fishing barbless hooks, and I really recommend all anglers fish with barbless hooks, the tension and the bend in your rod are the only things that keep the fish connected to you.

tips to stop losing fish

Especially with bigger fish that have a little bit more common sense, if you lose tension, it’s only a matter of time until they shake their head once or twice. The instant on-and-off of tension makes the fly pop out, and you lose the fish.

If you use the correct tippet for the application and your knots are tied well, don’t be scared to apply quite a lot pressure and put a bend in the rod.

It’s that bend that absorbs all of the shocks that the fish produces when it shakes its head and runs up and down the river. This is what keeps the fish connected to you.

Also, the more tension you apply, the quicker the fight will be over and the better it is for the fish.

#2 Blunt Hooks

Number 2 on my list of why you keep losing fish is blunt hooks. I don’t hear enough people speak about this.

How many times have you had a fish eat your fly, you have a good bend, you keep tension, and just as the fish turns, the fly comes out?

Now, it’s fine if it happens once or twice. It might have just caught the fish in the incisors or the top jaw, and the fish just managed to pull it out under tension.

But if this keeps happening consistently, fish after fish, you really need to start looking to see if your hooks aren’t blunt.

Check the very smallest part of the hook point, the very tip. Sometimes when you look at the hook, you think it’s sharp, but once you really zoom in, you’ll see there’s a slight kink. This is what prevents the hook from really penetrating into the fish’s jaw.

Especially after you’ve hooked to the bottom while Euro nymphing, casted into a branch, or anything like that, make sure to check those hooks.

If you get into this habit of checking your hooks, I ensure you that you’ll start losing a lot less fish.

#1 Knots

The number one reason why I think you keep losing fish is knots.

I spend a lot of time on rivers. When I’m guiding, I tie my knots and tie the knots for the clients. I also spend a lot of time with friends or family on the water. It’s really crazy to see how little effort or knowledge people put in to knots.

Now, I don’t consider myself a knot-tying expert at all. I have maybe three or four that I use in fresh water and three or four for salt water, and I stick to them.

Tutorial How To Tie a Clinch Knot

It’s the “I-stick-to-them” knots that make a great knot. If I tie a standard clinch knot and if my wife ties a standard clinch knot, there’s a great difference.

It’s something that you need to get used to and practice. This is what makes knots good or bad, whether they hold or if they slip or fail.

You need to select your knots and practice them as much as possible. Don’t use a knot on the river if you’re not really confident and haven’t practiced it at home.

If you know a knot, you don’t even need to test it. You simply make it, and by the way you see the knot set, you’ll know if it’ll hold or not. If it deviates from what you know it should look like, there’s a good chance that it’ll break off.

Like they say, if you can’t tie knots, tie lots.

In Conclusion

Losing a fish is never a great experience to digest, especially if it’s a really good, healthy, or large specimen.

Sometimes it’s just bad luck. The fish pulls, the hook isn’t correctly set, the fish outruns you, and you lose the fish. But it’s really sad to lose fish if it’s something really small that’s actually in your control.

I believe that if you concentrate on the five things that I mentioned above, it’ll greatly improve your catch rate.

If you found this article helpful and insightful, please check out our Youtube channel for the video. Turn on notifications, and we can let you know as soon as we release any future videos like it.

Until next time, cheers.

Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates.

As a part of the Amazon Associates Program and other affiliate programs, Into Fly Fishing® may receive a comission if you order products through links on this website.


Pierre is a fly fishing guide and professional photographer who has guided and hosted trips for top fly fishing outfitters. Since being introduced to fly fishing over 21 years ago, he has travelled, fished and guided across the globe. He has extensive knowledge on specific gear and tackle selection for various salt- and freshwater species. Some of his writing work includes blogposts for Alphonse Fishing Company and African Waters.

You may also like...

Master fly rod casting effortlessly with my guide, enhancing your fly fishing skills for a seamless experience on the water.
brown trout feeding
Master the art of fly fishing brown trout with our ultimate guide. Tips, techniques, and insights for successful fly fishing adventures.
rainbow trout's diet
Master the art of fly fishing for vibrant rainbow trout with our expert tips and destinations. Start your adventure today