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Using a Sweep Set

by Philip Monahan

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Question: I was on the river the other day, and this guy downstream from me was catching a lot of fish (way more than me). I noticed that whenever he set the hook, he pulled his rod to the side, rather than going straight up with his rod tip, the way I was taught to. What was he doing?

Matt I., Bethel, CT

Answer: My guess is that he was using a sweep set. This is a useful technique when you’re either fishing downstream or have a lot of slack on the water—for instance when you’re making slack-line casts, such as a pile cast or a curve cast. Because there’s a lot of slack on the water, if you simply raise your rod tip, all you’re doing is picking up the slack. Depending on how much slack you have between you and your fly, you might never even put any tension on the fly itself this way. No tension on the fly often means no hookup.

Sweep SetThe sweep set uses the water tension on the line to apply pressure. You’re not trying to pick up the slack; instead you’re counting on the tension along the line to transfer energy down to the fly. Think about how the current pushing on your line makes your fly swing at the end of a drift. It’s the same principle at work in the sweep set. By pulling on the line, you’re kind of creating an artificial current.

To make a sweep set, you sweep your rod horizontally toward the bank behind you, keeping the rod parallel to the water’s surface. At the same time, haul the line with your non-rod-hand. Always sweep to your downstream side. Otherwise, you’ll drag the line across your body, where it can get snagged by your vest/jacket or any tools you have hanging from it. Once the fish is hooked, you can raise your rod and start stripping like a madman to pick up the slack and establish a connection to the fish.

Because most of us have been taught to raise our rod tip to set the hook, employing the sweep set requires concentration and discipline. I usually make a mental note at the end of every cast to remind myself what I should do if I get a strike. For more on downstream fishing and slack line casts, check out this previous column.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • Art Chapman

    The answer is always obvious once a smart guy like Phil points it out. Thanks.

  • loomistic

    Setting the hook  in this manner  pulls  the fly  into the  fish’s mouth instead of  away from it.

  • Chuckandaudre

    He was likely a saltwater fly
    fisher, there the “trout set” is scoffed at, the strip set (rod pointed at the
    fish, line striped in with the line hand follow by a sweep) is the preferred
    approach with the rod tip never going above your head when playing the
    fish until the net

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  • FOGG (Fish or golf & garden)

    I guided on the chilko river for rainbows at tsylos lodge in BC this past summer and i wanted all my clients to side set…we fish mostly from flat bottom jet boats, 99 % dry fly, which meant there was a fair bit of slack in the dry line already. My experience on side set versus straight up was about a 75 % more hook ups. I dont think it matters which side, left or right. The side set as phil points out works very well, and with experienced trout anglers, and fishing from the boat, they also can watch from which direction the fish strikes and set set the opposite direction and increase the percentage even more! Another wish of mine was to fight the fish with a low rod tip too! Again, like Phil indicates with side sets the low tip helps with line tension, likewise when fighting these beauties! Tight lines and I really enjoy Mid currents information and newsletter, thank u, fogg

  • Bill

    He may have been getting a good set by sweeping his rod downstream since this technique can increase your hook ups because trout generally face upstream when feeding (the direction the majority of the food is coming from). This downstream motion places the hook firmly in the side of the mouth.