Setting the hook.
Once you have a good indication that a fish has taken your bait or lure you need to “set the hook”. This is intended to securely plant the hook into the fish’s mouth or lip to minimize the chance of losing the fish as you reel it in. Setting the hook is a skill that can be learned quickly but may take time to master. There are different techniques that can be used depending on the fish species you’re pursuing, bait presentation, environmental conditions, rigging and timing.
Generally, if standing make sure you have a stable and balanced stance, wait for that indication you have a committed fish at your hook (you’ll usually feel the weight of the fish and/or see your rod tip yank downward) and then set the hook by simply snapping the rod over your shoulder or off to the side. Keep your elbows tight against your side to provide added power and leverage as needed.
South-mouthed fish or those with light biting habits (trout, crappie, bait fish) will only tolerate more subtle hooks sets or you’ll rip the hook out of their lips. A more aggressive hard hookset is required with fish with tougher mouths and lips.
In the CA Suisun delta we’ll tend to crank the reel a few quick turns when we see the rod bend down when bait fishing for catfish, striped bass or sturgeon to help set the hook. That technique tends to work well with circle hooks. Black bass requires a more immediate and aggressive hookset using artificial lures.
When trolling for striped bass (up to 5mph) a secure hookset tends to happen when the fish strikes the lure, so additional hookset efforts normally aren’t necessary.
Once the hook is set, keep the line tight and your rod up around 45 degrees from the water level, adjust your drag and enjoy the moment(s).