Fishing Tips

Why Do I Keep Losing Fish?

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I remember going through this stage. After hours and hours of time spent looking for fish and figuring out what they’ll bite, you finally start hooking up. But as you are reeling them in, they somehow get away. It can be so frustrating! You get your hopes up only to have them crushed. Honestly, nobody lands every fish they hook into, but there is a lot of technique that goes into fighting a fish. That’s what I want to go through here. 

Why do you lose fish? 

The most common reason for losing a fish is that you aren’t keeping the proper amount of pressure on the fish. Keep that line tight, but don’t reel too fast.

Keep Proper Tension

keeping the line tight when reeling in a fish

The number one rule that will keep you from losing fish is to maintain the proper tension. This means that you need to keep a constant pull on the line to hold that hook in place. Don’t let your line go slack.

This takes some control on your part. If you go crazy and reel as fast as you can, you will lose control and your fish will likely get off the hook. 

The problem I often see with beginners, is they get excited. They get a bite and put all their focus into turning the handle on the reel. Their rod tip starts bouncing creating waves of slack in the line, and that’s when the fish gets off. 

The key to remember is that you pull the fish in with the rod, not the reel. The reel is there simply to store the line. It’s not meant to pull the fish in.

Here is the method…

Pull the fish closer towards you with the rod. Then while keeping tension, reel in your line as you lower the rod tip. When your rod tip is down, stop reeling, and pull the fish closer with your rod. 

Repeat that method over and over until you get the fish to the net. Take your time, slow and steady. Focus on keeping the line tight. If a big fish makes a run, let it take some drag.

How To Fight A Jumping Fish

Fish have a few tricks they like to deploy when trying to get off the hook. One of these tricks is to jump out of the water and shake their heads. 

This is common with bass and rainbow trout. 

When they jump, this will usually put some slack in your line. Then their shaking motion wiggles the hook loose and they get away. 

When a fish is pulling your line through the water, the water resistance on your line will help to keep tension. However, when the fish jumps, your line is brought into the air. Air resistance is much less than water, so this creates slack. 

When a fish jumps, you want to keep as much line in the water as you can. So what you want to do when a fish jumps is point your rod tip down near the surface of the water. 

Once the fish is back in the water you can raise the rod tip and continue fighting. 

Keep The Fish Away From Obstacles

Another trick the fish has up its sleeve is to use vegetation, rocks, trees, and even the bottom to its advantage.

fish will pull you into snags like these

One of their most common tricks is to get your line wrapped around something so you can’t keep pulling them in. Try your best to keep them away from snags. 

Another trick is to rub the line up against a rock or the bottom to cut it. To be honest they probably aren’t smart enough to know that they can cut the line. But what they are probably trying to do is press the hook up against something to help push it out of their mouth. 

Sometimes this works to push it out, and sometimes it cuts your line. Either way, try to keep them out of the snags and up off the bottom.  

Check Your Knots

If the fish gets off your line and you reel in to see that your hook or lure is no longer attached to your line, there could be a couple different problems. 

Either your line broke/got cut, or your knot failed.

The way to tell is to look at the end of the line and see if it looks frayed, or if there is a little curl or pigtail to it. 

failed knots can lead to losing fish
Signs that the knot failed

If there is a curl or pigtail, then your knot probably failed. Either the knot slipped, or the knot was tied in a way that weakened the line and it broke.

Make sure you are tying the right knots. A good knot for most fishing lines is called the improved clinch knot. Make sure you lubricate with water or spit as you are tying the knot to prevent it from melting due to friction.

Check Your Line

If you reel in without a hook and there is no curl or pigtail, then your line probably broke. 

Check your line often to make sure it isn’t getting frayed or damaged from split-shot, tangles, or knots. 

damaged line can cause you to lose fish
Frayed line from rubbing on rocks.

If your line is old, then it may be getting brittle. You can buy a spool of line and replace it yourself, or take it to the tackle shop and they’ll replace it for you. 

The last couple feet of your line get the most abuse. This could be from fish teeth, objects in the water, or your sliding sinker or bobber could be wearing it out. Keep an eye on this section a few times throughout the day, especially after catching a fish.

Check Your Hook 

If you are clearly hooking the fish and they are still getting away, then your hook is probably sharp enough, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Having a sharp hook is extremely important when it comes to getting a solid hookset.

Make sure you aren’t snagging fish. Snagging a fish means hooking it anywhere other than the mouth. I have never purposely snagged a fish. However, sometimes it can happen. You’ll feel the pull and wiggle of the fish then all of a sudden it’s gone.

The biggest sign that you snagged a fish is that you reel in to see a fish scale stuck on your hook. 

I snagged this northern pike minnow while sturgeon fishing. That’s a piece of squid on my hook not fish guts.

It’s a good indication that fish are in the water. However, since they didn’t eat your bait it probably means they aren’t interested in your bait, or they just aren’t feeding. 

Use The Right Fishing Rod

They make thousands of different fishing rods for a reason. And the majority of the technology and design that goes into the rods is to improve casting. However, they also have a lot to do with fighting the fish. 

If you use a stiff rod to catch trout, you will lose a lot of fish. Trout can swim very fast and go all over the place. One second they are pulling away from you and the next they are coming right at you. 

Having a flexible rod for trout helps give you time to react. You can put more bend in the rod which will act as a spring to keep the tension on the fish. 

If you want to learn about trout rods, check out this page.

However, if you are fishing for bigger fish like bass, catfish, and carp, you’ll need a stiffer rod. Not only do you need a stiffer rod to cast the bigger lures and baits, but when you are fighting these big fish, you need a good backbone to pull them in.

Another situation where you want to be sure you have the right rod is when targeting fish that have soft mouths. Kokanee are a species that require extremely soft, flexible rods. Even a regular trout rod is too stiff and can tear the hook out of a kokanee. Crappie also have soft mouths. 


Losing fish can be very frustrating, but at least you found the fish and you’re getting some action! Hopefully the tips above help. Remember to reel them in smoothly and keep that line tight. You can watch some of the pros on YouTube and see how they reel fish in. Pay attention and take some notes. 

By John

Hi I'm John. I'm the author of I have been obsessed with fishing since my dad took me to catch bluegill in the creek as a little kid, over 20 years ago. I love learning and perfecting all kinds of fishing techniques. I have spent time living in different countries learning their unique traditional fishing methods, and then combining the best of all worlds to catch as many fish as possible. My hope is that this website can help you, or someone you are teaching, to have a better fishing experience early on so that you too can be hooked into this wonderful sport.

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