Fair vs. Foul Hooked Fish
By Thomas Steele
The Steelhead Site
For some anglers the difference between a "fair hooked fish" and a "foul hooked fish" is not clear, so The Steelhead Site has developed this section of the site to explain the difference. When a trout or salmon takes or hits a fly, it is because the fish is either hungry or striking out of aggression. The angler has either fooled the fish into thinking the fly pattern is a food source or pissed the fish off and thus a strike of aggression. Both situations prompt the same response...a strike to the fly...in the fishes mouth.
What Is A Fair Hooked Fish?
A Fair hooked fish is hooked in the mouth of the fish only. In the mouth means in the upper or lower gums of the fish. It also means inside the mouth. That is it. Anywhere else in the body of the fish is a foul hooked fish.
What Is A Foul Hooked Fish?
A foul hooked fish is anywhere in the body of the fish that is not the mouth or gums. For example, if you hook a fish in the gill plate it is a foul hooked fish... so is the tail dorsal, side, top of the head , fins or anywhere else that is not in the mouth of the fish.
How Can I Tell The difference?
By looking at the location of you fly when you see the fish or when the fish comes out of the water on a run, the angler can visually check the fly to see if the fish is hooked in the mouth.
Experienced anglers can feel the difference between a fair and a foul hooked fish. They can tell this before they see the fish, usually midway through the first run, even before the fish comes out of the water.
Fair Hooked Fish
Head can be controlled
Fish feels buoyant in the water
Head CAN BE turned with the rod
Fish strips line smoothly
Rod arcs or bends evenly during runs
Foul Hooked Fish
Head CAN NOT be turned or controlled
Fish feels like a wet log in the water
Head CAN NOT be turned with the rod
Lines comes off reel in shakes, not evenly
Rod tip shakes during runs
Why Is This Important?
It is very important to understand the distinction between a fair hooked and a foul hooked fish. First of all, a foul hooked fish is not a "legally caught fish". On all trout and salmon waters the only legal fish are fish caught in the mouth period.
If you keep a foul hooked fish you may be subject to fine and arrest by DNR Conservation Officers. I have seen anglers get into some hefty fines and run-ins with the DNR over foul hooked fish. Keeping a foul hooked fish is in violation of the regulations on all trout and salmon waters.
What's The Difference Between Snagging And A Foul Hooked Fish?
In the purest sense there is no difference between the two, a foul hooked fish is a snagged fish.
I have seen countless situations where anglers are foul hooking fish when they are fishing high concentrations of spawning or holding fish. This is considered snagging when the only means of hooking the fish involves a sudden quick jerk of the rod repeatedly. The fish are not taking the presentation.
What To Do If You Foul Hook A Fish.
If the fish is not controllable, simply break the line off and start fishing again. It makes no sense to play out a foul hooked fish, when you could be fighting a fair hooked fish.
If the fish is controllable, play the fish quickly, avoid handling the fish, revive and release the fish as soon as possible.