Clients often ask what went wrong when the Steelhead or Salmon of a lifetime doesn't make it to the net. Well, it's not usually just one thing that's a deal beaker. Generally it's a couple of things that go wrong and when I'm down river of the angler trying to get a scoop at the fish I keep an eye on the fisherman to make sure we're giving ourselves the best chance possible to close the deal. There's a long list of things that can go wrong but these are the most common!
1 - Poor hook set - This seems like a no brainer but it's the most common reason they don't make it to the net. You've got to keep a tight line to the indicator so you can hit them hard. A missed hook set should result in a full false cast behind the angler. They're not trout and a simple rod lift will not get it done. When swinging flies they may hook themselves because the fly is under tension but often times it's a light bite and will require a solid hook set to bury that hook.
2 - Rod tip to high - Steelhead run straight at you A LOT! The angler's instinct is to raise the rod tip as high as possible and strip line as fast as they can but in reality you can't effectively strip line with the rod over you head. This also lifts all of the fly line out of the water which actually creates slack to the hook with the leader having little to no tension on it. If you can keep that rod tip down and strip with the rod lower you'll make the fish drag the fly line around creating tension on the hook. Rod swing will pick up a lot of line but try to swing to the side not overhead.
3 - Get that fish on the reel - You can't hand line a Steelhead or Salmon. To much fly line kicking around your feet or even in a stripping basket makes it difficult to get that fish playing off the reel. Get it on the reel ASAP and you'll have a much better chance of landing that big one!
4 - Let em' run - Steelhead can get nasty...try not to freak out! You've been working hard all day to hook that 20+ lb. ocean bright pissed off Steelhead, now is not the time to loose it. I commonly see people try to palm the reel to slow a fish down and eventually clamp down to try to stop em'. They are times when you have to stop a fish from running behind or under a log or around a boulder etc. but clamping down rarely results in turning them. Rod angle combined with good pressure will get that fish to turn a lot better.
5 - Pulling the wrong way - Keep tension in the opposite direction of the fish, if it's running up river then keep your rod positioned down river. Hook angle is a BIG deal, imagine that hook placement and if you pull against the eye of the hook your putting all of the tension on the point of the hook and not the bend. When that fish goes aerial you have to lighten up on them, bow to the fish!