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It happens to nearly everyone – your fly gets stuck high up in a tree or in some tall brush. You give several tugs on your line, but the fly won’t budge. So you get mad and give a sharp quick pull and then your fly isn’t attached to your leader, it’s lost in that tree forever. Is there a way to avoid this?
There are ways to try and stop that from happening. The first thing to do is take a few long deep breaths, relax, and try to determine exactly how the fly is stuck before you give that quick angry tug. Is the line just caught around a branch with the fly dangling free at the end? If so a slow steady pull that inches the fly up and over the branch is your best approach. Just get your rod tip as close to the branch as possible, and point your fly rod directly at the fly while you pull slowly on the line. Once the fly is very close to the branch give the rod tip a quick up and down move, trying to get the fly flipping up into the air and over the branch. What you want to avoid is getting the hook of the fly buried in the branch. When that happens you’re in trouble
But there’s still something you can do if the fly isn’t sunk into the branch beyond the barb of the hook. You can try to get the tip of your rod under the bend of the fly and carefully loosen it from the branch. Once the fly is no longer hooked in the branch it will be attached to your rod tip, and then you can carefully bring it down. Be careful that you don’t use too much force, as it’s far worse to break your rod tip than lose a fly.
If your leader is wrapped around the branch you have a different problem. Then you have to determine exactly how your line is wrapped around – is it going clockwise or counter clockwise. In either case you want to flip your fly line in the opposite direction so that the line isn’t around the branch, but dangling from the top of it. Once that happens, you can utilize the slow steady pull technique. Sometimes the leader is looped around the tree branch several times, and it will only tighten the line around the branch if you pull on it. Again you have to determine which way the line is caught and try to flip it, one loop at a time, until your fly is dangling and you can pull it slowly out of the tree without getting the hook caught.
The last thing you want to do is pull the hook of the fly into the branch beyond the barb, then you’ll never be able to get it out. Once that happens all you can do is pull on the line. Either the fly will come loose, the branch will break, or the tippet will break and you lose your fly. Still, that’s not the end of the world – unless there’s a major hatch going on and that happened to be the last fly you own that matched the hatch.