Once an angler actually fools the fish into taking the fly, the hookset and landing of the fish becomes the focus. I refer to this process as the “nab”. Any aspect of the line (leader or tippet) that was used to fool the fish can be treated separately from the aspects one needs to drive the hook in and then land the fish. The supple, small-diameter fly fishing tippet you used to make the fly look alive may now be your biggest obstacle to landing the fish. It doesn’t matter who you are, long time guide or novice. The attributes that help set the hook properly and land the fish are extremely important and should always be reevaluated. Leaders are always important, but fly fishing tippet is a bit more important at this stage.
The most important part of setting the hook is technique, not your fly fishing tippet or leader. Once you’ve got the hookset down, more or less, you can fine tune the aspects of your gear to make your technique more effective. But if you don’t fool the fish in the first place, none of this matters. In other words, trumps the “nab”. In most cases, we all make concessions to have the best of both worlds. However, hook-setting technique can often overcome line that is a poor choice for setting the hook. When you want to lessen the force or delay its effect, a soft rod tip, extra fine wire hook for penetration, a loop of line for shock absorption, or even a spring in the reel (see Einarsson’s Invictus) can aid in properly sinking the hook into the fish. When you want to set the hook with more force, a strip strike ranging from just an even pull of the line to a Mike-Tyson-like thunderous and explosive yank will do the job. Technique aside, your fly fishing tippet and leader need to have certain qualities to maximize, or minimize, the hookset.
Sensitivity and control is important before we set the hook, and certain leaders and tippets may be able to help the fly fisher. However, fly fishing, unlike general tackle, does not put as much emphasis in the sensitivity and control of the leader, since the fly line is usually the first and direct connection between the angler and what the fish is doing. This, along with the rod, acts as the primary means to control the fly and feel the strike during presentation. With this in mind, it seems as though our fly fishing tippet and leader selection is neutralized somewhat by our fly lines. Although higher memory lines must be stretched in order for them to have a more direct connection to the fly. Line management to provide a direct connection to our flies is the most important aspect of sensitivity and control.
Setting the hook falls between 1) wanting to lessen the force of the hookset because of a delicate fly fishing tippet and small flies and 2) needing to get as much power behind the hookset as possible to penetrate bony mouths and overcome powerful jaw pressure. Three properties of your line will aid in setting the hook properly: stretch, tensile strength (breaking strength), and knot strength.