Anglers live for that quick hit of adrenaline when their line suddenly goes tight and their rod bends. It’s game time! Nothing kills the thrill of the moment faster, however, than realizing that’s no fish on the line after all—it’s just a darn snag. If you’re lucky, you’ll manage to quickly free your lure and get right back to the fishing. If not, the only thing you can do is reel down, try to break off as little line as possible, and rerig. Either way, think of it as a learning moment, especially if you’re fishing new waters without the benefit of electronics, because snags can teach you a lot about what lies beneath.
Just by the feel, you can often tell if you’re hooked up on rocks, timber or weeds. And if you know the running depth of your lure, you can also get a pretty good idea of how deep the structure is. That’s all good intel for adjusting your presentations accordingly. Of course, not all snags occur underwater. I call these “terrestrial” snags, when you try to pitch under a shoreline tree and end up tangled on a branch, for example. But snagging above water is more a matter of casting ability, a lesson in what you’ve yet to master, than anything else.
As much as a snag can teach you about the composition of the bottom of a lake or river, it can also surprise you. I once yanked free a mussel-encrusted ice-fishing combo from a shoal on Ontario’s Lake Simcoe, for example. And sometimes, it can turn out not to be a darn snag at all, something you only realize as your taut line slowly starts to move sideways. Seems it’s a fish after all, a lunker bigger than you could imagine, and it doesn’t even know it’s caught—yet. Cue the adrenaline.