Lets start by way of a hypothetical: You are standing on the bow of a skiff, floating on 5 or 6 feet of gin clear water, staring down a mangrove shoreline. Then, in the distance you see them - three, maybe four, large shapes are gliding toward you down the edge of the trees – tarpon! You’ve got time, you settle your nerves, try to gauge when you should let it fly. They’re still coming, steady, not slow, but definitely happy. Now, they’re almost in range, your heart quickens, adrenaline starts coursing through your veins, you are as focused as you’ve ever been. You cast, you slide the fly, strip, strip, strip, WHAM! You strip strike, you feel something but the hook doesn’t catch. What do you do?
At this point, in spite of my better judgment, I tend to swear, maybe throw my hat, or the classic, put the hands on the hips with the head down pose. In any case, when I allow those reactions to occur I have stopped fishing. As you might expect, that is the wrong move! With tarpon and other predatory fish that eat other fish or crustaceans (from sharks to carp), the predator is used to the prey putting up a fight. So, even if you have pricked the fish with the hook, the game may be far from over (see the foregoing video at 5:25 forward).
Don’t do what I usually do and freak out about your momentary misfortune. Stay calm, keep your eye on the fish and what it is doing. If it is still within casting range I would be willing to bet it will still eat (likely wondering how its food magically disappeared from view without ending up in its belly). Although I missed all those tarpon in the hypothetical by doing a premature freak-out, on many other occasions (with brown trout, bass, carp, bonefish and a host of other species) I have been able to hook up with a fish that failed to connect on the first go.
By way of example, I had a large bonefish in deep grass follow my all the way up to about 5 ft from my rod tip, after 3 or 4 casts, finally eat and hook up. Granted, the deep grass helped, and that bonefish seemed particularly hungry, but had I not hung in there of course I wouldn’t have caught that fish.
A simple little common sense reminder - it ain’t over until the fish is out of view.