Swinging Flies for Steelhead is not for everyone. If you’re a numbers person, then this isn’t for you. But for those of us who do swing flies for Steelhead know it can very rewarding and frustrating at the same time. But when it’s time to reap our reward when the lightning bolt crushes the fly and the reel starts to sing there’s nothing like it. Now I do not profess to exclusively be a fly fishermen only because I’m not. And if you think I’m going to burn in hell for Float or Plugging for Steelhead, so be it. But I do enjoy swinging flies and live for the jolt! I just choose to enjoy the sport in many ways.
When swinging for the mighty Steelhead it’s all about covering as much water as you can and getting the fly down to the right depth. If your missing key holding lye’s or not in the zone, where the fish are holding. I’m sorry to inform you, it’s going to be many fishless days for you. Once you learn how to cover water and fish the right depth, you will catch more fish.
Reading the Water
Before you start to cast, slow your roll. Stop and study the water and the run itself. First, think about how you’re going to wade through the run. Always start close and work your way out. You will be surprised how many fish are closer than you think. Remember most steelhead are caught in 3 to 8 foot of water.
You must position yourself in the run so the fly is presented down and across to the fish. In the Great Lake’s this is much easier to do because of the size of many of our rivers compared to some larger rivers around the country. Most rivers here in the Great Lakes are easier to wade.
Once you position yourself and you should have a clear understanding of where you think a likely holding area is. Start your casting and cast on a 45-degree angle downstream either left or right. Make sure the fish are getting a good look at the fly and your fishing it in fishy holding areas.
Immediately throw an upstream mend in your line. By doing this it will allow the fly to sink faster to the strike zone. Thus, causing you to cover more water with the fly in the actual fish holding zone, instead of dead or unproductive water. Pay attention to how much belly you have in your line. Keep throwing upstream mends in the line allowing the fly to slow and fish deep and hunt for you.
Note that the number of mends affects your depth. So, if you want to fish higher in the run, lower the number of mends to the line. If you hook a fish pay attention to where that fish was holding. You may come back repeatedly and hook fish there. After you master the swing and presentation you have one more thing to master. “The Dangle or the Hang”
The Hang or Dangle
After the cast and the swing thru the run and the line straightens out time to reel in and repeat, right? NO! You must always assume the chrome assassin has followed the fly as they often do. It’s not till the fly slows and what you do next that can make a huge difference on a successful day on the swing or a Big Goose Egg.
Once the fly has straightened out let it dangle there for a while. Now ask any serious Swing Junkie and they all will have a certain amount of time they wait. Most popular is the Happy Birthday Chant. But truthfully, I have no set time. I have seen fish sit there for what seems like forever and stare at the fly. Or worse yet nip at the fly and not commit. And do this several times before eating. Frustrating, to say the least especially when you have been hunting all day and it comes down to that one bite. Patience is what will give you what you have been seeking. You must let the fish eat. Then wait some more before setting that hook. Set the hook too soon and the fish will not be there.
Now when I say drop back I’m not referring to a spawned-out fish dropping back to the Lake or Ocean. When the fly is on the Dangle or Hang Down and the line is tight, slowly pull the rod back past your hip and then let it drop back to the fish. Usually, this is when they crush it. I point that rod right at the fly.
Somedays the cadence of this method can vary. Somedays they want it faster or slower, short, or long pulls away from them. You’re trying to tease them by pulling it away from them. Or by letting the fly fall back the fly acts as if it was dying, thus provoking that genetic response. Or sometimes it’s a territory thing and they want the invader gone and out of there space.
Optimum hook sets occur when you allow the fish to eat the fly and turn. Simply lift the rod tip to the side and they will hook themselves. When they turn with that fly, it means a hook set in the corner of the mouth every time. Almost, text book but a lot of angler’s struggle with waiting. You must have patience with this type of fishing. Old habits are hard to break, many anglers are used to immediately setting the hook. However, the few that master this game of patience put more fish to hand.
Loop in the Line
Many anglers and guides love their clients to keep a small loop in the line. This trick is a matter of opinion and style. The hand holding the rod has a small loop of line pinched between their finger and the rod. It just hangs there towards the water. The length of loop is personal preference? Some prefer 1 – 3 feet. The purpose of the loop during the swing helps you in hooking the fish. It ensures when the steelhead pulls the loop out of your fingers the fish feels no weight or fly reel drag. By waiting for that slack line to be pulled out, it should be enough time for the fish to eat, turn
By waiting for that slack line to be pulled out, it should be enough time for the fish to eat, and turn with the fly, a perfect hook set will occur. Instead of a premature hookset, it acts as a buffer to ensure enough time was given to the fish before setting the hook. Always keep a light drag as well. Remember not all takes are ferocious take downs. Sometimes they can be light biters. This is the norm in colder water temperature.
This subject alone could be a whole article itself so let’s give a few nuggets of info to help you pick the best flies. Anything as simple as a nymph, egg sucking leach can work great and save the day. The skies the limit in Spey fishing. Anything from a small fly, as big as 4 inches to even bigger are used. But when in doubt with no strikes switch to a smaller fly. The colder the water temps the smaller and deeper the fly must go.
Let the pool rest and try a different fly. Make sure Color, size and profile are different before stepping down or moving on. Especially in a run or pool, that’s been a proven spot to hold fish. By trying something different can make all the difference in the world.
An essential point here is everyone has their own opinion or technique on the swing. Do what works for you and experiment while fishing and enjoy your time on the river. Nothing will improve your game better than actual time spent practicing and learning on the water. But if you get anything from this article, no matter how you like to fish the swing. Pay attention to the dangle or hang that’s when the action starts. Your flies must be slow and low at the end of the swing. Make that fly dance and be patient on the eat. Who says Lightning doesn’t strike twice?
Do that and your reel will sing and your rod will dance! Always practice CPR. Catch, Photo and Release.