The swing of the fly is what catches steelhead but why do we spend so little time talking about it? We talk about wading and traction, we talk about rods, lines and gear; we endlessly talk about spey casting but not so much about the actual swing! Why is that? My thought is that better anglers catch more fish because they manage their swing in a way that will to produce more grabs.
Catching a steelhead on the swung fly is definitely the most addictive and exciting way to catch them- sure there are other methods that catch our favorite fish but the swung fly approach is such a blast. Once you experience it you know why the phrase: “The Tug is the Drug” is so popular. With this strategy we search out migrating steelhead with a cast down and across the current. With the line angled against the current it naturally swings across towards the bank. This movement of the fly slicing across the water offers fish a great opportunity to turn on their predator instict, follow and smash it. The approach also lends itself perfectly to steelheading as it covers water quickly- a neccessity for these fish that sparsely populate our waters and are here and then gone as they migrate.
What I have seen in over 25 years of guiding this method is that most anglers simply cast, mend and hang on to the rod letting the current do the rest. That works much of the time and with perfect water speeds it presents the fly great. What has intrigued me for many years is that there are some anglers who simply catch more fish. After much thought on this my experience points to the way they swing their fly as being the only difference. That difference, often only barely discernable is the flash point that triggers better response. Steelhead are reactive and curious how we present the fly matters.
I suggest that we consider managing our swing for more steelhead hookups. What does that mean? Again, the difference is slight but consider reaching for the goal of an even swing speed from start to finish. What often happens in typical steelhead water is the fly swings fast then slows as the water slows. Try to slow the fly in the fast water and slightly speed the fly in softer water. Manage your speed for an even swing from start to finish.
How do you manage your swing speed. The fly movement is affected by the angle of the flyline to the water. The steeper the angle the faster your fly moves; the more parallel to the flow the slower it will move. Adjust your rod and line position to accomodate different angles and speeds. Some water you simply need to slow it down-some water you will want the angle to speed it up.
Think about your swing speed next time your are on the water- try managing your swing for better results!
Good luck on the water.