Winter wind, sleet, hail, rain and just plain cold nasty weather combines with big rivers and elusive steelhead to make one of the most challenging fly fishing endeavors ever; so often this drudgery of winter we gear up to fish down. Sometimes amid the heavy layers of fleece, long underwear gloves and heavy sink tips we just need to lighten up to achieve the most effective swing. Big flies, Skagit fly lines and big sink tips get to be a lot of work over the course of a bundled up day in the chill of winter and often they don’t have to be. Many times a lighter approach is much more effective.
Geared up for dredging Tim worked through the run- his 12′ of T-14 grinding the weighted fly through the rocks and really getting down. His big mends and slowed swing style would ensure his fly got deep. However, what Tim found was no matter how carefully he worked his fly across he kept getting snagged up; either mid-way through the swing or almost always at the end of the swing. Thrashing against another snagged fly his frustration level was through the low hanging clouds around him. Meanwhile, just down river on the next run his buddy Matt worked through a similar run with smooth easy casts and effortless swings. Occasionally he ticked a rock at the end of his swing with his lightly weighted fly combined with a 10′ T-8 sink tip. To adjust he simply added a bit more swing speed to the end of the swing and twitched his fly to give it a little lift at the conclusion of the swing.
The contrast in approach with these two anglers varies widely as often angler success does. Sometimes by simply lightening your sink tip you’ll achieve a much more effective swing. Lighter tips allow you to fish softer water edges where steelhead in chilly water are often resting. Less snags also produces better- thrashing the water trying to retrieve snagged flies will often spook steelhead and diminish your chances especially in clear water situations. Lighter sink tips are easier and more forgiving to cast as well- the translation being; better casts cover more water and therefore produce more.
All in all the goal for winter steelhead swing fishing is balancing the sinktip, fly weight and your swing speed to each piece of water with the goal of getting your fly half the depth of the water. To see more tips and tricks for winter spey fishing check out our 90 minute DVD- Winter Spey Strategies.