The Swang


From the top-o-me-head I THINK more winter fish, in general, have a longer 'lag' time once they are hooked before turning to do something. The last summer steelhead I have caught on a sink tip was October of 1999 from the Sustut. Maybe I just don't remember but this 'feel' seems more common with winter runs. The grab is pretty much the same. It's after the grab. Some of this perceived 'lag' might be attributed to 'slack' between the tip and floating section of your line. The tip is often a bit behind the floating section(s). The tip is running in different current speeds. Along with vertical differences- where the floating section might be pulled down before full tension applied. Maybe yes. Maybe no. I know a few guys running full sunk lines. They both report the same takes you get on a dryline while fishing just under the surface. However I have no personal experience (until this coming winter) with full sinkers so I can't really comment beyond second hand. IMO the biggest difference, if any, is how far the fish is moving off it's lie to take your offering. And how quickly it turns. Maybe yes. Maybe no. Dunno. Maybe there is something to the 'slack' idea from the tip running in different current speeds and 'planes'. It's still splitting hairs. Splitting hairs over a split second of something my mind really isn't focused on anyway.

I agree with you William. The difference is very little if any. Just because one IS using a floating line doesn't mean every take is gonna be a "HOLY CHIT" experience. There are nips plucks boils etc on floaters, just like on tips, except the boils.

You haven't used a tip since 1999? Wow. You are totally missing out! :)
Bill McMillian the ace rod you keep referring to fishes the dry line exclusively during the springer months on the Skagit (where he has a house) and Sauk. He fishes every day all season. He averages a couple fish a season. Is that becasue of a lack of numbers or because Bill doesn't understand fishing the dry line quite like you? Clue me in on that one with our free rising surface hitting coastal winter/spring stock. Duff


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Bill McMillian the ace rod you keep referring to fishes the dry line exclusively during the springer months on the Skagit (where he has a house) and Sauk.
No he doesn't. The last couple of times I seen Bill on the Skagit he was fishing a tip.

One thing all you guys should keep in mind here is there are no absolutes when fishing for steel. As an example I hear you guys talking about fish that get lots of pressure don't rise. I watched over a dozen guys go thru the old Lyman run one day. I looked at my partner and said a guy might as well fish a floater after all that dredging. He laugh and said do it. Not having a floater I put on an intermediate tip and followed every one down the run. My fly likely was less than a foot under the surface. I was the only one that hooked a fish.

Throw it out whether it is a floater or a tip throw a mend or two in it and check out the scenery. You might just hook something.
First of all swinging muddlers in the surface film is not the only way I fish...but I do enjoy it. It's my personal experience that takes in the film or on top are much different than when swung deep. For the record I've landed 16 steelhead in the last three years on a certain SW Washington river with this technique alone.
Most takes on a fly swung deep, come tight, increased pressure, hook set and the fight is on! Compare this to the typical floating line swung fly in the surface film take: fish takes the fly on top, fight is on! My reasoning is this: when a steelhead hits a surface fly he is coming from cover, the bottom, takes the fly and books it back to cover. When a steelhead takes a deeply swung fly, he's comfortable, he doesn't feel the urge to bolt once he has eaten something, he's safely already at the bottom. Also, when a fish hits a fly on top, the line comes tight 95% out of the shock absorbing water.

As far as Swings go, i'll swing fast once through and then slow it down a second time through on water I know is holding, or should be holding, fish.

Lets quit jacking around and throw some actual numbers around here boys. I think Wes Drain, Sandy Bacon, Ralph Wahl, Frank Headrick, Enos Bradner, George and Ken McCloud and the boys (Les and Preston are two more) were all pretty decent anglers. And at one time they didn't have sink tips. At least not to the degree we have now. They tried for years with no success on the Western Washington rivers in winter with dry lines and techniques. During that same time period they had success on eastern Washington, and Idaho rivers with dry line techniques and lines. It wasn't until the introduction of shooting heads and sink tips (3M) that the winter fish or the OP and Western Washington were caught with any regularity. I have no fucking doubt that there are individual fish in Western Washington that are wild that will look up in winter/spring and hit a dry or skater. But on average to say all steelhead races are equally surface orientated is not true. The dry line steelhead season in Western Washington officially didn't start until July 4th weekend boys. Which race was that? The Deer Creek race. Free rising, trouty, smallish and they loved dries. Each steelhead race is different in many ways and carries different attributes. I really believe that. I also believe a fish that has traveled 800 miles in a river will act more like a trout at the end of that journey that a 16 pound hen main river spawner who has just entered the system and is ripe and ready to drop her eggs ASAP. She is in no mood to chase caddis around. She has a job to do and do it now. I think you guys need to look at things a bit broader and understand what I am saying. Duff

We all have a story about a big trout and size 22 trico, a steelie in a deep run on a light tip or floater, or a bonefish that chased a pattern in deep water and hit it 5 feet off the bottom. These are not regular occurances. But in our world of flyfishing we love to make shit like sound more common than it really is don't we? I just try to keep things real, honest, and fun. Simple as that.


Active Member

I am talking about spring-summer-fall run fish that are river maturing. Not the ocean maturing ones you keep including.

I don't know Bill. Never met him. Only know what he has written. My friend, is indeed an ace rod, is an old aquaintance of Bill's. I won't bore you with this gentlemans results with his favored dryline methods since you will only call BS anyway.

Nonetheless, sooner or later, I too will fish only the dryline year 'round. It really is a kick in the pants.


No...don't think I am missing out on anything. That was no tips for summer runs since '99. I don't think you are missing out on anything. This whole debate stems from you conveying, with STRONG conviction, the dryline (and on/in/near surface presentations) only results in a few fish/season. Which simply isn't true.


I agree that many surface takes are as you describe. And I also think it might be due to the distance traveled and then return to their lie. I also think water speed has something to do with the 'instant on' feeling. But I have caught so many over the years (with the floater) that are indistinguishable to that on a tip. So I really do think we are talking more about instances then averages.



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Huh, I wonder how the hell Ralph was catching fish from the Skagit that were rivaling record steelhead caught else where? Must have been doing it with a freakin' blue winged olive swung off a floater.
I fish the dry whenever I feel it's got a chance. From December to March, I never feel to good about it in Western Washington up North. I've played a bit, hooked a few, (very few) and gone back to T-14, Skagit heads and what I know works. From June to November I'll fish the dry line hard but once again if I don't like the way things feel, will drege a bit. I have found some pretty trouty wild summer runs over the years, (the SF Stillly fish being one race I've had luck on- had a 26 fish month in that baby years ago all on the dry line) in Western Washington but if I really want to go somewhere and really chase steelhead with floating lines and surface techniques I head north or east. It's steelheading and fun to talk about, no matter what is said. The bottom line is that if there are actually steelhead around in good numbers, you can get away with all kinds of shit. Were I am from, we don't have that luxury. If we want to hook fish year round consistently we have to do what works best at that time with those temps in that water over the few wild fish we left.

PS Kerry your last post makes no sense. Ralph was catching steelhead on the Skagit yes, but until he found the Slough were he started hooking them regularly, he caught them in winter NEVER. A few here and there at the very best. I don't take an isolated incident or a once every 4 months thing and call it successful or a tecnique that needs to be spread around. Just as when I lived in Washington I didn't hook 9 fish a year and call myself a pro or expert like some folks do nowadays. That's a decent month or two at best. Yes, swinging.
I'm definitely the odd man out when it comes to my generation of steelhead fisherman. I love fishing a floater, I know it costs me fish. But the fact that everyone around me doesn't have the confidence in it to even bother west of the D makes it that much more rewarding. A lot of the rivers in SWW are not large and taking fish on the surface when water temps are in the low 40's come as no surprise to me. It was the way I was raised. I still get the "were you fishing a floater" " did he come to the surface" comments from my old man.

I'm always up for a new challenge. I have 2 things left on my list in the steelhead dept.

Take a winter fish with the greased line technique

Take a fish on a dead drifted dry.

Too each his own. I can only speak form personal experience. :beer2:


Active Member

You are definately not the odd person out. Most have enough common sense to stay out of these inane discussions. Not me. Always like a good steelhead debate.

The old-timers did indeed fish for winter steelhead with flies and sinking lines, they used silk lines which weren't greased until the wetcel lines came out in the 1950's. Judge Ralph Olson won the "Field & Stream" fishing contest for western rainbow trout almost every year with skagit steelhead caught on his "Lady Godiva" fly or "Orange Wing" during the 1940's. Enos Bradner and Roderick Haig-Brown wrote extensively of fishing with flies in the winter with silk lines. I began fly fishing for steelhead with an old silk line, but I gladly changed to the wet cell Hi-D full sinking lines and then to shooting heads. I fish with sinktips when I think it is necessary, but greatly prefer cating and fishing a full floating long belly line.
Well said. Duffer

PS Don't forget that more than one of our esteemed greats from days past may have fished floaters in Western Washington, but if you ever would have picked a fly out of their box they actually fished, it would feel a bit on the "leaded" side.;) Really leaded. I know of two right off the top of my head. It's all good, and disgreeing with other good anglers is good times and fun to learn from. Tight lines and good steelheading to all. Coach
And Verne, a weighted fly with a half pound lead and a silk line is the same thing as a sink tip and an unweighted fly. I guess you missed that. And if the boys were fishing silk, with no weight in winter, they weren't catching many. Unless they found a slough or side channel where the fish spawned and sat around for months on end. But once again, here we go with isloated incidents and low percentage techniques and a fish hooked every once in a while or lightening striking twice somewhere becoming all of a sudden go to tactics. That's why all of those guys shitcanned those silk lines and floaters in winter as soon as possible right? Tight lines anyways. Duffer
Here is a weird tidbit for you guys to think about:

There are two rivers I fish a bit for steelhead and they are so small they are more like streams and their size makes them tricky for the swing.

After a couple seasons fishing with my buddy who used a jig and float and caught A LOT more steelhead than me on these streams, I decided to pick up indicator fishing.

I normally use those sort of magenta colored indicators you can buy most places and the crazy part is, I have risen several steelhead on the indicator as it dead drifted. It is usally in a slow seam next to deep water and in the months of Jan and Feb when things can actually be warm and wet. It has almost always been when the river was rising rapidly from the warm rain and so was the water temperature.

I have also hooked up with most of these fish by staying calm and gently lifting the indicator out of the fish's mouth and not moving fast as to not spook the fish and putting on a magenta fly and dangling it in the same area just under the surface where the take occured. I can dangle like that because like I said, this is small water.

I am tying up some bombers in magenta to be my indicator and adding a hook for these fish this season.