Type of flies for steelhead in September?

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by bwtucker83, Sep 10, 2005.

  1. Zen Piscator

    Zen Piscator Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.

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    I've fished all the rivers I mentioned as big waters, and they are not my cup of tea. Neither is, cast swing step, repeated, 4 hours later there is one fish to show for it. I like finding a pod of steelies and catching 4 in 30 minutes and then hauling ass to get back to school before 1st period starts. 15 fish may not be a lot, but its enough to make me rather sure that in most situations im not going to be working 4 hours to catch my fish. If I am fishing a new river that can be swung and I have no idea where the fish are, that’s the method I turn too, but im dead drifting if I know where the fish and know the water. I watched a buddy 2 years ago pull 14 steelies from a hole on the Rhonde is 1 hour. We were timing him. He was hooking up on every cast if not every other. Things cooled down after about 25 fish. I was shocked. This was something new, really different than what I was being told by the books that I so often read. The results these guys were having were having 10-fold the success of most the other people on that river. This dude knew what he was doing, tossing orange October caddis emergers and sculpin patterns dead drift through some of the hardest water on the section of river to fish. But, he was doing something different than a green butt skunk 6 inches below the surface. I don't go to the Rhonde very much because its a long ass drive and I like to sleep a lot, but there are four or five guys I talk to that seems to end up in the double digits nearly every trip in the fall months. Sound crazy, I thought so too until I went with them one time and saw for myself. I think swinging is a technique that is bound in tradition that is effective, but think about steelhead for a moment. They are a rainbow trout. What’s the most effective method for fishing for rainbows in most rivers? Deep nymphing. How did people start out in America fishing for rainbows and other trout? Swinging wet flies. How did people start out fishing for steelhead and Atlantic salmon, swinging wet flies? Non-anadromous trout fishing has evolved more in the past 200 or so years of fly-fishing than steelhead and salmon fishing have. Deep nymphing for trout become popular some 40 or 50 years ago with the likes of Joe Brooks and Joe Humphreys, not to mention many others. Since then, people have gotten away from swinging wet flies and moved to different tactics. Not to say swinging wets isn’t productive, but there are many times where the fish are simply not willing to hit an unnaturally moving fly. So, anglers now more often fish with deep running nymphs, because it is a more consistent if not also generally more effective way to present a fly and catch fish. Onto Steelhead, because these great fish are less numerous and more difficult to catch than non-anadromous trout as a whole, not as many people fished for them. It took a long time for nymphing to emerge as a popular trout method, and the same thing is happening to steelhead, at a much slower pace. I think it is directly proportional to how many people fish for steelhead compared to trout. Catch my dead drift? Another interesting point, look at the steelhead and salmon fisherman of the great lakes. The fishery hasn’t been around nearly as long and the west and east coast anadromous fisheries have. Fisherman started really targeting steelhead and salmon in the great lakes when trout fishing was evolving into a nymph and indicator game. This method carried over into their style of fishing, which relies heavily on indicators, split shot, highly imitative nymphs and dead drift fishing. In all logicality, wouldn’t these fishermen be swinging flies more often if it proved to be a more effective method than dead drift fishing? There are plenty of rivers big enough to swing flies just fine in the great lakes region, but it is simply not done as much as dead drift fishing. I know of some great lakes fisherman that swing flies, but the vast majority mainly nymphs.
    In support of swinging, I think you catch the most aggressive fish that are the most fun to watch take a fly and fight. With nymphing, you generally catch fish that arnt as willing to fight, and often seem less energetic that swing caught fish. But, with steelhead numbers being what they are, I would rather catch more fish and some lazy ones in the mix than a few aggressive ones. You also catch the aggressive ones with nymphing. I don’t take any issue with anyone swinging. Fly fishing is a sport of tradition anyways, and keeping with old world methods has a certain attraction We still use fly rods to nymph with, I think it would be easier to catch steelies with a spinning rod with split shot and flies tied to the end of the line, but the fight you get out of a steelhead on a fly rod surpassed that of a spinning rod in my opinion, although it is great either way.

    Peace,
    Andy

    I'm not sure why im working to make my point, but i cant seem to catch any fish right now so i've got to do something :beathead:
     
  2. ssickle1

    ssickle1 Slow and Low

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    Crazy stuff. I float the Deschuted every weekend Buckhollow to Heritage. In October I switch to Trout Creek to Harphom Flats. In November I do the Grand Rhonde. Traditionally I fish 40-50 days per year on the Deschutes. For thise who want a resume with a post. I am not sure if the Deschutes is a real steelhead river or not. My best day every in 10 years was hooked 11, landed 6, all nymph fishing. I have had many 7 fish hook ups in the fall while nymph fishing. That being said I spey cast 90% of the time now becuase I enjoy it more. I still catch fish, some on dry lines some with sink tips, some fishing Skagit style some not. Anyone who thinks swinging a fly hooks as many fish as nymph fishing thinks they are a better fisherman than they are. By the way when nymph fishing there is a great opportunity to swing up from the bottom to the surface at the end of the drift, that is where at least half of the fish are hooked.

    Zen is on the money. Any stream that has natural fish trap type water will nymph fish better than it will swing. Make sure you let your flies swing while nymphing and you wil have the best of both worlds. :thumb:
     
  3. Panhandle

    Panhandle Active Member

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    Guys, I don't think anyone challenges that swinging is more productive than nymphing. The 1st point is that swinging is very productive if you know what you're doing. 2nd, the take on the swing is the greatest moment in fishing (aside from a waking take). #3rd the focus of swinging is a concentrative meditation- either you get it or you don't. If you're bored swinging, it's because you're not paying close enough attention. Simply.... there's a time to swing and a time nymph, understanding this and when to implament these tacticts is what makes a good fisherman.
     
  4. inland

    inland Active Member

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    Andy,

    You are right. 15 swung vs 45 nymphed steelhead certainly puts you in an elite club. :) :) :) Thanks for the history lesson too!

    William
     
  5. inland

    inland Active Member

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    Ssickle,

    You specifically state "By the way when nymph fishing there is a great opportunity to swing up from the bottom to the surface at the end of the drift, that is where at least half of the fish are hooked."

    Say what? So you are saying that swinging your nymphs hooks AT LEAST half the fish?

    Right before that statement you say "Anyone who thinks swinging a fly hooks as many fish as nymph fishing thinks they are a better fisherman than they are."

    I never once said that swinging flies will day in and day out outproduce dead drifting nymphs. But you just did. Does that make you a better fisherman than you think you are?

    Tight lines,

    William
     
  6. Joe Smolt

    Joe Smolt Member

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    Andy,

    How do you spot steelhead?

    Frankly the only time I have spotted steelhead was looking almost straight down in a glassy pool and boy were they hard to see. I keep hearing people talk about spotting fish. When I am at water level, it looks near impossible.

    Joe
     
  7. Panhandle

    Panhandle Active Member

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    I think most people, including myself spot rolling fish. Like you said, it is virtually impossible to spot fish subsurface.
     
  8. o mykiss

    o mykiss Active Member

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    I'd been wondering when this debate was going to resurface. It's always amusing. :)
     
  9. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

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    I've always swung flies, but have tried a little nymphing - but not enough to have experienced any success yet. What got me interested in nymphing for steelhead are some small streams that I wanted to fish that aren't large enough, and don't contain much, if any, traditional wet fly swing type of water. It seems to me that the nymphing technique is better suited to smaller streams with small pools and pocket water that holds steelhead. On larger rivers, where there is good holding water quite a ways laterally across the pools, the wet fly swing technique is certainly more efficient as a means of covering water, if not more effective in terms of fish hooked/risen.

    It appears Andy/Zen is fishing a small stream, and from the sounds of it, it is better suited to nymphing technique. You probably cannot stand far enough away from the target fish to not be seen and make an effective wet fly swing.

    Sincerely,

    Salmo g.
     
  10. FT

    FT Active Member

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    Andy,

    Dead drift nymph fishing for trout has been around since before the year 1900. Skues wrote very eloquently about doing so. However, indicators weren't being used, the fishermen intently watched where the line or leader entered the water for any unatural movement to know when to set the hook. And nymph fishing for atlantic salmon and steelhead did not start in the GL's. Hewit wrote about using nymphs for atlantic salmon back in the '20's in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Also, there is a class of old UK atlantic salmon flies known as grubs that are nothing more than chenile bodies flies with soft hackle in the middle and head of the fly. I.e. they are a type of nymph and they have been in use since the late 1700's in the UK.

    As far as Joe Humphreys and his fishing dead drifted nymphs. I know Joe, I got to know him in 1973 when I took his fly fishing class at Penn State, and the method he uses more than any other is a tandom, 2-fly, wetfly rig, which he fishes on a swing. George Harvey also uses the 2-fly wetfly swung fly rig more than any other for trout.

    The GL steelhead and pacific salmon fisheries didn't really get going until the '50's and early '60's. The fly fishermen in the area were used to trout fishing and they found that the methods and flies they used for trout were an abismal failure on steelhead. And since nearly non of them had any experience fishing for salmon in the maritime provinces of Canada or fishing for steelhead here in the PNW, they pretty much gave up on steelhead.

    This changed when Swisher, Richards, and Whitlock (and many others also at the same time I'm sure) decided to do something about it. Since they were schooled in and familiar with "matching the hatch" trout fishing, they naturally thought in terms of what "food item are the steelhead eating" in the rivers. They didn't know that adult steelhead have an atrophied stomach and gut so they cannot digest any food item they may take in. Anyway I digressed, Swisher, et al found that if they drifted a large nymph through a pod of visable, holding steelhead, they would at time get a hook up. Again because they were trout fishers and only new trout fishing, they assumed steelhead were simply large rainbows that fed in the rivers on the spawning runs, and as such needed a large fly to interest them due to there size (just like large trout in general ignore anything that is not a substancial meal) and since they had been unsuccessful with baitfish imitations (streamers and bucktails), they used Hexagenia nymphs.

    Also, they had noticed that gear fishers and spin fishers were successful in getting steelhead by bouncing lead attached to a dropper on the bottom with a piece of floating yarn or brightly painted cork (like many gear fishers still do), they assumed the best way to get a steelhead to take these large nymphs was to present them in the same way the gear fishers were fishing their yarn or corkies. Hence, the chuck & duck of the GL's became the method to catch steelhead in the GL rivers and streams.

    The other factor involved with chuck & duck in the GL's is several of the rivers that had and have steelhead runs are fly fishing only waters, so the gear fishers couldn't fish in them unless they used a fly rod. Since a significant number of gear fishers didn't want to be left out from fishing these rivers for steelhead, they bought cheap fly rods and adapted the lead slinky on a dropper with yarn or corkie gear method to the fly rod by using large split shot on a dropper and a nymph, usually tied in flourescent colors (afterall, it was fly fishing water wasn't it?). Trout fly fishermen saw these gear guys being successful with the cheap fly rods and chuck & duck, and their use of trout fly techniques and flies weren't nearly as successful; therefore, they picked it up and the fly guides began having their clients use it so their clients could land a fish.

    Now that there have been folks moving to the GL's or traveling there on business from the PNW who went fishing for steelhead in the GL rivers by swinging or skating flies and locals saw them actually catch fish doing so, it is becoming more common, as is the use of 2-hand rods.

    ssickle,

    If a person limits his steelhead fishing to those places where steelhead are blocked (or stack up due to being in a hatchery outflow pool, such as Reiter Ponds on the Skykomish) from going further, they are holed up in pretty large numbers and dead drifting is absolutely going to result in more fish hooked. This is because of a combination of factors all of which make for a lot of fish in a hole that tend to have lock jaw. The weighted nymph and indicator keeps the fly at a given level, preferably just below the level of the fish, and produces hook-ups simply because the fish doesn't have to move to take the fly, instead, the fly takes the fish.

    However, in areas where there isn't blockages to fish passage or that are not hatchery outfall holes, the fish are spread out and not schooled up. This is where swinging comes into play because a person swinging or skating a fly can cover a lot of water with each cast. In fact, if he is using a spey rod and a good spey casters, he can easily cover an arc of 100' or more on each cast. Thus, he covers most, if not all of the fish in the run in a far more efficient manner with far less casting.

    Skwala,

    That is my point regarding why in never dead drift nymph for steelhead and only either skate a dry or swing a wet. I never fish the hatchery outfall areas or area where the fish are prevented from moving further upstream because they almost always are confined areas or have too many fisherman for my tastes.
     
  11. bwtucker83

    bwtucker83 Member

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    Well I started this big debate while looking for the proper type of fly to use in September. Well, this debate has been very interesting, amusing, and informative and I appreciate all the input. Today, while fishing the clearwater on Hog island(island above potlatch) I hooked my first steelie of the year! A 25 inch female hatchery who gave an incredible fight on the 8 wt. I'm not real good at guessing weights, so if someone knows the average weight for a steelie this length I would love to know. I would guesstimate she was about 8 lbs. To add to the discussion I caught this beauty on the swing through a big tailout using an intermediate clear sink tip line, 6 feet of 8lb leader, and an unweighted purple steelhead fly that I don't know the name of but that I have landed my only two steelhead on the flyrod with. It was a splendid day and in the time I was hooking anything I thought a lot about all that had been discussed on this topic. I really do appreciate all the input, especially from all you steelheaders that have many more steelies under your belt than me.
    I would also like to say that this september clearwater steelie put up a MUCH better fight than did my late october grande ronde steelhead... MUCH better, leaping completely out of the water 4 or 5 times and make numerouse long runs. I LOVE STEELHEADING!

    Thanks Again

    Brad
     
  12. inland

    inland Active Member

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    Brad,

    Congrats on your fish. 25" is usually 5#'s. An inch per pound is a good rule of thumb from this point upwards (30"=10#s, 35"=15#'s, etc) and is close enough. However for these long distance swimmers they do lose some weight and are quite often lighter than the 'average'.

    Keep after it,

    William
     
  13. ssickle1

    ssickle1 Slow and Low

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    It's a different swing and usually inside of 20 feet from where you're standing. Then take into account that most fish are caught on size 16 bead heads (doesn't matter what kind). It's sammantics but what you are talking about isn't what I'm talking about when the term swinging flies is used. A nymph swing is not a 100' handshake.

    And I prefer luck over skill, not sure if I'm a good fisherman or not. Sure is fun though! :beer2:

    Tight lines, maybe dead drifts.

    Sam
     
  14. inland

    inland Active Member

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    Sam,

    I understand exactly what you are talking about. I know it's not the same thing. However it does not matter if the swing is only 20' from your casting position. Or that it started out as a dead drift presentation. Once that fly comes under tension you aren't dead drifting anymore. Fly type doesn't matter either. As you have found out this can be a deadly effective method. Very similar to fishing a weighted leech on a long leader and floater. I use less dead drift and more tension on the early part of the swing...90% of the grabs occur when you are out of reach and the jig...er...fly is quickly rising from the line coming tight. When I KNOW there are fish in certain runs, and they are being finicky towards coming up, I will resort to this method at times. Just to keep 'em honest.

    I have a friend that has taken short line swinging (always with a floater and VERY sparse summer ties) to an art form. He rarely casts further than 40' from his feet to his fly. RARELY. Usually less than 25'. On large rivers where the fish tend to be found near shore. Deschutes is a PRIME example. He catches far more than his share.

    I prefer to be both lucky and skillful. I hopefully have 5 decades of learning left to improve knowledge and skill. One thing I have learned at this early point in my steelheading education is the more skill and specific river knowledge you posess the more you create your own luck.

    William
     

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