The Swang


AKA Joe Willauer
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.
ive seen this as well. was drifting the upper sol duc last winter (mid-feb) and watched my buddy have a fish come up and swipe his bright orange bobber (indicator). we were moving along quick enough that there was no second chance, but it was plain as day this fish ate the bobber. i agree with kerrys, there are not absolutes in steelhead fishing.
North Fork Nooky mid December I had a big ass Steelie take my indicator 4 casts in a row Jaws style. This was my only encounter with a steelhead on the Nooksack ever while flyfishing. I finally tried dangling an orange fly to no avail.

While fishing the Methow 2 or 3 years ago a friend and I were corked by a gentleman who proceeded to hook up to 5 or so steelhead, a little frustrating but I approached him to ask for advice which he freely dispersed. His advice was to get rid of the tip, lengthen my leader and fish a smaller fly. We fished through the run once more and rose a couple fish (none hooked up).

Will steelhead rise up, yes. Do they normally hang around on top on the westside in the winter months? NO. There are alot of approaches to catching these fish. And no matter what tactic we use many of us catch very few (me).

I really don't understand arguing over purity etc. Only fishing waking dries during December would seem pretty silly to me, but not giving yourself the chance to experience a surface take when the fish are more willing would seem like you would be spoiling your chances at some new excitement also.

In the mean time I will keep spending countless hours on the river trying for my one steelhead a year.

This was a good thread about how to effectively fish the swing. What happened?
Wow, reading the last twelve hours of post game me a headache!

The more I know about steelheading, the more I realize I do not know!!! That is why I love this shit!!!
The more I know about steelheading, the more I realize I do not know!!! That is why I love this shit!!!
True words Mike. The only thing we know for sure about steelhead is they are born in fresh water, go the ocean and return to spawn. Everything else only applies to some of the fish some of time.
Wow, reading the last twelve hours of post game me a headache!

The more I know about steelheading, the more I realize I do not know!!! That is why I love this shit!!!
True words Mike. The only thing we know for sure about steelhead is they are born in fresh water, go the ocean and return to spawn. Everything else only applies to some of the fish some of time.
Ah Don and Mike, such happy and diplomatic good ol'e ye are! ;)

Blessed are the peacemakers :)
The reason that everyone switched lines wasn't because silk lines didn't sink well, it is because waterlogged, sticky lines didn't cast very well and rotted out quickly. They sink fine if unevenly. I don't recall anyone using weighted flies for winter fish, and the original patterns don't call for weighting, they did tie them bigger than is currently favored. It is true that fly fishermen go through different stages, I know I did, first where you want to catch a lot of fish, second where you want big fish and finally where you want to catch fish under your own terms. At the present time I would rather catch one or two on the surface than dozens fishing deep.

Will Atlas

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
actually a good friend of mine fishes with Bill from time to time and it is my understanding that he has started using tips for some of his winter fishing.


Ed Call

Well-Known Member
All the mags i have read that mention dry line fishing for steel list Bill McMillian and his son. I'm sure it is likely that they do fish other methods, but they are highly regarded as experts in dry line fishing for salmon, even with heavy flies swung deep on longer leaders in faster and deeper water. I was just reading one of those print articles while on the shitter while simultaneously reading the banter here going back and forth. Everyone is an expert at something, at least they think so, just ask them. I'm an expert at knowing that I'm not an expert at anything fishing related. Eventually, the discerning reader will have to extract useful tidbits out of this back and forth and hopefully the end result will be knowledge about swinging tips and dry lines and then I can make up my own mind of which method of futility I prefer to not catch large native steelhead on pristine western WA rivers in the middle of winter during a snow or rainstorm.
I just like to fish, as I am sure you all do too. Will, you will always one up me, so touchet and enjoy your time spent drylining. I will be more than happy fishing my way, just as you enjoy fishing your way. :):thumb:


Well-Known Member
It reads like a lot of the debate in this thread was about contrasting apples to oranges rather than apples to apples. At least that's my read. I think I'd find more agreement when discussing the same thing with another angler.


Ralph and the others caught Skagit steelhead on silk lines with some regularity, i.e., about 0.5 steelhead per full day of fishing according to a conversation I had with him. This was possible by carefully choosing one's water, the old slow runs at Gilligan Ck, Grandy Ck, the Rancheree, and the Birdsview riffle. These were long holding lies about 3.5 to 4' deep and not too fast. You'd hang up in an instant with a modern Hi Speed Hi-D or type VI tip. Ralph also had a series of high density fly patterns that would readily sink when suspended from a gut leader and silk line.

Some of what I read in this thread appears to assume a hierarchy in ways of bringing steelhead to a fly. I agree with that. There is a string of logic to it. Some anglers are partial to nymphing for steelhead because it is both fun and highly effective. I've no problem with that, but I'd never rank a steelhead taken on a nymph with one taken on a swung fly, or a fly swung high in the water column, or one taken on the surface any more than I'd equate a steelhead taken on drift fishing gear with one taken on fly gear. If steelheading is a numbers game, it makes sense to use gear and techniques that produce numbers. The times and places where floating line techniques and swung flies produce numbers are on inland waters for summer steelhead in the summer and fall. I doubt it's ever the most effective technique on coastal rivers at any season. In the hierarchy of steelhead, the fish that moves the farthest and rises the highest should always rank higher than the steelhead that merely opens its mouth to intercept whatever lure is drifting past. The steelhead that ranks highest for me is the one I catch the way I decide I want to catch it.


Will Atlas

I am not experienced enough to make a judgement on the subject and most of the PS summers I've hooked have come on sink tips. I wonder though how much truth their is to the perception that west side summer runs do not come as readily to the dryline. Like their eastern cousins they spend almost a full year in freshwater prior to spawning meaning they likely revert back to very trouty behavior. I suspect that the reputation of west side fish is actually based on the hatchery fish we target most of the time during summer, and I believe that the wild deer creek and other populations will readily rise to a dry or lightly dressed pattern in the right conditions. get water temps over 50 and any wild summer steelhead worth its adipose will come up for a fly. But, puget sound rivers are limping along. There was about a month of worthwhile fishing this year before I turned my attentions to far off waters, meaning I probably spent 3 or 4 days fishing a dryline in the puget sound this summer.

This thread has given me a head ache, no wonder the splinters can't organize to help our fish.

William, I am pretty sure I know the fisherman you speak of he fishes "cotter pins" and a run he calls "boat chaser"? You know of whom I speak, he is one of my favorite people to fish behind. I enjoy watching how he works a run and use my methods (swing) behind him. Actually miss running into him on that river, but I moved he is a great guy and angler!

I try not to value a fish caught by one method over another. That said nate to pond scum about 10:1.
Personally, I like nymphing over swinging anyway. It takes far more skill and when that bobber goes down, it sends a rush of adrenaline like nothing else I've ever experienced;)
I think the "value thing" between which is better or more admirable is false-- it’s a matter of common sense. When I fish back home (W. Oregon), I primarly fish tips, because the water temps and ornery brats demand it. When I fish over here, where I live now, I fish floaters and intermediates because the fish are aggressive and willing to move through the water column. This is really why the floater take is more rewarding than a tip; the fish is making an assertive/concerted effort to chase the fly. Late fall I move to a tip of course (cold water temps and slowed metabolism means bring it to them). Why would I fish a tip when I can catch fish on a floater, simple as that; it’s more enjoyable. By the way, I'm headed over to the Klick and Sandy. I'll be armed with a type III swinging rod and nymph rod because it the smart thing to do. I think the beef here is that people talk out of there asses. They make statements based on theory. In reality they have no experience to back it up, which results in ridiculous bullshit.