Fishing wet flies for wary steelhead in cold water


Active Member
I moved to Michigan this fall and though I haven't been out fishing nearly as much as I'd like, I've put some time on the water swinging flies for steelhead. I've managed one small steelhead and a few trophy sized brown trout for my efforts. Not great, but I've been told that this is a very poor run of fish.

Yesterday, I fished with a guide for the first time to get to know a section of one particular river a little better. This is a smaller river, picture the Kalama with more log jams and sweepers. We swung flies the entire day but in a way I had not done before. Cold air, very cold water temps, and increasing angling pressure dictated this method. I was using a 13'6" rod (which I would've thought was WAY too much rod for the river) rigged with 12 ft of T17 and a flashy unweighted fly with a lot of movement. He had me start at the head of a run, make ONE cast, throw a huge mend to let the fly drop, and then continually throw mends (without jerking the fly) to keep the fly along the seam. I would then step my way down the run very slowly all while continually throwing mends to keep the fly deep and in the seam. The key to the method was to keep the fly sort of "wagging" back and forth on a tight line while never moving more than 3-5 feet. Never did I move the fly across the current like a more traditional swing. Essentially, I was "plugging" all the way down the slot with my fly. The lack of casting with just mending allowed for me to steer the fly around structure, under low hanging trees, and anywhere else I wanted to. As an added bonus, I was not stripping in line so was not dealing with ice build up on my guides which I definitely would've otherwise.

Again this method was a result of the conditions - with warmer water temps and less wary fish, we would've been fishing more of a traditional swing method. Also worth noting, we were fishing water that wouldn't scream classic swing water to most NW anglers but it's water anyone would easily recognize as holding water. Most would call it bobber water. Now maybe others have done this before, but it was very new to me. On one hand, it sorta sucked not getting to cast more which is something I really do enjoy about the sport, but it was still an interesting way of fishing and a lot better than running a chuck n' duck or bobbers like most other anglers we saw.

Anyway, thought I'd share.

Edit: I did not hook a fish, nor did anyone else we talked to, so I cannot confirm the effectiveness of this method.
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