Greased Line Fishing for Salmon & Steelhead [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Greased Line Fishing for Salmon & Steelhead

10-12-2004, 08:15 PM
This business of greased line fishing as described by A.H.E. Wood (aka Jock Scott) seems to be a lost art on the Rogue River. I have heard rumerous reasons why the technique has lost favor to some of the newer methods but dammit, didn't it work for the old timers?

The Rogue is a controlled river. It has three dams in the upper section. Currently, the flow out of Lost Creek Lake (the uppermost dam) is 942 cfs, the water temp is 42 F. At this flow rate, there is a lot of reachable fly water less than four feet deep. The fall Chinook are spawning,,,and dying. The steelhead are right in there with them or just below,,,waiting. The river keepers want the low tempurature and flows to keep the Chinook healthy and to assure that they spawn in the main stem of the river. Later, when it is over, they will increase the flow and let the tempurature rise some. Although rarely does it ever get above 58 F in the upper river.

I have met a few who swing flies on the upper Rogue. But for some reason, I'm not getting it. Anyone know how to get hold of Bill McMillan?

10-13-2004, 09:13 AM
JD guess I will just have to move down there,,,, cant be any competition for swingin. we are in the process of selling here in Prineville and havent yet decided where to land. The Medford area is one of our choices.

I realize that nymphing is more productive, but hell when your old you dont want to many of those big old Steelhead yanking your arms out. :chuckle:


10-13-2004, 10:19 AM
first off not all swung flies on a floating line are being fished "greased line". Lots of people assume that because they are fishing a floating line and swinging that they are greased lining, that is false.
The greased line presentation is a very specific way of fishing and is different from the wet fly swing.

with th e wet fly swing one casts down and across, mends upstream and lets the fly swing under tension.. very simple...

Now in terms of the greased line, here is something that will help put it in context. Wood fished the same beat of river ever day. this means that he knew the lies.. he knew where to expect grabs. this would have allowed him to specifically target thoes spots, just like we all would do on a steelhead river. it also means that he quite possibly ignored the rest of the water. So it would be my interpretation that the greased line presentation was used by wood for fishing specific lies.. now with that as context..

The greased line presentation is fished mostly down and a little across without tension ( drag) This is done by casting across and making making the first mend downstream to set the fly broadside to the river, then half or more of the line back upspream so that the drift can be controled.. this allows the fly to drift downstream with just the smallest amount of drag more downstream than across. do you see how this would be effective for covering specific lies?
through the rest of the drift the rod tip is held high this allows the angler to manipulate the speed of the fly by leading or following the line instead of mending which can jerk the fly..

nowa days most people practice the greased line presentation in an adapted method that goes like this depending on the water flow.. cast across and point the rod straight downstream... this brings the fly across broadside but under tension and certainly more across than down.. but unlike wood we are trying to cover a lot of water because we in most cases don't know the exact lie where the fish is located...

hope this makes sence

10-13-2004, 12:55 PM

Like you, I don't find many folks using the greased line presentation despite its effectiveness. I suspect the main reason for this is the standard wet fly swing is far easier to accomplish, as Roballen alluded in his very good description of the difference between standard wet fly and greased line. It takes a lot more work and attention from the angler to keep the fly moving downstream and accross with the fly broadside to the current than to just toss it out, make a back mend, and let it drift though. It also seems strange to most anglers that when the fly moves into slack or slow water, you must add more downstream mend and/or move the rod toward shore the keep the fly moving and broadside.

10-13-2004, 01:10 PM
Not much to add but I found my catch rate increased as soon as I started to focus on presenting my summer flies broadside to the fish. A very good steelheader once told me that with the smallish summer flies you need to get it broadside so the fish see it better. In my unscientific tests I believe him. For big flies I have not found a broadside approach to matter as much.

Also you are gonna have to step away from the otis bugs and get some lady carolines swinging down there:chuckle:


10-13-2004, 01:11 PM
To my understanding, the Greased Line tech. also aims at giving the fish the upmost opportunity to view the fly BROADSIDE for as long as possible. This is the reason for the specific mending and drag free drifting. Also, to my understanding, the greased line tech. gives way to the wet fly swing towards the tail end of the fly's drift. I'll double check my ref...

10-13-2004, 01:12 PM

I think you hit on something in that modern greaselining differs from that Woods described. I don't want to get caught up in semantics but the litmus test for me concerning modern greaselining boils down to two things: fly orientation and speed relative to the current.

In a down stream swing, the fly moves across stream facing upstream. In the GL, it is somewhat facing cross stream. A lot has been written about the reason and advantage for this but it seems to me to be more just the mechanics of the drag. Of greater importance, I believe, is relative speed. For the classic swing, the fly is presented slower than the current. When you think about this it makes sense as water temps are often colder, the currents faster and visability less so a slower presentation gives the fish a chance to see and move to the fly. The GL presentation presents the fly faster relative to the current. Once again, this fits the normal conditions of summer steelheading; slower, clearer water with more aggressive fish.

You might also add position in the water column but that one is fairly accepted as in the film although I know some that GL deeply sunk flies and it is a great waker technique as well.

my $.02


Rick J
10-13-2004, 02:31 PM
Pretty sure McMillan also used the GL method in the winter using large, sparsly tied flies on heavy steel hooks (Wasn't the Winter's Hope his fly?) and long leaders - this would get down and still present the fly somewhat broadside

10-13-2004, 03:09 PM

I gotta give you kudos for pointing out how its usually done today.


Don't be too quick to call your increased success due to fishing the fly more broadside. Maybe you know the water better. Maybe there are more fish. Maybe maybe maybe.


No the deep wet fly swing as performed by Bill McMillan (and others) does not rely upon a broadside presentation. Once the fly has reached as deep as it is going to get the angler executes a strong upstream mend (about the time the fly has slighty passed your position in the river), keeping the rod vertical, to pull the fly under tension. It is then lead through the remainder of the swing by reducing tension through lowering the rod to keep the fly as deep as possible, for as long as possible, but still keeping the fly from dead drifting. Once you have exhausted your reach the fly rises to between 6" and 18" of the surface and the last portion of the swing comes on in to the hang down. The grab can happen anywhere in the swing. From a few seconds after the fly comes under tension to (unbelievably) as it sits there on the hang down only inches deep.


Just fish as you wish. I find it hard to believe that those Rogue steelhead magically don't rise to flies.


Rick J
10-13-2004, 03:40 PM
On a tangent thread, often folks seem to think they need to be bouncing the bottom for a fish to take but if you assume a 4 foot deep run, the fish will likely be around a foot off the bottom so maximum depth of fly is 3 feet. But if you also assume a fish may tilt up slightly to take a fly (say at a 30 degree angle) and if he is 30" long that tilt up puts him another foot+ higher to intercept a fly so now your fly only needs to be 2 feet deep - pretty doable with a medium sink tip line and short leader even with an unweighted fly. So lets hear it for the steelhead swing - most people I talke to who fish the Rogue are nymphing so that is how they catch the fish. The one time I fished with Fred up there I was swinging and hooked two - so gotta think swinging and grease lining will work - you just have to do it!

10-13-2004, 10:27 PM
I think you comments about the fly speed is a important aspect in triggering a strike from a fish.

After much thought here is my theory on presentation:
To trigger a strike the fly most remain available to the fish while at the sametime appearing to being "alive". In the higher flows of winter and our early summer we need to present our fly slowly so that it remains in the "strike window" long enough for the fish to react. In the higher water velocities of these higher flows slowing down the swing of the fly also allows the currents to "play" with the fly and its materials. This provides the fly with subtle motion (buffing of it by currents and the breathing of the flies material) that says it is "alive".

In the low flows of the summer/early fall there is much less current. In this case to activate the fly and its material we need to speed the fly up so its own velocity in relation to the water "plays with the fly". In these conditions that added fly speed doesn't pull it out of the strike window before the fish can react (it also helps that in the clear water the window is larger as well).

If my theory has any validity we would be constantly playing the game of adjusting the speed of the fly swing in relation to the water conditions - slowing it down in heavy flows and speeding it up in low flows. A interesting test would under the low flow conditions during a winter cold snap which wold suggest that we would want to fish the fly faster than the current (the opposite of most convental thinking). In fact what success I have had in those conditions have with a fly presented more actively than the deep and slow approach.

Just one angler's thoughts/observations.

Tight lines
S malma

10-14-2004, 02:04 AM
Off topic: Smalma, seems like my email to you is bouncing. Let me know if it made it.

10-17-2004, 04:01 PM
Thanks everyone for all the input. I've been away for a few days so not had the chance to reply.

Here is my take on the different methods, and please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I'm still a rookie at this game.

I'll start with dead drifting. Most all of us, I assume, learned this technique trout fishing. The rig usually consisted of a single fly, usually a nymph, some split shot, and an indicator. The idea being to bounce the split shot along the bottom, or slightly above, to achieve the effect of a nymph that had lost it's footing and was being swept downstream by the current. Since the water at the bottom is being slowed by the friction of having to pass over the stream bed. the floating line and indicator are being swept along at the faster speed of the surface water and must be slowed down. This can only be done by fishing a short line and high sticking. (I'll probably get some flack on this, that's ok) Otherwise the best we can do is to reduce drag as much as possible by mending line. It is a very effective technique. And I am not above using it when trout fishing small creeks for trout. It just does not turn me on to fish steelhead that way. And as someone pointed out, the only difference is the "slinky" has been dressed up with some fur and rubber legs. UGH! :eek:

The wet fly swing is a simple enough concept. Cast across, maybe at a slight angle down, throw a big mend uptream to elimininate drag and alow the fly to sink on a slack line. As the line comes under tension, the fly will swing back across stream (facing upstream). You can reduce the amount of tension, or when the fly will come under tension, by a number of methods. You can lead it across or let it come across slower. Now the next two points are confusing to me. Slow the fly down, like it must be moving "slower than the current" We've all heard that. And the fly comes under tension. If the fly is moving slower than the current, is it not being held back under tension? This will cause the fly, even if it is weighted, to rise towards the surface.

As I understand it, the greased line concept is to cast across, again maybe down a bit, letting the fly land on a slack line, mend line as required to give the fly enough time to sink a bit(on a slack line). The difference being, once the fly has sunk, to throw a down stream mend to create tension and orient the fly, causing it to be brought back across side ways so the fish gets a broadside view of it. And again as I recall, Wood fished the fly in the surface film. And he was most sucessful on bright sunny days, and when the air temerature was warmer than the water. (Hell, our air temp is most always warmer than the water) When Wood caught fish, others did not, and visa versa. He refers to the use of a sinking line (whatever did they have in those days?) to get "down amongst the stones"

It seems to me that McMillan, and others, have developed techniques to get down when necessary, without the use of "slinky flies" or sink tips. Not that I mind using sink tips either, it just seems to me that a sparsely dressed fly and a long leader, should be effective in water less than waist deep. And in low water flows, I would think a skated surface fly, or a riffle hitched fly would get some attention.

10-17-2004, 06:05 PM
In terms of moving fish to a fly, it's my personal opinion, actually Bill's opinion passed down to me ( and many others) that water temp is the primary factor for a steelheads activities . I won't speculate on Atlantic Salmon.. it just seems to me however that the air temp reletive to the water temp is a mute point as no steelhead ever knew that the air was warmer than the water..
therefore i believe that air temp is entirely irrelevant and only water temp matters.

One thing i think is critical however, water temp only related to how far a fish will move to take a fly.. it has nothing to do with the equipment or technique..
lets say for the sake of argument that a steelhead in 45 degree water temp will move 3 feet to take a fly.. Given this a fish holding in 3 feet of water would readily move to the surface to take a fly, where as a fish holding at 6 feet would need a deeply sunk fly to trigger a strike..

Now many people say simply that surface fishing is only good in water temps above 50. given the above theory i would say that that is incorrect. If one wants to move a fish to a surface fly in colder water one only needs to find fish that don't have to move far to take a fly on the surface.

I guess all i am really saying is that when your out fishing evaluate the senario and take into account how far you think a fish will be willing to move to take a fly for the given temp, then present the fly at that level or look for areas where fish will hold in a depth effectively consistent with the method you want to fish..

now tell me did any of that make sence???

10-17-2004, 07:06 PM
I am still in the dark though about how to fish a fly at a speed slower than the current speed. And how do you do it without the fly being pulled to the surface? I can understand a waking fly being fished slower than the current speed. I've been able to do that. The V-wake, the little moter boat thing, sputtering across the river as it swings. And the concept of the current doing it's magic with the feathers and hackles. But for the current to do it's magic, wouldn't the fly have to be at a dead drift rather than swimming under tension else the hackles just collapse against the hook shank?

I've been tying up what I think are called spiders. Alec Jackson ties these things on his video. They are nothing more than a floss body, a fat thorax if you will, made up of a rope of fine wire or oval tinsle and peacock herl, and guinea hackle. Sparsley dressed, they easily cut down through the water column on a dead drift. And the fat thorax holds the hackles out and keeps them from collapsing too bad. The fish are there. I can see them in with the Salmon. I can swing a fly in front of them. But I can't get them to take,,,,even a glow bug. :confused:

10-17-2004, 08:05 PM
"The fish are there. I can see them in with the Salmon. I can swing a fly in front of them. But I can't get them to take,,,,even a glow bug. "......JD Jones

Welcome to my world!!

10-17-2004, 09:47 PM

A greased line presentation has the fly act in a somewhat similar manner to a skated dry. However, the fly is sunk slighly below the surface (unless fished on a sink tip) and you can't see it sputtering and moving around on the tippet, and these slight "sputtering" movements keep the hackle from collapsing and make the fly look alive. Also, because a greased line presentation has the fly under the surface, it doesn't put out the wake of a skated fly. Truthfully, one could do a lot worse than fish a smaller wet on a floating line is a fashion that is similar to fishing a skated dry.

10-17-2004, 10:10 PM
"even a glo-bug"

The reason the fish won't bite is because of the bad karma brought on by fishing glo-bugs.

There is only one thing you can do and that is participate in The Ritual. Drive to the river, build a small fire on the bank with barkless beaver sticks. Pour a dram of expensive single malt into the current and slowly feed all your glo-bugs to the fire. Leave without fishing. If you are sincere, you might get some good karma back. :p

10-18-2004, 09:09 AM

I agree with you about greased line, but in many situations a wet fly presented this way still will cause a v-wake at times coming across the current. Runs on big rivers like the Snake you can not get away from it. Fish still hit hard with a grease line V-wake. One does not have to worry about the hackels breathing as every time the hook changes direction ever so slightly which it is doing constantly your hackel breaths. One other observation about this style of fishing is it seems that the grab most often is in the first 25% of the swing. I am talking about Fall fishing when October Caddis abound. I don't think the wet fly sinks very far maybe a foot at most on the original mend up stream and the second mend down. As the fly starts coming across current and up at a slight angle it gets to the surface at about 25% of your total swing. I find that steelhead most often take a couple feet on eigther side of where the fly reaches the surface.

No one on this site fishes dead drift or glow bugs for steelhead do they?
Watched the most awful :chuckle: thing this week. Was over at Rocky Ford this last week on a work related issue. Was walking the bank looking for feeding trout when I came across two guys with fly rods, short leaders, bobbers and a nymph. They would sneak up in the high grass next to where a trout was up against the bank. They kept out of sight and just hung their rod over the edge and let their nymph flow by the fish, their indicator wasn't even in the water! Over and over they would drop the nymph in front of the fish sometimes for 10 minutes. Finally the fish would take or they got the perfect floss. Here are all these beautiful fish feeding on the surface to cast the perfect cast too and these guys are dabbeling! I'm sure they called themselves flyfishermen. Must be from that other site.

10-18-2004, 12:41 PM
"even a glo-bug"

The reason the fish won't bite is because of the bad karma brought on by fishing glo-bugs.

There is only one thing you can do and that is participate in The Ritual. Drive to the river, build a small fire on the bank with barkless beaver sticks. Pour a dram of expensive single malt into the current and slowly feed all your glo-bugs to the fire. Leave without fishing. If you are sincere, you might get some good karma back. :p

That I can go for! I may even throw the Otis bugs in the fire as well. :hihi:
I have heard before of the similariities in action between a skated fly vs a sunk fly on a greased line presentation. That much makes sense.
I've spent way too much time learning to cast a fly to the far bank.
I cannot fish a nymph up close like those guys. :tsk_tsk:
And for what it's worth,,,,,a couple of pairs of pliers will put a nice graceful Alec Jackson bend on a cheap old Mustad 36890 hook. :razz:

10-18-2004, 12:48 PM

Bend and Alec Jackson hook. Those two seem to go together far to often. They are better than they used to be though.


10-18-2004, 01:38 PM

I thought dapping was a time honered method from the old country.

At least they were using this method on mere trout. It would be a different story if they were attempting to catch steelhead in such a manner. Particularly if they were using smallish pink flies.

10-18-2004, 01:54 PM

I thought dapping was a time honered method from the old country.

At least they were using this method on mere trout. It would be a different story if they were attempting to catch steelhead in such a manner. Particularly if they were using smallish pink flies.

Next thing you know someone will write a book "Dapping Power Bait Emergers for Steelhead"

10-18-2004, 02:18 PM
Reading that bit about Wood knowing the river and casting to known lies, I wonder if he had the fly change direction at the critical moment when it is just in front and beyond the fish.

I fish streamers for resident browns using what I call the U-Method. Basically, I cast directly across the current then throw in a big downstream mend. The fly swings through a path roughly the shape of the letter "U". The trick is to get the base of the "U" in front of a holding fish. Since this is a fast moving method, the fly rarely gets down more than six inches. Ideally the fly is approaching the fish then goes broadside, or running broadside then swings upstream. I get the bulk of my hits on the change of direction.

I wonder if Wood was doing the same -- running the fly broadside under light tension and sinking, then bringing it under tension just in front and to the far side of the fish, where the tension would cause the fly to go upstream and rise at the same time as if the fly saw the predator and was fleeing. I've found "fleeing" behaviour to trigger some very aggressive hits from browns, sometimes two or three whacks if they missed hooking up on the first one.

When starting steelheading, I hadn't a clue what I was doing (some will say that not much has changed) so I used my streamer methods. I didn't know any better but I caught a few fish anyway. I was then taught to use the standard wet fly swing and I was not very successful. Since then I've been using more broadside methods and have gone back to using baitfish patterns -- the hit rate has gone up significantly.

10-18-2004, 02:29 PM
DAPPING! That's the word I was looking for. I think Sparky fishes Steelhead this way on Deer Creek and beyond? :lildevl:

10-18-2004, 02:41 PM
Yeah Peter, I have used that method on trout streams and like you said, the takes were visious. This was on Hot Creek down in California where everyone fishes tiny drys and emergers. It is a half mile stretch of catch & release single barbless hook water. Although not illegal, nymphs are kind of frowned upon. But I had heard rumors of guys doing this and wanted to see what would happen. There is a lot of weed growth in Hot Creek so you only get one shot per cast before you are into the weeds. I had rigged up a versa tip line with a 5 ft extra super fast sinking poly leader and a black twin tail bunny leach. The idea was, like you said, let the line go into a downstream loop to make the fly appear like it was fleeing. Like oh s**t, get me the hell out of here! Add to this by sweeping the rod back upstream with a quick strip at the same time. I missed the strike, it really took me by surprise. And I too wanted to get the hell out of there before anyone else saw what I was doing. :chuckle:

10-18-2004, 02:54 PM
And I too wanted to get the hell out of there before anyone else saw what I was doing. :chuckle:

:hihi: :hihi:

That brought back memories. :) Cedar Run on the Grand River where the fish are as fussy as the fisherman. Hatch on and nobody is getting nothing -- very typical. I walk down and insert myself between two dry fly flingers at a discrete distance between them. See a riser. Swing my little streamer in front of him. BAM! Fish released. Another riser, another cast. BAM! Repeat on third riser. BAM!

From fishless, fussy dry fly fisherman upstream, "What another (expletive deleted) one!"

I smiled and left. :lildevl:

10-18-2004, 03:04 PM
:hihi: :hihi:

That brought back memories. :) "What another (expletive deleted) one!"

I smiled and left. :lildevl:

We used to do the same thing with big Carp. Only instead of dry fly fishermen, they were using corn. We understood neither Spanish nor Veitnamese. :chuckle: And they didn't understand why we let them all go.

10-18-2004, 03:09 PM
We used to do the same thing with big Carp. .

:tsk_tsk: Uh-Oh, the karma cops are gonna get ya for that one . . . . ;)

(I've never caught a carp, no, not me . . . . never, not once ;) )

10-18-2004, 04:59 PM
:tsk_tsk: Uh-Oh, the karma cops are gonna get ya for that one . . . . ;)
Well lets see,,,,pour a dram of good single malt into the river, throw a PBE into the fire, pour a dram of single malt into me, throw a PBE into the fire, pour a dram,,,,, :D

10-18-2004, 09:53 PM
JD another thing about thoes GREAT mustad hooks is that you don't need a bench grinder to sharpen them when you hit a rock.
because they are so hard to sharpen i have a strong dislike for chemically sharpened hooks such as alec jacksons and tiemcos one rick and they are done whereas with the mustad a hook file gets them extremely sharp because you can actuallt remove some of the metal easily

10-21-2004, 03:00 AM
Pour a dram of expensive single malt into the current and slowly feed all your glo-bugs to the fire.

What the Hell is a dram?
:confused: :confused:

10-21-2004, 10:30 AM

I will have to wait to tell you until you are old enough to drink :razz:

It is a measure of fluid volume.