Niagara River, Skagit, and two-handers [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Niagara River, Skagit, and two-handers

12-04-2004, 04:25 PM
Spent a bit of time discussing the Niagara with one of Ontario's most accomplished Niagara anglers and tyers, Joe Penich, and he's put that river back into my mind. Joe usually fishes the river with float gear but he does get fish on flies as well (often on the end of a bottom bouncing, float rod). He's just getting started in the two-handed business so we were talking today, trying to find a fit.

The river presents some unique challenges for employing fly techniques and I've tried on and off since '97 to try and find a way to fish it effectively. I've tried overheading shooting heads, dead drifting using floating heads, Scan style casting with fullsink heads, and so on, never really finding a way to master the grainage needed, combined with the currents, combined with the lack of backcast room.

Having tumbled to Skagit casting recently, it's obvious that this method solves the backcast room, however, other challenges remain. We see fish boiling on top and gear chuckers tossing spoons, are taking fish when their lures are only getting down six inches or so. The 'pool is thought of as a place to go deep but it may take a different mindset to fish it well with fly gear.

We also have to seriously look at appropriate gear (another struggle of mine) as substantial tippet strength, high capacity reels, and long, seriously stiff rods would seem to be the order of the day, yet the river does get fished successfully with lighter tackle.

Just trying to get an idea of the people on this board who have fished the Niagara River (Whirlpool, ArtPark, etc.) using two-handers. Anybody fish it successfully with a two-hander?

12-04-2004, 10:00 PM
I have been following your other thread on Skagit casting on the Grand with great interest. I too have been playing with techniques to move big tips in cold water with heavy flies. I have tried to employ Skagit techniques, but unfortunately I haven't encountered the success you have.

What I've found interesting is the question of backcast room. With my curiosity peaked I sat down tonight and rewatched the footage of Ed Ward at last years Sandy River Clave. At one point he talks about the need for more backcast room than he has available to him at the demo site, I assume due to audience in the way. He says he need at least the rod length plus a few extra feet. Did you have that much in the picture you posted or were you able to punch it out in tighter quarters than that ?

I ask only because I'm still in the phase of sorting out styles.


12-05-2004, 06:29 AM
With the water levels being so high over normal, at times I was as little as an arm's length from the bank and never more than a rod length. In the photo, I could've reached back and touched those grass clumps that were sticking out of the water.

Yesterday, I tried a Loomis Kispiox (Skagit rod) on grass at Grindstone's open house. The rod is quite soft, much like a 7136, and I found I had to be very broad with my casting motions to get it to work. With my stiff Daiwa, I tend to remain very compact in my motions -- I think that compactness gave me an edge when dealing with the bank.

12-05-2004, 06:46 AM
The long stroke with the softer style fits with where my undertanding of skagit casting is at. Despite the fact that it is a short head, the stroke is much more like the stroke you would use with a long belly line due to the full contact of the line on the water.

I will have to try the Dredger line this winter. I have been fishing T+T rods and using a very compact fast stroke ala Dec Hogan style. I'm wondering if the T+T is too stiff to be a good skagit rod (although I'm sure a better caster could manage it just fine). I just ordered a skagit cheater from Rio and getting the right belly length may also change my success.


12-05-2004, 07:35 AM
I interpreted the slow rod requirement, not with it being a casting necessity, but rather that is makes the act of maintaining a continuous load much less difficult. Ed has said somewhere in one of his peices, that maintaining a continuous load with a fast rod isn't an easy thing to do. I think everything with regards to desired rod action and the broad sweep of the casting motions all derives from this original starting point.

AFAIK, if you can manage a continuous load with a fast rod, then there's absolutely nothing that prevents you from executing tight motion, proper Skagit casts.

12-05-2004, 07:39 AM

Two points I would offer, although I have not fished your waters and am 'Sunday morning speculating'.

1) fish different water
Winter steelhead success came to me when I started walking away from bottom bouncing hotspots and finding suitable flywater for swinging. Eventually I had a suite of spots that were totally different yet very productive to hit each weekend, often alone.

2) forward snake vs / in addtion to perry poke
In these fishing situations I find myself using a 'forward positioned snake'. Although not 'officially' a Skagit cast per se, it achieves the same goal and solves the same problems on the river with a very concise and efficient motion. The same rod actions are suitable for this cast as with a perry poke, thus I use the Skagit Specialist for instance which also allows me to put on a mid-belly and fire out long casts in the next pool.

forward snake...
With a shorter stout line (Skagit, Scandi, WC with mid-removed, etc) and a rod that loads up well (read - not stiff) but recoils strong (high modulus) it's possible to create a snake roll "further out in front" that takes less than a rod length of backcasting room and consistently works casting distances relative to rod length and ability but for most 70-90ft.

No voodoo - just that the lift and initial spiral occurs further out front. The forward cast is similar to a perry poke because of the way the rod has to load in a more forward 'tilt'. When I was playing with the upriver snake, I learned that a snake roll can be made with the path of acceleration leading up to the spiral out front so far that it crosses the body to the other side.

In a normal snake roll this initial path of acceleration becomes the centerline of the spiral and it's in line with your body to the downriver side. In an upriver snake, this path of acceleration is made out in front and allowed to cross over to the upriver side, then turned inside out with a spiral. Or it can be dropped into a snake poke, my other pet cast.

However the out-front path can also be spiralled on the downriver side. This dramatically reduces the amount of backcasting room needed, and it can be adjusted as needed.

Care is taken to manage the shape of the d-loop and anchor so that an underhand-strong forward-tilted cast can be made. The final delivery feels very similar to a Skagit cast in that the angle of tension has a more downward force like the perry poke, and it's important to avoid excessive force or velocity such that the line lifts rather than tears from the surface. This is a gentle move that uses a deep load in the rod thus it moves sinktips very effectively. Even though the rod is used to pull tension further down toward the water, the line (wedge) is directed to go forward higher toward the target so that it all evens out. I'd bet that if you stopped high as you do with a traditional cast the line would fly too high.

It's very helpful to be ambidextrous because with one cast either bank / wind can be fished in tight quarters without much fuss.

This is definitely a short head technique but a reduction of backcasting room can be had with long bellies in a similar fashion, just not as easily and the risk of excessive anchor grip is greater with long bellies when fished in a forward orientation.

The snake has so much dynamic tension throughout that the forward cast can be made "Skagit style" (or any style for that matter) and the benefits can be had without the extra motions that a perry poke requires when needed.

That being said, only a poke can get you out of extreme situations and it's a good cast to have under the wader belt.

All this talk has got me pumped to do some casting this morning! Off to the river for a few.

12-05-2004, 10:01 AM
Good morning gentlemen! (west coast-wise anyways)

I am one of those persons that gets really peeved at finding out that something does not live up to expectations because someone exaggerated or overhyped its capabilities. Therefore, when it comes to me putting forth a personal opinion about something such as casting, I tend to either understate things a bit, or I will use as examples the more "extreme" of conditions. So, to clarify things better, let me say that in stating the capabilities of Skagit casting, I use as an example for backcast room, the Doublespey with a superfast sinktip and fairly large/heavily weighted fly. The Doublespey requires the MOST backcast room, while the fast sinktip and weighted fly compounds this need. "One rod length plus three or four feet" is generally the MAXIMUM amount of room needed for Skagit casting, and this is for making longer casts. Lighter tips, lighter/smaller flies, will reduce the amount of rearward room needed. Also shorter casts require less room. Plus, the Perry poke uses less backcast room than the Doublespey. Using the same size rod, with similar lines and flies, I have yet to see another casting style match Skagit casting's capabilities in tight quarters. This is not to say that it can't happen, I just have not seen it so far.

"Slow rods" are not the best for Skagit casting. Rods with light tips, and medium butts work best (medium to medium-fast actions). The light tip is needed to "carry" the load around in the sweep to casting stroke phase. The medium butt drives the light tip over into the casting stroke with speed, but enough "feel" to allow the caster to perceive the feeling of load throughout the whole process. The casting stroke in Skagit casting is actually of medium length compared to Underhand (short) and Traditional Spey (long). In fact, it is actually very similar to a single-handed casting stroke.
I would argue that the Sage 7136 (green) is a medium actioned rod. Most people peg it as slow because they are more used to casting rods rated for heavier lines (8, 9, or 10), and therefore they way overpower the rod, which "collapses" the tip, thus driving the "load" way down into the butt of the rod, making it feel "soft" (and making it cast like doodoo). Correct Skagit casting loads the rod during the "sweep" of the cast, well before the casting stroke occurs, thus when it does come time to accomplish the casting stroke only a modicum of additional power is applied at that time. When done properly, the "feeling" is actually one of casting from off the tip of the rod, not the butt.

Peter, I would really pay special attention to Juro's advice labeled #1.

12-05-2004, 03:22 PM
Winter steelhead success came to me when I started walking away from bottom bouncing hotspots and finding suitable flywater for swinging.

As a frustrated practitioner of the swung fly, I have started to do exactly that. Because the light bulb, although possibly on a dimmer switch, is starting to say that indicator good water is not necessarily good swing water. Am I on the right track?

12-05-2004, 04:46 PM
Juro advice #1 -- most definitely -- that's where we were this morning on the Grand, in the good swing water and away from the bottom bouncing water. There's the float rodders section up by the dam and there's the section we fish that's a few hundred yards downstream and we often have it to ourselves.

As I discovered when I realized that I've been screwing up the spiral single all this time and in reality doing the upriver snake, I found that it was a good "obstructions" cast when casting in that 45 to 60 degree cone. I can't do the thing a bit down river and have it go 90 degrees, and stay out of the bankside weeds.

Ed, about the rods. The river was still high & dirty today so I continued working on the continuous load. Half the day was spent with the stiff Daiwa and half with the Loop Blue 8/9 that's a bit softer in the tip. Two things stuck out -- under 70', the Blue was definitely the easier of the two as that soft tip loaded up very nicely. The Daiwa takes a bit more finesse to get right. Over 70', no contest. The Blue was work but the Daiwa just sailed it out there. This sorts things out nicely as the Daiwa is more suitable for the wide Grand anyway, while the Blue will be nicer on the smaller waters. However, compared to the 7136 Greenie, I consider the Blue to be a much stiffer rod. That's the problem with these rod action terms, they mean different things to different people.

Funny, but I had no trouble with either rod, working very close to the bank while using the double. I just used a far forward anchor placement and away she goes. In the attached picture, I was standing on a submerged rock that was about 3' from the bank. It shows my rod with the line on the dangle just before starting the double (with the camera put away first, of course). I had no trouble popping out good casts from this position and I think I only whacked the bankside weeds once when I forgot myself and threw a normal D-Loop. I was using 26' of SSH attached to a 15' T-6 tip.

Oh ya, forgot -- the fly was one of my purple & pink BUFFs on a 2/0 heavy salmon iron.

12-05-2004, 06:33 PM
The spiral snake throws the spiral loop toward the bank and the 'snake' is executed on the downriver side. The sweep follows the spiral.

The upriver snake throws the spiral loop toward the middle of the river and is executed on the upriver side. The spiral follows the sweep.

However both casts are used with the same hand up, on the same bank, with the same wind situation as two alternatives to the single spey with a large change of direction.


Peter, I also find that the upriver snake is an "out-front snake" and it does require noticably less backcasting room than a single spey or a spiral single, or even a normal snake roll simply because the sweep is made out in front of the caster to set up for the spiral which rotates around that path.

It does take a little practice to figure out, and if the spiral is made too early or with too much gusto it's not the safest cast in the world. It's a very enjoyable cast once learned though, IMHO.

First and foremost the line must be allowed to pass well upriver before the snake is started. I also find that a small spiral and a relaxed yet energized backward sweep works best for the upriver snake with shorter lines and sink tips.

12-05-2004, 06:43 PM
I've been doing the upriver snake for sometime (by mistake as it turns out) as well as the regular snake and I can do both decently. But, I can't do an upriver snake and have it approach a 90 degree change of direction. For that, I have to do a conventional snake and then I'm in the weeds if I'm near them. I usually use the upriver snake as a replacement for the single when I'm tossing tips and I want to cast about a 45 degrees change of direction.

12-05-2004, 06:51 PM
Interesting! I find any snake easiest when made square to the target at a 90 degree angle. Once the line is sent upriver, there is zero difference in the snake or upriver snake to me.

12-05-2004, 07:00 PM
Snake at 90 degrees, yes. Upriver snake at 90 degrees-- not quite that coordinated yet.

12-05-2004, 10:10 PM
I've fished the American side with a two hander several times with not much success. I used a 15' Winston DBF 9wt with a modified Mastery Spey that had 12 feet of LC-13 on the end and a weighted bunny spey. I call it my "get down" line. Casting it isn't as gruesome as you'd think, the DBF just starts to load once I tacked the LC-13 on to it. Plain 'ol double spey's just fine as long as the fly and tip up and "buzzing" on the suface, as Derek Brown would say.

This issue really isn't the casts as much as the currents. The only really decent swinging currents I've found are just above and below Devils Hole. There's spot just above that the gear fishermen do well with, but there is no back cast room at all as you're standing on rocks. If the water is low and not pouring into the hole you can try the upper outer edges with overhead casts. I've had a few follow bunny speys and such up to the top while stipping. No takers, just surprised blank stares on both sides. The problem here is that if you hook one of those lower river hogs he's either blowing out into the heavy current and taking your line, or, if you get past that point in the fight, you have some pretty dicey landing areas. Whatever you do near the Hole keep an eye to the shore. If they start releasing water below it comes up very fast.

I know a few folks who have successfully fished the Artpark (above) drift with bunny speys and zonkers. You might try there. Because the back of the gorge is one or two steps from 20 feet of fast flow you'll have to angle upriver with your casts or have your fly blow right past the fish to shore. My attempts were really to get down ASAP and swing slowly to shore. The fish are not far out, but they do hold against a sharp drop. It's my understanding that they hold off the drop and that the gear fishermen are indeed getting pretty far down (at least on that side).

I wanted to take a Scandanavian rig down there this year but I think I'm holding out until spring to make the trip. That all said, sounds like your buddy knows where the fish are and may just need a new delivery device and change in technique. If I had it to do over I'd start down there with something like a Scandanavian or Skagit style rig.

BTW - Take care down there. As you know it's dangerous and can get icy slick in the winter, especially above the Hole.

12-06-2004, 08:01 AM
Generally, I fish the Whirlpool and occasionally at Artpark with Greg. The 'pool has some places where flies can be swung to advantage and I've hooked fish there at times. Like you mention, when they get in the current, they're usually gone. The small ones get landed.

My last time at Artpark, I picked a bad spot for my upriver casts were going into that long back eddy that runs along the shoreline for a ways. I'd cast upriver and my line would keep going upriver! :eek:

Joe & I were talking about the possibility of skating minnow patterns at the surface as the fish are often seen boiling on top and the spoon chuckers take fish with very shallow running lures. That would be a lot more fun that dredging the bottom.

We'll see how it works out.


12-06-2004, 11:00 AM
Get an s1/s2 guideline head with a few feet of t-14. Have not seen a current it can't tame.

Set your cast up by dumping it all at your feet and let rip.It ain't pretty but does the job. For grins tie on a big copper tube, you should be ticking the bottom or near abouts.

Sounds like you need some serious grainage to get the job done without it all blowing downstream.

Bad thing about the above set up, you need to be part gorilla to do any type of mend.

12-06-2004, 06:42 PM
What's the Guideline heads like? I have 45' of Airflo T-7 -- imagine some T-14 on the end of that would be interesting.

12-06-2004, 08:29 PM
The pattern is in the Archive of Ocean Salmon flies.

12-06-2004, 08:43 PM
Thanks, found it -- interesting looking pattern -- and that stinger hook may prove to be a necessity.

12-07-2004, 02:51 PM
Enjoying the thread. I just bought my first 2-handed rod and haven't cast it yet so am trying to soak up everything I can. What is the difference in your mind between swinging water and bottom bouncing water and indicator water?

12-07-2004, 03:31 PM
What's the Guideline heads like? I have 45' of Airflo T-7 -- imagine some T-14 on the end of that would be interesting.

You can dump these babies at your feet pick em up and shoot the heck out of them, you can also underhand them. I been doing the skagit dump or the good old double spey with them, nice thing about using the traditional casts is that the D loop is smaller due to head size.

The skagit casts are really slick with this stuff, they don't seem to stick to the water like other lines do.

12-07-2004, 06:08 PM
Enjoying the thread. I just bought my first 2-handed rod and haven't cast it yet so am trying to soak up everything I can. What is the difference in your mind between swinging water and bottom bouncing water and indicator water?

Bottom bouncing water tends to be deep slots with heavy current where the typical fly rig simply can't get down. Indicator water is basically the same sorts of slots only shallower plus seams, current breaks, or any other defining feature that lets you run a fly and bobber down a clearly defined run that will tend to group fish. Depth is the primary difference between the two.

Good swing water tends to be flatter water where the depth is more or less constant over a wider stretch of river. It can include faster water but the depth should be more or less constant. Swinging flies is difficult over an undulating or slotted bottom unless you adapt your rig to allow you to "steer" your fly through these stretches.

12-07-2004, 06:08 PM
You can dump these babies at your feet pick em up and shoot the heck out of them, you can also underhand them. I been doing the skagit dump or the good old double spey with them, nice thing about using the traditional casts is that the D loop is smaller due to head size.

The skagit casts are really slick with this stuff, they don't seem to stick to the water like other lines do.

I'll have to talk to Neil about these. . . .


12-07-2004, 06:25 PM
With winter fast approaching, I wonder if these "swinging" waters are where to find steelhead. I can see fish in the tailouts but have trouble getting a slow enough presentation to interest the fish. The broad, long pools/holes on the Muskegon seem perfectly suited to swinging flies/streamers. This is where I'm imagining the spey will shine, if I can get enough control on the speed of the swing.

12-07-2004, 06:35 PM
Or your presentation isn't fast enough to interest the fish.

Try presenting your fly one of two ways, run the fly broadside and fast, like a fleeing minnow by allowing a downstream belly to pull the fly across current. Alternately, make an upstream stack mend then hold the rod tip high and back, lowering it forward as the fly swings -- in effect "dropping" it toward the fish, creating a very slow swing. It is a fallacy to believe that steelhead won't chase fast flies in winter, but they need a few days of more or less constant temps for their metabolism to settle in. It's tough to get fish to chase flies in dropping water temps.

Change up your patterns to match water clarity. I've never been a big fan of big and bright in clear conditions. Go small and somewhat bright (yellow has worked for me) or go natural with good slow water, minnow patterns. Alternately, look at using some of the natural coloured spey flies. I think of big and bright or big and dark as stained or dirty water flies.

12-07-2004, 06:42 PM
Have you used a riffle hitch?
I've been successful dreaddrifting woolly buggers down slots with the high stick method you mention. I've used the slap the water fast strip flee minnow tactic through the summer, especially in brown trout waters.. but hadn't thought it would work with steelhead.
It seems all the advice in these waters is to go deep and slow with bouncing or bobber methods from here on until things warm in the spring. That's what I've always done, but am tired of monofilament. Also, bobber fishing, while productive, seems aesthetically displeasing.

12-07-2004, 07:07 PM
Nope, just a big fat, downstream belly and even some stripping at times to speed it up.

I've heard all that go slow advice too but I was fortunate to start fishing for winter steelhead with a two-hander before I had the benefit of learning that what I was doing was "wrong". It's an outgrowth of the C&D mentality that requires you to bounce a glo bug off the fish's nose.

My son had an interesting time one day, fishing a little trib east of Toronto in early spring when things were still cold. Some float rodders had been drifting roe to a pod of fish and hadn't hit one. My son, who like me knew nothing about the "right way", just treated these fish like smallies and began stripping olive buggers past them at a high rate of knots. Withing an hour or so, he and his friend had exhausted his bugger supply as these fish nailed them constantly. The float rodders apparently looked on in disgust at their constantly bent rods.

12-07-2004, 07:20 PM
Small and bright with yellow: ?buggers, bunny speys, marabou speys?
Natural slow water minnow patterns?

12-07-2004, 07:35 PM

a big, honkin' 4" fly on a 2/0 salmon hook for really dirty water

a slow water natural colour spey for clear conditions -- tied on a #5 Daiichi

Small #10 or #12 fly best tied with yellow floss and yellow dyed grizzley chickaboo collar

small medium current, stained water fly, also on a #5 Daiichi

and the best one

12-07-2004, 07:44 PM
Thanks for your time and interest. I've got materials to tie those. I'll be on the water the next 3 days and give them a try.

12-07-2004, 07:45 PM
What have you been using for your spey hackle. I've been using schlappen and "spey" feathers. I've got a heron that fishes every day from my dock but my wife promised she'd call the DNR if it showed up on my tying desk.

12-07-2004, 08:07 PM
"Spey" feathers? I've got a heron that fishes every day from my dock but my wife promised she'd call the DNR if it showed up on my tying desk.

I heard the authorities came knocking on this farmers door one day. Seems they heard he had killed a heron.
Well yeah, says he. I didn't want to kill it. But the darn thing was roosting in the barn. The hens wouldn't lay, the cows wouldn't give any milk. I tried to shoo it out of there, but it just wouldn't leave......So I shot it.
Naturally, the authorities were quite upset. They demanded to see the carcus.
There isn't any carcus replied the farmer.
What do you mean,,,,there is no carcus? What happened to it they asked?
I called some of the neighbors over. We barbequed it and ate it.
They were horrified. How could you eat a heron? :tsk_tsk:
Well,,,after all, it was dead replied the farmer.
Well, uh,,,what exactly does a heron taste like they asked?
Oh, kinda like a cross between a bald eagle and a spotted owl. :chuckle:

12-07-2004, 08:17 PM
marabou on the Dirty Harry and Brown Trout Weamer

chickaboo on the steelhead wet

burnt spey hackle on the five oaks

saddle hackle on the flat wing

Just bought some grey burnt spey hackle that'll do a decent imitation of heron so be nice to the heron. :)

12-07-2004, 08:51 PM
The heron will live. I guess the bald eagle and spotted owl should be left alone as well. I burned some seagull feathers the other day and they made some usable spey hackle. The quills were reasonably pliable though short. Made for a good wrap at the head.