Speed or Depth which matters more? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Speed or Depth which matters more?

01-01-2005, 02:12 PM
Winter fishing what do you place more value in speed or depth of presentation?

Willie Gunn
01-01-2005, 03:05 PM
Depth, stick it on their noses

01-01-2005, 03:15 PM
If the fly isn't moving slow enough, it will not matter how deep you are fishing. However, if the fly IS moving slow enough, I feel as though a fish will be more then willing to rise and take a fly that isn't right on their noses (especially when we are discussing Febuary, March and April wild fish).

But remember, these are steelhead, are there are exceptions to every rule. :)

Willie Gunn
01-01-2005, 03:41 PM
Yesterday, last year, I was fishing on the Spey, I know it is closed but someone has to do the research, the fish would only take the fly when I started to handline, rather faster than slower.
Ryan, perhaps Salmon are different to Steelhead?

01-01-2005, 07:43 PM
Did you guys see the article in Fly Fishing and Tying the other day. They actually tracked different sink tips in moderately moving water. The depths they achieved were a hell of a lot less than I thought they would be. It just makes me wonder if I am even getting deep enough for winter Steel.

01-01-2005, 07:44 PM

I don't think you can separate the two for winter fish in the December to February time frame. The water is rather cold with temps between 35 and 40 degrees and if speed of presentation was most important, steelhead would come up to the surface and take a very slowly skated, large dry, something I've not heard anyone getting a steelhead to do.

Likewise though if you are fishing deep but fast, the fish will ignore the fly because of the water temp. That is why I think you need to fish both deep (not down on the stones though, a foot to 18" above the stones would be about right) and slower than the current.

01-01-2005, 09:49 PM
How do you really get the fly to go slower than the current without bouncing some weight on the bottom slowing it down? Or, do you mean, swinging from the far bank to the near bank near the bottom as slow as possible?

01-02-2005, 12:37 AM

I agree there is a happy medium. I'm with Willie, I rate depth as being more important. I first wrote up a question with extremes almost the same as your reply, them I edited. I'm interested in seeing how other reply.

Ryan, why do you think a fish will not strike a fast fly swung across its nose.

WG, will your fish move up two feet to take a stationary fly ?


Willie Gunn
01-02-2005, 04:18 AM
WG, will your fish move up two feet to take a stationary fly ?

I wish I knew, when I look at a Spey pool, I decide where I think the salmon should be, whether the salmon agree with me is an altogether another matter. When a fish takes on the dangle can you assume the fish was close in at the edge or had it folowed the fly from somewhere else?
I feel that when the water is cold and the river high you just have to get the fly down and slow if you can, I have now gone away from tips and am fishing a full sinker. A long cast at a relatively narrow angle gets the fly deep and slow. By using an unweighted fly I hope, assume, prey that it fishes slightly above the line keeping it off the bottom.

01-02-2005, 05:59 AM
Firstly, let me clarify that my experience is with Salmon (in Europe), I have never fished for steelhead.
Our early rivers open on Jan 1st, and every year it`s the same old question, fly size, depth, and speed.
Every belief I have at the start of the season, somehow becomes eroded as time goes by, as I witness the contradictions.
By and large I believe that in low temperatures and high water, you have to get the fly down, and try to slow it`s movement down too.
Now with the best will in the world, I try to do this consistantly, but sometimes with varying currents etc, I know my fly (which is the only thing that matters) is not exactly doing what I want it to.
I have learned that this is no deterrent to the fish.
I have had takes handlining half way across a pool, as I prepared to make a (repeat) better cast.
I`ve taken fish, just after my fly has hit the water, knowing my fly was not where it should be.
I`ve been hit on the dangle as I lit another cigarette, (and momentarily forgot about where the fly was).
In short, I often think we pay too much attention to the minute detail, most of which we are not in control of anyway, rather than just get it "down there" and let them decide.
Having seen salmon take a fly when they want it, I don`t subscribe to the speed theory, or the pattern theory. Let them see it, and let them eat it.


01-02-2005, 08:53 AM
Did you guys see the article in Fly Fishing and Tying the other day. They actually tracked different sink tips in moderately moving water. The depths they achieved were a hell of a lot less than I thought they would be. It just makes me wonder if I am even getting deep enough for winter Steel.

Matt, I have the article too, and I traded emails with the writer on the subject. They were trying to achieve maximum depth at the dangle, not mid swing. Their comments about a mended line ending up shallow makes lots of sense if the mended line is deeper at mid swing, because of overhshoot when the line rises at the dangle.

The usual methods of getting a fly down still work, despite the conclusions in the article. The gaps in my fly boxes are mute testament to the efficacy of the stack mend.

As to depth or speed -- I've had contradictory experiences so I can't say which for sure, but I usually start off with deep and slow.

01-02-2005, 09:38 AM
Great topic! It's fascinating reading the various responses from around the world.

Another factor I would add is angle of attack. By this I mean most steelhead or salmon (other than the world's most naive) shy away from a fly where the presence of the black sinktip is too obvious or threatening.

Not only does the fly need to be at an acceptable speed for the particular fish, which may be either fast or slow, or sometimes at a dead stop; and the fly must not be out of it's willing reach, which is sometimes creating a wake in a tumbling rapid, or scraping the bottom; but it must also be the only thing the fish sees on it's approach.

In approx 25 years of steelhead fishing I have used methods to mend the fly down to the bottom or lead down and inside, multiple stacks, etc - and can honestly not recall ever fair hooking a fish doing it. However I can recall countless times where a well positioned down-and-across swing held under tension to some fraction of the current speed surprised me with a crushing take even in deep winter.

One of the coldest days in which I landed multiple fish was a February day on a small Olympic Peninsula stream. Ice in the guides, a bitter day - but four steelhead hooked and three of them to the camera. Three grabs / two landed came from a 4ft deep trough that piled up against a high bank with a hard shallow riffle stopping the easy advance of fish upriver. I stood on the head of the pool and gradually swung the fly almost parrallel to the current, using light mends to keep the fly swaying side to side in the seam as I slipped line down. The cast was 40ft to start, but I worked nearly the whole line into this trough in the seam with a light sinktip, never touching the bottom. Each fish came further down the trough, and in all the days I had dredged it before I had never hooked a fish in it. Using the downriver feed method I have landed many more fish in similar troughs since.

The other fish was in a very small pocket behind a 3ft diameter boulder in the middle of a very long shallow run. I was going to walk right past it but had a vibe and took three swings and BANG what a hot chrome fish not more than 5 miles from the sea. This one was a gift fish.

Sorry I got a little day-dreamy thinking about that day. But my point is a big part of the fish's decision in winter / sinktip fishing is what he is shown as well as how he is shown it. Although some methods will get the fly deeper, you will catch more fish showing them something more palatable even if it's not quite as deep.

01-02-2005, 10:30 AM
Sorry I got a little day-dreamy thinking about that day. But my point is a big part of the fish's decision in winter / sinktip fishing is what he is shown as well as how he is shown it. Although some methods will get the fly deeper, you will catch more fish showing them something more palatable even if it's not quite as deep.

Funny that, but I just finished writing an email to Dave asking him about leader length on his sinktips. Dave and I seem to have different sorts of days on the Grand. Dave is very consistent, getting his onesies and twosies every time out while I either have big days or skunkings, so I'm trying to sort out the differences in our approaches.

I agree that the fish should see the fly first but I look back at my big days and they've come in warmer conditions, using one of my weamer patterns where I've presented my fly across or even slightly above stream, then allowed the belly to drag the fly downstream, then across. Most of the hits came as the fly "turned the corner" from down to across. My leaders were fairly long, 7' to 8', usually 6 lb. Maxima, when the water is somewhat clear and the current slow.

As conditions cleared up or dirtied up, I'd stay with that same general presentation but that was probably my downfall. I'm a big believer in broadside presentations as it has done me well in the past. One of the better local steelheaders believes in the 'drop back and down' method where he casts quartering downstream, one mend with the rod tip well back, then drops the tip into the swing, dropping the fly ass-end toward the fish. he does very well with it but I have not -- time for a change perhaps.

01-02-2005, 10:52 AM
Peter -

I should add that in summer-run fishing with the "greased line" I manipulate the floating line in the most bizzare fashion and virtually all of these precarious applications of line tension have resulted in a hookup.

In reading your response I think there were a few key factors in play - leader length, water clarity, water temperature, and line design / color.

I knew this logger from the Columbia River valley who was a steelhead fishing animal. He got bored with gear so bought a non-name junker flyrod at a garage sale. It had a level floating line on it to which he tied a simple length of 8# test. The flybox which I think he got with the rod came with a few scraggly flies, probably an heirloom of a once-avid angler who had passed on leaving his gear to be nothing more than garage sale fodder for Roy to salvage, but it could not have fallen into better hands as he mastered the catching of steelhead quickly and taught some of us a thing or two because he knew steelhead like few did.

In a bouldery underwater grade that dropped off into several feet quickly, we would fish through with sinktips putting flies right through the sweet spot with nary a touch. Roy would be eating lunch, or having a smoke, watching us flail our $1000 outfits through the pool. To him it was simply a matter of whether the fish would recover from all that or not. They were there, thick in fact.

I knew him pretty good so went over to chat, and he let me know what he thought of our sinktips. He said he watched us freak out the pod the whole time we worked through and he hoped they would calm down so he could fish some more. As much as I thought a level line and straight leader on a no-name garage sale rod was poopoo, he thought ten times over that our approach was crap.

As you might have guessed, he decided to make a pass despite the distruption and promptly hooked a hot leaping hen before we could plant our asses on a log to rest. I think he could have schooled us all day long.

Later that weekend I continued to the Kalama River and the beginner hole was packed with mint-bright coho and summer runs fringed the tackle grabber rocks and the head of the pool upriver. It was kind of crowded but I watched from the high roadside. It was common knowledge for the locals that the only way to get these fish to eat was to keep the line out of the water, floating line only with 20ft leaders. Some out of towners done up in fancy gear came in and fished the far bank with tips. Any presence of a sinktip under the surface freaked them out as Roy had said. I watched as a couple of mint coho were landed by floating line anglers on the near bank even as they fish were harassed by the sinktippers who never had a touch.

The next morning after sleeping by the old foundation pool, I landed a 15 pound unclipped buck at the head of the Holy Water. I fished till dusk and broke another one off at Deadline, and a bald eagle flew so close to my head I could have tickled it with my tip guide. I stuck with a floater until winter came and learned a lot that year about summer steelhead.

Willie Gunn
01-02-2005, 11:04 AM
You are in nostalgic mood.
I would like to try some of these seams with a full sinker. One of the reasons I changed back from tips is just the thickness of the lines required to fish tips.
I'm sure the XLT and Accelerator I have been using are at least twice as thick, if not more as the full sinker or intermediate. Perhaps Fine and Far off works in the winter as well as the summer

01-02-2005, 12:05 PM
This gets us back to floaters, long FC leaders, heavy flies, and a few BB shot where necessary. Last time out I was using a clear intermediate tip and a #1 heavy iron that was hitting bottom in 3' to 4' of slow current. Lots of bottom but no hits.

In these conditions I'm going to have to use that quartering across and drop tip into fish, presentation. It works slots and trenches pretty good plus the fish definitely see the fly before anything else. The heavy fly seems to be one of the keys as it will sink as you drop the tip into the swing.

01-02-2005, 02:14 PM
First off like others have said the combination of depth and speed are important.

As far as stationary flies drawing strikes, lets not forget that arguably the most effective steelheading technoque is the backtrolling of plugs. With this presentation, if done properly, the plugs will be nearly stationary, moving downstream very very slowly.. So i think the answer is yes a steelhead would hit a stationary fly.

A large part of our problem is that we don't understand how a winter steelhead takes a fly. We don't understand because we don't know and we don't know because we never see it. So everything we say about how a steelhead takes a fly is entirely theory and speculation. We can however use our theories and speculations to give us confidence.

What makes the most sence to me is that a fish when taking a fly generally will be moving up stream and up through the water column. The fish sees the fly moving across his field of view from side to side. First thing i notice is that this is extremely unnatural behavior for anything that lives in the water. Everything that swims usually moves across a river at a steep downstream angle. Also anything nonliving always flaots dead drift more or less straight downstream. so we can understand that our swinging flies look extremely unnatural. hmm what that has to do with depth or speed i dunno but i think it's an interesting observation..

So i guess the key is to pick a presentation that gives us confidence because as we know the more confident you are in what you are doing the more you'll go out, the harder you'll fish and as a result will be you'll catch more fish because whats more important that speed or depth is putting in the hours!

01-02-2005, 02:25 PM
The few times I've been able to watch a fish approach a fly, most takes occurred after the fly passed the fish and it turned on the fly, taking it from behind. If the fly ran toward the fish, it usually spooked it, as prey items don't usually charge directly at predators.

01-02-2005, 02:49 PM
In my book fly speed trumps depth. But, this has much to do with my chosen approach of steelheading - cover water thoroughly but quickly, hoping to find the aggressive fish that are willing to move to a fly. Someone that chooses to instead completely dissect each pool may in fact be more concerned with depth. I have experienced many, many instances where winter steelhead rose several feet up through the water column to take flies that were swimming at speeds slower than the current, but not very deeply. One of my most memorable examples was hooking two winter fish on the Mixer back when the tailout was an actual pour-over and had much heavier current than it does now. This was a January day with ice flows coming out of the Sauk and the Skagit itself temping at 37 degrees, and both of these fish grabbed the fly in about 6 feet of water where the current was flowing hard enough that my 9 foot sinktip was only pulling the fly down about 18" (I could see the fly's orange glow throughout most of the swing). I lost one of the fish after a couple of jumps, but landed the other after an awesome fight and aerial display - about 9 pounds of snowbelly - totally clean, chromed-out, early-running Skagit Native. Yes, winter steelhead will move up to take slowly swinging flies (I have in fact, risen three and hooked one winter steelhead on surface flies many years ago in the February-March time frame to prove to myself that it could be done), but you have to hunt for the ones that are willing to do so.

Sometimes speed means FASTER, but this generally applies in the summer, not winter. I have NEVER had a winter steelhead in cold water (December, January, first half of February) rise up through any conditions of SIGNIFICANT CURRENT to take a fly that was swinging faster than that current.

I too have seen steelhead spook from sunk lines, but this has always been in cases where the fish have had constant and relentless sportfishing pressure. I do not believe that moving fish, such as the majority of our winterruns in Puget Sound, could give a flyin' farhook about the presence of a sunk line. If they spooked everytime at such an insignificant object drifting down the river they would never make it back to their original spawning grounds!

01-02-2005, 03:57 PM
Is the flyin' farhook a good fly? I just keep thinking about the Skagit and how much faster that water can be compared to the Sky. It seems a little hard to go deep even with 8' inter then 8' of T-14. Cast out and follow the line with the rod tip letting it sink before she turns and works across the run. I'm still not hitting bottom and I doubt if I'm even 2 or 3 feet down. I'm thinking I want to be a foot off the bottom in 6 to 2 feet of water as it works back to the bank on the swing. Unless I get an underwater camera, I'm really not sure what the hell that fly is doing on the swing.

01-02-2005, 04:06 PM

The description of the glow of the fly in the north Cascade glacier melt and the thought of such aggressive Skagit River chromers gets my blood boiling. I sure miss the PNW!

Brian Simonseth
01-02-2005, 05:28 PM

I live here but with a bad wheel, it seems like miles away just like you!

01-02-2005, 06:29 PM
Ryan, why do you think a fish will not strike a fast fly swung across its nose.

I think a fish will strike a fast fly swung across its nose but I think the likelihood is small. No one steelhead is alike...they are unpredictable little buggers. However, I just have much more confidence in a slowly swung fly that maybe presented a little high in the column then a fly that is presented too quickly but is bouncing off the rocks.

Confidence happens. You can not force yourself into confidence. And as we all know, one must have confidence to catch steelhead. If I am fishing a piece of water and believe that my fly is swing too fast, I know I am not going to hook a fish. Although, if I am fishing a piece of water and am presenting the fly at which I believe to be a proper speed yet believe I may not be deep enough, I still have enough confidence to hook a fish (which I sometimes do).

01-02-2005, 08:38 PM
Is there a Steelhead fly named Confidence because I'd fish the crap out of it if there was.

01-02-2005, 09:18 PM
Winter fishing I put much more emphasis on swing angle=speed.


"By this I mean most steelhead or salmon (other than the world's most naive) shy away from a fly where the presence of the black sinktip is too obvious or threatening."

After thinking about this statement...my experiences follow what Ed wrote= "could give a flyin' farhook about the presence of a sunk line". I understand that there certainly are situations/places where the tip/fly/leader can, and does, spook fish. Fishing for skamania hatchery fish in low, ultra clear SW Washington creeks does not make it a 'rule' for 'most' situations.

If steelhead are 'so' leader/tip shy, I don't understand how on earth I have even caught a single fish over the past several years since entirely switching to Chameleon Maxima? Fish caught from the most heavily fished steelhead rivers in the WORLD. Whether fished deep or right in the surface, with that highly visible brown string attached to the fly. They don't care.

Amongst everything else facing anadromous runs...the day I start worrying about the small percentage of POTENTIAL leader shy steelhead is the day I find another lifestyle.


01-02-2005, 10:15 PM
What about if both speed and depth has only to do with VIS? I'm talking steelhead, not sure what types of VIS our Salmon Fishermen friends have.

Example, Metow, cold, brrrrr, really cold but clear what do you get? I know you all are going to say it's the fish over there on the East Side.

I say BS!

How many of you have really fished the PS rivers on top when the H2O temp is 37 and the VIS is 5 ft, low water? You know one of those 10 day high pressure systems we have gotten over the last 4 years or so usually in January.

Go ahead, someone tell us the local steelhead won't move because the water temps too cold. :chuckle:

01-02-2005, 11:24 PM
Happy holidays, Bill -

It seems to me there may have been a slight misunderstanding as I read your reply and thought I would take the opportunity to clarify what I had written. In my quote which you included I was extolling the virtues of presenting the sinktip at an angle wherein the fish can focus on the fly, but not the encroachment of the tip before it has a chance to react to said fly. For instance, when the sinktip is presented broadside it tends to clothesline the pool.

While guiding on the flats, I use the rod itself to portray the importance of this angle of presentation in those areas where a sinking line is necessary due to excessive tide currents, fast moving fish and deeper water. Standing far enough away, I point the rod so as to look down the length of the rod from the tip, a small dot is all we see. However, holding the rod sideways and moving it ever closer to our faces, we feel a sense of threatening advance which I refer to as "clotheslining".

My point is, sinking lines despite the black tungsten coating can be subtle to fish provided the "angle of attack" (see above post) puts the fly first in the fish's perception.

So in summary as I explained before, I fish sinktips frequently and with good success, however at angles that present the fly first to the fish rather than showing the sinking tip or the fat floating line for that matter down in the fish's domain. Nothing more, nothing less.

Maxima is good stuff, I use it myself.

01-02-2005, 11:54 PM
Bill, you are getting this where I hoped it would go!! Do me a favor expand your thoughts swing angle=speed.

Ed, You touched on my next question, I'll follow with that in a couple of days.



01-03-2005, 12:32 AM

When I first started flyfishing for winterruns I too subscribed heavily to the "get the fly as deep as possible" school of thought. I did catch some fish, but they were VERY far and few between. It wasn't until I took the advice that "it is far better to have one's fly swinging at "proper" speeds and perhaps too shallow than to have the fly near the bottom but swinging too quickly". It took a huge leap of faith to commit to this philosophy, but after a while, lo and behold I started to catch winter steelhead, and also found it to be a more personally satisfying method of fishing. Gone were the days of constantly snagging bottom and not being able to tell a "take" from a "snag". The deeper that a fly is fished, the less control one will have on the fly's action (speed), and fly speed is EVERYTHING if you wish to catch steelhead on the swing. Also, if you want to catch steelhead on the swung fly then you need to have a little faith in the steelhead's disposition for being attracted to flies swung through the river at enticing speeds, and there are definitely times that work better than others. Don't get discouraged if you don't have much happening in the months of December and January. This is a coldwater period where our fish are in the least receptive mood for chasing down a fly. Also, these "early" fish have one thing on their mind - getting back "home" quickly - and the faster that a fish moves up the river, the less likely it is that they will take the time to eat a fly. The later running fish tend to amble up the river rather than sprint, and these are the steelhead that are the "grabby" ones and the fish that we flyfishers can't wait for to show up. This generally starts to happen in the middle of February for us "Sounders".

01-03-2005, 07:29 AM
Thanks Ed.

01-03-2005, 09:37 AM
Very interesting.......... in my continuing education of winter steelhead and after some thought. I would have to agree speed over depth for the swung fly. Not, that I always do that :confused: , I should do it more :wink: . Also, some other notes : I find the fly needs to have nice swimming movement / motion. Fly presented first. My leaders are about 3' - 5' (4 1/2' most common) long tapered to 10# -12# test. Good number of takes on the hang down.
However also in winter with water temps below 40 deg. and on smaller streams or streams with more pocket type water. I toss barbell eye (small eyes) flys that are space, get down fast, hold shape (less movement) such as Clouser's around boulders and off ledges. These fish behind the boulders will move a short distance quick (often you see the silver flash), just after the fly hits the water, although the fly is not that deep, and grab it, because they have too, or it's gone.
So in winter I kind of fish the larger or swing water one way with a swimming type of fly. And the smaller streams or boulders / ledges another, with space get down quick, flashy baitfish profile type fly.

01-03-2005, 09:44 AM
Riveraddict, On a down and across swing, how do you get the fly to go slower. It seems, the longer the cast, the less control you have over speed. When you say slower, what do you mean? Do you mean slow it down as it moves from the far bank to the near bank? Thanks.

Willie Gunn
01-03-2005, 11:56 AM
You cannot really discuss the speed of the fly in isolation, you have to consider size as well. When the fish(salmon/steelhead) sees the fly moving across its field of vision it has to consider whether it looks natural. A small fish could not hold its own against a strong current but would be swept away, especially in cold water. But a bigger small fish could probably make a little head way down and across.
Or to put it simply if swimming a size 10 shrimp fly it has to move very slowly ( in relation to the current) where as an Intruder or Collie dog 6-8" long can be allowed to swim faster.

Speed can be varied by casting at a different angle and mending. A square cast and no mend the fly tracks much faster than a long cast at 30 degrees to the bank followed by a quick big upstream mend.

Does that make sense, just in from a day on the river.

01-03-2005, 01:54 PM

I agree that a fly down on the stones is next to worthless for winter steelhead. I also agree that the fly needs to be slowed down on the swing for winter fish. However, I've not done well at all fishing in the top foot or so of the water column during winter and in December/January want to be about 6" to 18" above the level of the fish with a slow swing due to the cold water temps.


Is what I just posted to Ed what you are talking about?


In the conditions you describe, I've found I do better with a relatively small fly and use one of several spey flies (Orange Heron, Sol Duc, Sol Duc Dark, Blue and Red, or Red Wing Blackbird Spey) tied on Alec Jackson #5 spey hooks for those low, cold, clear water conditions in winter. However, I am fishing them on sink tips because I've found the fish not all that inclined to move very far for the fly in water under 40 degrees.

01-03-2005, 05:11 PM
I think when we are talking speed of presentation there needs to be a clarification. Between the two speeds, downstream (with the flow of current) in relation to the current and lateral speed from bank to bank.

To further the question of depth what type of structure are we fishing? A run six ft deep with three foot boulders or six ft deep with 1 ft boulders and depressions for the fish to hold behind.

01-03-2005, 06:25 PM

Almost all of my 'winter' steelhead trips are taken from mid Feb to late April. Water temps have ranged from 37F to nearly 50F. I would say the average is approx. 42F to 44F. Not real cold, but plenty cold enough.

The most obvious key element is the fish being there in the first place!!! :D

There are so many variables in the various drifts that it is pretty tough to make a one size fits all description.

All I try to accomplish is to get my fly to try to drift downstream slower than the current, under tension so it is swimming properly, while swinging towards the shore as slow as possible. Proper line/rod manipulation is the key. It allows the fly to be both as deep as possible while swinging at 'that' tantalizing speed. But in the end I still choose speed over depth.


01-04-2005, 03:32 AM
I`ve been reading this thread since it started, and respect the individuality of opinion.
However, I have a problem with the speed issue.
I`m not referring to isolated incidents, but a commonplace occurance that I witness many times during each Spring which seems to confound the speed theory, IMHO.
Picture this ! I`m fishing one side of a wide 4 rod beat.
I`ve chosen my fly, line, casting angle et all, to give me the speed, depth, and presentation I desire. The current is fairly strong, and as Willie Gunn already highlighted, my angle is as such that I try to slow the whole thing down.
On the opposite bank, upstream of me, someone is casting 3" baits, (flying condoms) upstream, and retrieving them with a spinning reel at high speed.
Now, on the average day, the guy with the spinner will be bagged-off well before I am, yet he`s been moving his lure in the water at a speed far greater than I have been working my fly.
I don`t have the answer as to why, but it sure has me thinking that speed is not the most critical factor, although I do accept it`s relevance.
What I think the other guy has "over " me is, his depth control is far greater than mine, and I think that could be the winner.


01-04-2005, 04:06 AM
Could your example be a case of what someone else has already mentioned -- a relationship between size of fly/lure and the speed of retrieve? A large spinning lure retrieved at a high speed makes more sense in turns of the behaviour of prey than a small fly retrieved the same way.

01-04-2005, 04:42 AM
quite possibly this could be the case, but it does pose the question as to what is the correct speed for any lure/fly.
Just maybe, it`s not as relevant as depth ?
After all, if the fish sees the fly and decides to "have a go", I don`t envisage it moving faster than he can.
If he doesn`t see it in the first place, because it is moving too high or too deep, does the speed matter at all?
I think varying the speed, at what appears the correct depth is all we can do.
In fact, I think every time I cast a fly there is variation, as no two will behave exactly the same as we step down a pool.
It`s not an exact science, and that`s one of the great attractions of the sport.


Willie Gunn
01-04-2005, 06:30 AM
Picture this ! I`m fishing one side of a wide 4 rod beat.
I`ve chosen my fly, line, casting angle et all, to give me the speed, depth, and presentation I desire. The current is fairly strong, and as Willie Gunn already highlighted, my angle is as such that I try to slow the whole thing down.
On the opposite bank, upstream of me, someone is casting 3" baits, (flying condoms) upstream, and retrieving them with a spinning reel at high speed.
Now, on the average day, the guy with the spinner will be bagged-off well before I am, yet he`s been moving his lure in the water at a speed far greater than I have been working my fly.

I would ban upstream spinning, I have no time for it what so ever. There is probably more skill involved shooting fish in a barrel.

From what I have seen the lump of metal approahes the fish at speed, and the fish has two choices flight or fight, if he fights he is hooked either in the mouth or around the head.

Just do not get me started on the subject, I can feel my blood beginning to boil

01-04-2005, 06:41 AM
I've had several old-timer spinners tell me they like to cast upstream and retrieve just fast enough to keep the blades moving, inching the lure along the bottom faster than the current and fast enough to just spin the blades. I, for the life of me, can't see what a spinner represents to a steelhead, but it works. Acoustics?
I've tried to duplicate that with streamers and it's hard. The line and cast create problems. Trying to strip to keep the fly faster than the current. It just turns into a whole lot of work and line management that I haven't been able to master. I do fish upstream with streamers and buggers, but dead drift them. Then there is Galloup's work with streamers, but was written for big browns in warm weather. I haven't seen anyone ripping streamers while driftboating for steelhead.... wonder if that might work. Galloup casts slightly upstream with a sinking line and big sculpin-like flies and strip retrieves inciting a predatory response. I can attest that it works for May steelhead that are still in Michigan rivers but haven't tried it during cooler or cold water.

01-04-2005, 09:39 AM
My first two winter steelhead were taken on fast moving, shallow running streamers, so yes, there's at least a little bit of evidence that they'll hit a fast moving fly in cold water.

I also use an upstream approach at times, however, I make no effort to fiddle with line management, rather I toss a downstream loop and let the current acting on the floating belly run the fly downstream. During November, a few of my fish were hooked on the 'wrong' side of the mouth, indicating that they were probably either facing downstream or took the downstream, shallow running fly.

01-04-2005, 10:07 AM
Willie Gunn,
I totally agree with you on upstream spinning, and indeed a number of fisheries over here have banned it, and proper order too. :tsk_tsk:
I also think it is responsible for a lot of foul-hooked fish.
Also, it can be very infuriating to be covering a stretch with your fly, and someone comes on, and starts plonking spinners all over the place. (Although etiquette dictates fly to have preference, not all are ethical)


01-04-2005, 04:57 PM
If you get right on the bottom and watch sculpins, they hug the stones and dart. Never have I seen a sculpin or other prey drift in the manner of the swung fly. An upstream cast with a sculpin pattern that dead drifts amongst the bottom cobble best imitates their behavior. That probably accounts for the success with wooly buggers on the dead drift. That being said, nothing seems as satisfying as a jarring strike on a swung fly. My experience with stripping streamers is that a steelhead will smash the streamer, seemingly coming out of nowhere, while the brown chases before the take.