The swing's the thing! [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: The swing's the thing!

01-05-2005, 05:12 PM

Yesterday I read the thread discussing the relative merits of fly depth and speed in enticing a steelhead to strike. Both have merit, with members posting their opinions about each. This got me thinking about the wet fly swing, which seems to be the most popular way to fly fish for steelhead on the west coast. The wet fly swing inhibits both depth and speed, in that the line tension prevents the fly from attaining maximum depth and causes a reduction in downstream speed (in contrast to dead drift) and an increase in cross current speed. Considering these seemingly negative attributes of the wet fly swing, why is it so productive?

No insect or baitfish drifts or swims in a way that simulates the wet fly swing. What is the attraction? The fact that it doesn't simulate?

Expanding the topic, I have heard on occasion that a dead drifted fly (or bait or lure) is, or would be, more productive at drawing steelhead strikes, if only it were employed more often. I don't know how anyone could know without rigorous experimentation, and if so, I would expect that dead drift nymphing is what we all would have learned first when taking up steelhead fishing.

So what is it?


Salmo g.

01-05-2005, 08:24 PM
Steve, Great question

Why do I swing vs nymphing,

I enjoy the longer casts

I prefer the challenge of moving the fish to the fly vs bring the fly to the fish

I find swinging relaxing

More interesting in trying to manage the behavior of the fly

Easier on my shoulders than high sticking.

01-05-2005, 09:41 PM
The tug is the drug!

Nothing beats a pull on the swing.

Big K1
01-05-2005, 09:51 PM
I agree with Andre 100%. I swing because I enjoy fishing that way. That tug is nice also.
I enjoy tying the types of flies used for swinging . It is an obsession!

01-06-2005, 09:09 AM
I fish midwestern rivers, where opportunities for getting a grab on a swung fly are limited. Every time I go to my favorite river, I have my fingers crossed for good "swinging" conditions--good vis and temp. We catch most of our fish drifting yarn, which I also enjoy. For a few years, I fished by swinging spinners. In the process of catching a bunch of fish doing this I learned where the "players" are likely to be holding, and it turns out they'll grab a big glack bunny fished on a sink tip just as well. Our steelhead rivers are being taken over buy hordes of nymphers that will camp on one run for hours; I wish they'd stay on the trout streams. Between the three methods--drifting yarn, watching cork, or swinging fur, the yank and following run you get on a swung fly can't be beat! I'd rather catch one that way than five any other.

Rick J
01-06-2005, 09:18 AM
I expect that nymphing with a drag free presentation would often outfish the swing technique but for many as those that have already posted attest it is not just about number of steelhead to hand but the joy of hooking a steelhead "your way"!! Any in spey casting when you get in a rhythm and are just grooving to that line going out perfect who really wants to disrupt this with a damn fish anyway! :)

01-06-2005, 09:21 AM
It's interesting you mention the nymphers camping on the water. This is truly my difficulty with nymphing for steelhead. This Sept. I was fishing the Moss pool on the Deschutes and a nymph fisherman worked in at the top of the pool as I was finishing in the tailout swinging a Coal Car. I had a nice grab behind one of the boulders and had done a nice fish the evening before in the same area. I really wanted to work through the water again. Much to my surprise, the guy above me was making two or three drifts with his indicator rig and than taking two or three steps downstream. After I finished working the tailout I waited up on the shore while he worked through most of the run and then I went in on top and worked through agian (I didn't get that fish to come back :( ). I had no problem that he was fishing a nymph with an indicator. We talked afterwards and he simply enjoys fishing nymphs. But he was polite and had a very good ethic on the water.

As far as the initial question at hand, I have to second the sentiments above. The flies are very cool and there is nothing that compare to that tug.


01-06-2005, 10:12 AM
My answer to Steves question is yes that a nymph dead drifted is going to catch more winter steelhead than a swung fly on a sink tip.

Back in the 80's at the barns holes on the Madison river in Montana a few of us used to put the wet suit and mask on when the big Browns ran up river to spawn. We would sit off to the side of the run and watch the 2 types of fishing being done, The nymph dead drift and the sinktip leach swing. The nymph dead drift was far more effective. A tight holding Brown seemed to pick up on the nymph or for that matter anything moving in the current even a twig at about 3 feet upstream from the holding spot. The fish seemed more like a cat than what we visualize as a fish. Once the fish spotted the object it's body changed shape, went into a strike posture. As the nymph floated by the fish moved up in elevation an inch or so and to the side the nymph was floating by. Those Browns would do the exact same thing with the swung leach on a sink tip. If the tip was only down under the surface a couple of feet, same for the fly and it swung in front of the fish 3 feet out or so the fish would go into the same posture when it first made eye contact with the fly. But rarely would it make the effort of moving more than 3 or 4 inches for the fly. The nymph dead drifted was 2 or 3 inches off the bottom on each cast if one threw enough casts out into the run they were bound to get close enough for the fish to at least mouth the fly.

Now there is a third thing we watched happen. When Sylvester Nemiz, sorry Sly for the SP started showing up to fish the run with swung soft hackels on a floating line, things really changed. At first we would laugh at our new freind because we knew these fish were not going to move for a take much. But right off the bat he took fish on top. Fish would go into the same posture when they saw the soft hackel out in front of their holding spot as they did the nymph or the swung fly. The only difference was that the fish would get really excited by the soft hackel on top. The fish was always like a set spring let go. The rise was so fast to the top you could hardly watch it. Often the fish did not take the fly and would be back down in it's spot before you could blink.

This type of discussion is a lot more easy sitting at someones kitchen table with fishing freinds drinking beer than on the internet. I guess what I'm saying is that steelhead more than likely act the same. So yes a nymph continually put right in front of a fish is going to get a hookup more than a fly swung many times at mid depth because sink tips are not ideal. The skagit system is far more effective, to me it's close to nymph fishing.

No matter what though for winter fish I'm going to fish a tip and on top when VIS is good because I fly fish to make fishing as hard as possible on myself within reason. That should be everyones flyfishing challenge or go back to gear fishing. Because I don't care what anyone says nymph fishing with a fly rod for steelhead is exactly the same as the guy with the gear rod, slinky and yarn. The 2 types of fishing are done the exact same way.

01-06-2005, 10:29 AM

I did a little snorkeling this year. The water temp was 52, that wetsuit of yours sounds pretty good man. What was amazing to me was how different everything looks underwater then what it does looking into the water.

I am a huge fan of the soft hackle and of Syl's. My favorite way to fish for trout. I would have absolutly loved to be a fly on the wall (or on a rock underwater rather) to see those fish react to Sly's soft hackles. Very cool.


01-06-2005, 10:53 AM
Welcome, Salmo g. :) :) :)

Rick J
01-06-2005, 11:05 AM
OC - loved you description on trout responses and I would agree that steelhead likely respond the same way. I have spent many hours on spring creeks just watching trout behavior rather than fishing!!

Your last statement though got me a bit - when you state that making it hard should be everyone's challenge. While my personal philosophy pretty much matches yours, soemone just getting into the sport just wants to catch a steelhead - maybe his long term goals will match yours but likely they don't now. Also there can be a bit of a fine line between nymphing (dead drifting) and swinging. If you use a relatively heavily weighted fly on a long leader and floating line - it is a traditional fly but you are kinda tumble bugging it - maybe cast slighty up to help get better depth then feed line into the cast to keep it down. This isn't a traditional swing method but one that works well for small slots. Just some random thoughts!

01-06-2005, 12:00 PM
I donít think I can agree that wet swung flies may not be imitating bait fish. I imagine that as bait fish continue to grow and move down stream, they get flushed through each tailout and they start swimming for cover in the shallows on the next run. It may look like something starting in the middle and working itís way to the bank. I would agree that anything looking like an insect would dead drift. But I donít know how to nymph. I guess it would be working your line with consecutively longer casts and letting the fly drift straight through a run. Then move down and do it again. That seems like a lot of work. Somehow I donít know if I can play into THE EXACTNESS of presentation anyway. Spey and shrimp patterns donít have any business in freshwater, although I think a swimming creature like that would again work itís way to the bank if caught in the open. Sand shrimp tumbling downstream canít be natural because they know Sparkey dug them up at the beach. I donít think Steelhead give a crap what we through them. Right place right time. Consistent presentation of any of the many techniques will produce. I think there should be a major study done with video cameras. I would love to know the right answer. But I fish instead. I just continue to try and perfect a consistent wet fly swing.

01-06-2005, 12:08 PM
I agree with Andre,

I enjoy the longer casts

I prefer the challenge of moving the fish to the fly vs bring the fly to the fish

I find swinging relaxing

Where else can you almost fall asleep while fishing. On Atlantic S rivers after a few long days, you can ...

It's the THUMP or BANG too when the fish takes that rocks. !!

01-06-2005, 02:47 PM

Growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania like I did (graduating from high school in 1971, makes me an old fart according to my kids), I learned first how to fish soft hackles and traditional wets at age 5 when dad decided I was big enough to start fly fishing. We use to fish single fly as well as mutlple fly rigs, always with a floating line and normal length leader or 7.5' to 9', and never with a weighted fly. This was a very effective way to catch brown, brookies, rainbows, and even smallmouth bass. I even fished many of the same waters that Neyemes did before he moved west.

I also learned to fish streamers with a floating line, including unweighted Muddlers, and we fished them right in the throat of a pool and through runs, the same type of water I expect to find steelhead in. After I started to use sinking lines and then tips with wieghted and unweighted nymphs as well as with streamers around age 16, I noticed I caught fewer fish than I did with the wets and streamers on the floating line.

After I moved to Monana in 1979, I noticed the same thing there. Namely that I did better fishing streamers and unweigted wets on floating lines instread of sunk lines or sink tips. I remember fishing the Missouri at Beaver Creek (A fishery that has been ruined by the Kokanee getting dumped out of the irrigation pond outside of Helena in 1986 that made there way into Hauser and Holter Dams. The kokanee simply overwhelm the browns in shear numbers and dig up many of the browns redds.) for browns in late October and decided to fish with a large,. unweighted, woolhead sculpin on a floating line because there were about 10 folks fishing that very long run and all were using sunk flies on sunk lines. To my amazement, I had one of the best days I ever had and my fly couldn't have been more than 6"-8" below the surface.

We also used to fish at night for large browns in Pennsylvania and we never used sunk lines or sink tips. We used large wets (#1/0-#2) that had fan wings turned vertically to face the front of the hook in order to move some water and create a bit of a disturbance to attract the brown. I've seen some very large brown caught using this method, including in Montana below Holter and Hauser dams. Many folks I knew thought those of us using the floating line and these big, unweighted wets were wasting our time until we would get a jolting strike or have the line simply start moving away.

01-06-2005, 02:56 PM
I tried to answer your question earlier but it went into cyber space because of some difficulties with the site being too busy.

I don't want to get off the subject too much though. I put that last paragraph in because I see so many new to fly fishing who are using the nymph dead drifted for winter steelhead. The only reason I come up with is because they want so badly to catch a steelhead. I feel that purpose can be better served by using gear to start and learning the ways of the steelhead and the rivers they swim in. We all love to catch stelhead in winter and it is our biggest and most rewarding experience as seasoned fly fishermen. Not because we caught a steelhead but by the way we went about it.

I beleive everyone has the right to fish as they please in most cases as long as they follow the rules. When I go to other steelhead fly fishing sites I read about the frustrations of those that are new and the frustration is about catching fish. So many take the easy way out with a fly rod and nymph instead of the much harder way of a traditional sort of swing. But as other here have have said, it's the beauty of the smooth cast, the perfect mend, swing and the hopes of the elusive tug under a difficult self made situation that is rewarding. That is fly fishing in the old world as I was brought up. The tradition is not in the amount of fish you catch with a fly rod. Ya know I really feel bad for the newbie who has spent little time with the fly rod or for that matter even fishing who has not worked his way up the latter of fly fishing. Starting out with maybe blue gills or easier types of trout to catch before going after winter steelhead. By starting out in the minors one learns that fly fishing period is not about numbers but that fly fishing is a long process of observation and learning. That is where the rewards come from. I get mad when I see some guy advertising they will help take the mystery out of fly fishing for steelhead on a one day trip and where if you don't go with me it might take 2 or 3 years. I beleive that a lot of the mystery can be taken out of steelhead fishing in a day but why? Hell the poor newbie just lost one and a half years of what fly fishing is mostly about the enjoyment and satisfaction of self learning and observation. Fly fishing should be like a good single malt or a great bottle of red, slow and long in the aging process to get the reward. I beleive that nymph fishing does nothing for the personal aging process if it's goal is to be able to catch more winter steelhead with a fly rod.

Everyone is welcome to nymph for winter steelhead but they are missing so much.

01-06-2005, 03:19 PM
Interesting, but when I got back into flyfishing seriously, I started off with wets on floating lines and I did OK -- like you I moved away from it. I now do a fair bit of floating line work with wets and streamers -- do OK too.

The big question though, will steelhead move to a shallow running, small wet fly? Will they move in cold water?

Somebody needs to do some serious experimenting -- and Russ, no putting any pink on that fly. :hihi:

01-06-2005, 03:38 PM

WHAT! No using da' pink fly! :( Now I ask: How can we possibly hook a fish without da' little pink 'un? :smile:

Rick J
01-06-2005, 10:52 PM
Hi OC - Nicely put - one more question for you - I am not sure I understood your comment on skagit method - too effective? - seems it is just swinging a tip - it is just the casting method that varies?

Best regards,
Rick J

01-07-2005, 09:39 AM
I think the Skagit method is more effective than the conventional swing. I'm no expert on it so please correct me if I'm wrong. Though the cast is close to the conventional types of spey casts but it is designed to cast a shorter heavier sink tip and weighted fly from what I have observed. Having used similiar lines and flys 8 or ten years ago with a single hander for a season I know that the fly gets down quickly and stays down in all waters except the very fastest of runs. Nothing wrong with it especially with the new long rods made just for this type of fishing. That year I used a 6 foot, 13 wt sinking line for my sink tip and weighted flys I caught far more winter steelhead than any other year in my life. But with a 8 or 9 wt rod single handed it was more chuck and duck which makes for a long day on the body and soul. The other thing about the set up is that I was hanging up way too much to consider the day a smooth day on the river.

I have watched Ed fish this method as I have floated by and he makes it look really enjoyable. I also look forward to watching Brian S, fish it one of these days. :whoa: I think about going to the system a lot of nights while at home and weighing the good feeling of casting a smooth cast, where one in every ten mends that get you to where everything is perfect to the Skagit and having not such a smooth cast and a line that gets down right now no matter how you deel with your mend. Again I have not really used the system but watching it I see a fly and a line shooting out over the river in short bursts then coming down hard on the water. I'm not sure that is what I want in my casting but I am open to trying it. My biggest problem is that the good people I fish with will more than likely not invite me to fish anymore. Maybe I will get a Skagit system and keep it in the drift boat and fish it on certain runs way down stream from freinds. Then again if my good fishing buddy would just put up the cash and get one of those loud jet boats he could drop me off a certain runs and wouldn't have to see me using the system.

01-07-2005, 11:30 AM
You have a good fishing buddy? Damn, the charity of steelheaders never ceases to amaze me. :lildevl:

Brian Simonseth
01-07-2005, 12:10 PM
Welcome Steve!

01-07-2005, 04:36 PM
Greetings Salmo G!

Was just thinking back many years to that Skagit Clave we organized thru the old Virtual Fly Shop. :) Fun(ny) times indeed.

Your question is intriguing and, while I only have speculation, I think this behavior might ~not~ be that unusual. I've watched fry and minnows negotiating across current when spooked from their shallow water lies - they often swim with and into the current a bit and traverse the flow laterally in fits and starts much like our flys progress down and across stream.

Then there are the October Caddis and other large insects capable of swimming on the surface in their limited fashion. They too often navigate across the currents with a slight upstream angle so as not to be swept downstream.

I'm sure that steelhead as fry, as well as adults, see prey moving in a variety of ways in relation to their own movement (holding lies in rivers, as they pass thru traveling lanes in rivers, and in the ocean as they pursue baitfish and other food sources). I think the real key is that a wet fly swing creates a bit of resistance - a disturbance in the water - that is more likely to be noticed by a steelhead.

A dead-drifted fly (or egg or shrimp) is IMHO more likely to provolk a latent feeding response, while I suspect a swung fly (or spoon/spinner/plug) is more versitile and may provolk either a feeding or a defensive response.

Just my own guesses at Steelhead Behaviour - we all catch them (at least some of the time :wink: ) but are not even sure why. :confused:

My .02 - let the flaming begin!!! :lildevl: :hihi:


01-07-2005, 06:04 PM
what about squid? I don't know much about their locomotion, but somehow I sense them drifting and pulsing along, much like a fly on the swing.

01-07-2005, 07:00 PM

Greetings to you, too! I miss the VFS forums and the large amount of flytalk available everyday. I decided to look around for fly forums again cuz Iím up to my eyeballs in egg cures at PP and growing weary trying to explain fish management and politics to dolts at GF. If you want to try the Cowlitz together when the late winters show, email me.

OK, I may have rushed to judgement saying that the wet fly swing doesnít resemble any insect or baitfish. In an extremely general sort of way, I have also observed juvenile fish and baitfish (arenít all juvenile fish baitfish?) moving downstream and toward the slow current side of the stream, somewhat like a wet fly swing, absent the tension on the fly by the leader and line. Yet, perhaps that is enough, and explains why fish of many species are positively responsive to it. This topic seemed like a natural follow on to the thread about fly depth and speed.


Salmo g.

01-07-2005, 08:54 PM

Does this mean GFK is coming next? :Eyecrazy:

01-07-2005, 08:55 PM
I decided to look around for fly forums again cuz Iím up to my eyeballs in egg cures at PP and growing weary trying to explain fish management and politics to dolts at GF. .

I thought you were doing some form of 'pennance' :D over at GF Salmo !! That or you had the patience of Job. Gotta hand it to you for trying though, I couldn't take it over there. Now, about 'Elvis' ................... ;)


01-07-2005, 08:56 PM
Salmo g.
We don't know each other, but I was delighted to see you posting here. In the early stages of the VFS, I always looked forward to your informative posts and replies. Welcome.

01-07-2005, 10:20 PM
Ditto what wrke wrote.

I believe it was Salmo g. who several years ago posted about a closeout LL Bean spey reel. I purchased 2, and am still using them. One of the gears has metal that is too soft and wearing, but when it goes I'll just use the LL Bean lifetime satisfaction guarantee to get something different. In the meantime, it's been a great reel.

Welcome to the forum.


01-07-2005, 11:51 PM
I have seen plenty of baitfish (sick/injured?) doing perfect imitations of the wet fly swing. Ditto with small lampreys.

I would also venture to say that steelhead theoretically being a predator of a solitary nature (as opposed to the "pack" approach like silvers and Chinook), they are probably quite opportunistic and resort to a "cruise and ambush" approach to feeding. Considering that the ocean is not static, but rather fully laced with many currents, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to visualize steelhead often encountering prey items drifting or swimming across their field of view left to right or right to left, while gradually closing in distance, much as a fly doing the wet fly swing would appear.

I believe that a dead-drifted fly presented at levels very close to the fish's own, has the capacity to outfish any other form of presenting a fly because it engenders the capability to "take" fish that are in neutral or non-aggressive moods. The wet fly swing requires that a fish have some modicum of aggression or level of interest. HOWEVER, because the dead drifted fly provides no real stimulus for "chase" it tends to catch only fish that happen to be very close to the path of the drifted fly, therefore the "coverage" of each drift of the fly is very narrow in aspect. When searching large expanses of river for a handful of fish this trait is, in my experience, a distinct disadvantage. On the other hand, the wet fly swing provides a very efficient "sweep" search pattern, and its "action" provides a draw that can attract aggressive/active steelhead from a distance of many feet. When fishing larger rivers such as the Skagit or Skykomish, I place far, far, far more confidence in the wet fly swing to make contact with fish.

01-08-2005, 12:52 AM
Andre - all I remember was that of all of us there, GFK was the only one to catch a steelhead. :smile:

Todd Ripley
01-08-2005, 02:27 AM
Come on, Salmo! You mean to say you didn't have any fun at all over there at GF? :Eyecrazy:

It's a good thing I can laugh out loud while I type, because I get some serious comic relief over there, and the occasional nugget sinks into the skull of the regulars... :smokin:

Are you going to the Jan. 14/15 or Feb. 4/5 meetings in Olympia? I think I'll even hit the Feb. 11 in Troutdale, OR...I've got a couple things to run by you, but it would be a lot easier to do it in person than to do it via e-mail. Maybe we could meet up in the next couple of weeks if you aren't able to show your face at the meetings?

Fish on...


01-08-2005, 09:38 PM
If one knows the exact location of a steelhead then deaddrifting may be the most effective method - this is great for smaller waters or areas with clearly defigned holding areas. If one is fishing a large river with few fish and less defigned holding area then the swing may be more effective at locating fish, besides it is less work and far more fun and the flies used are realy cool!
My 0.02 cents worth.

01-10-2005, 12:49 PM
Brian, That was my first trip up to the S/S and it will never fade from memory.

01-13-2005, 07:18 PM

Turns out I have more tolerance than patience. Elvis is the narcissist who is convinced that everyone else is a narcissist. What a guy.


Thanks. VFS was a great forum while it lasted. I donít understand why it didnít.


Wow, small world. Glad the reel is working out for you. Iím still using mine as well.

Andre, Doublespey,

Is GFK who I think I remember she is?


Of course I have fun there, but itís trying at times. I just tell myself to stop trying to reason with those who lack reason. Iíll email you about the hearings. Iím scheduled to be out of town the 15th.


Salmo g.

01-13-2005, 08:23 PM
"click" that the right one?

AKA the original Goddess?

or some chick from the midwest?

01-14-2005, 08:02 PM

I was thinking K as in Kansas. I've never had the pleasure, fortunately from what I hear, of meeting the one who calls herself Goddess.


Salmo g.

Brian Simonseth
01-14-2005, 10:40 PM
Salmo g.

You're missing out!

You should meet her!

01-15-2005, 07:33 PM
Steve, you had her right Girl From Kansas, she was the original goddess.

01-16-2005, 01:47 AM
Andre and Salmo,

Lucky me - I got to meet both of 'em! :)

The world of PNW Steelhead flyfishing is certainly sprinkled with some interesting/controversial personalities-- especially those of the feminine persuasion. :chuckle:

01-18-2005, 02:52 PM

Borderline psychotics usually do have interesting and controversial personalities, and then some! I was somewhat troubled in my armchair psychology in that neither of them is ever likely to get the help they so badly need.

(Although I never met Angie in person, I exchanged some email with her a few years ago. Whew! Enough for the unprofessional diagnosis, anyway.)


Salmo g.

01-18-2005, 03:28 PM
Salmo G. I have some really great Girl from K storys I will share them with you at the campfire next club outing!!! Way psychotic. :Eyecrazy: