steelhead: take 1 ... take 2 ? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: steelhead: take 1 ... take 2 ?

07-05-2006, 01:39 AM
much has been written on the subject of getting steelhead to come back to the fly after an initial pluck or take. Let's hear some more.

I am interested to hear your theories, truths, fictions, successes, failures, etc. Also curious if the return strategies apply best on certain waters, races of fish, times of year, initial fly, strength of the initial take, etc.

Certainly in some situations it is hopeless to expect a fish to come back, but in others it is more likely they will. The majority of my experiences have been disappointing on getting a fish to take 2, so I'm eager to hear success stories, and what made it click.

07-05-2006, 09:11 AM
Hi, Steve,

Conventional wisdom on this seems to be 1) to cast again from the same spot with the same fly with the same length of line; 2) back up to the last casting position above where you got the miss and start from there trying to repeat all elements of the cast; 3) try a smaller fly of the same pattern; 4) rest the fish for five or more minutes and try again; 5) mark the spot and come back at a different time of day.

All these techniques have worked and failed for me on various occasions. Last spring I was working through a run on the Clackamas and felt that adrenaline-pumping pluck and thought: "there's a fish." I cast again from the same position and he was on solid.

And then, there was a period in August on the Deschutes when everyone was complaining about the fish coming short. You'd feel the pluck, sometimes on successive casts, and nothing would be there. Very few fish were hooked during this time, although it was obvious the river was choked with them. When the weather changed, the fish started taking normally.

It would seem there's a difference between fish coming short and fish just simply "missing" the fly.

my two cents,

-- Eric

07-05-2006, 04:03 PM
I have never been able to get a winter fish to return to a swung fly after the first hit. I have had summer fish come back to a waked fly after the first hit and even the second or third hit.

07-05-2006, 09:29 PM
Aah - the dilemma of getting a fish to come back for a second chance. Because of the differnces in behavior I have found different approaches for summers and winters can be effective.

Often the biggest challenge with the winters is finding the fish for that second presentation. Often the missed fish will move to a new holding spot (especially true of traveling fish). It seems to be that the shallower the first take the further the fish tends to move (maybe they spook themselves). If the water is fairly dirty and the fish has turned to follow the fly that fish will typcially move back to the approximate same holding depth but because of the distance lost in the turning and following it is holding a little further downstream - Little is required other than to continue to fish carefully downstream though a change in pattern may help.

More often the fish that is missed is spooked and those fish tend to either move a little further out to hold or move upstream. In either case the best strategy is to quietly step out of the river and move back upstream to hopefully cover the fish in its new position. If there is obvious cover nearby obviously fish it. Other wise after moving upstream fish a longer line to insure that the deeper holding fish is covered.

The third situation is a missed fished (usually a "soft pluck" - more about that in a minute) that returns to its original holding position. By far the best strategy I have used for those fish is note where the fish was - it takes practice to know where your fly is at all times during the swing. In that case I typcially try to present the fly upstream of the fish on a dead drift allowing the current to pull the fly as it reaches the suspected position of the fish. To accomplish this I fish the same length of line but cast it at a little more angle downstream and throw an addition mend downstream to allow the dead drift portion of the presentation.

It is surprising how often I have been able to convert the missed winter fish to a hook up.

With summer fish the situation is entirely different except for those fish that are actively moving in which case treat them as above.

Once they fish have settled down (either during mid-day or mid-season) the missed fish on the swung fly either returns to the original holding position or bolts for cover - often moving a surprising distance. If the fish returns to the original position by far the best strategy is to immediately change the pattern. This does two things. It allows the fish to settle down and two after watching many fish it became clear that the harder they are pounded the less likely they are to come back however if the next fly is something different it will often trigger a response from the fish.

For those fish that bolted fish the cover if it is possible for those fish are often surprisingly catchable; especially those that are "hiding" in the riffles. If the cover isn't fishable mark the suspected holding location of the fish prior to the take and return later either that day or the next morning. The fish will often return to the same holding location once it feels safe - after a period of time or more typcially under better light conditions (covered by shades or low light of evening). In those cases I like to show the fish a new pattern.

The fish that miss a skated fly typcially respond in one of 3 ways. 1) They either spook themselves and move out and/or up to better cover. 2) they reject the fly and have little interest in that pattern if shown it again. or 3) Because they tend to be clumsy they often miss the fly and seem to realize it and may actively search for the missed opportunity. For fish #3 the best strategy is to cover the fish immediately if you can see it dashing around looking for your fly and try not to break it off on the take which may be quite spectular. If you can't see the fish I repeat the exact same cast, even several times. Fortunately those repeated casts don't seemed to bother the fish if it happens to be type 1 or 2. For those the best strategy is to continue to fish down through the run making a careful note of the original holding spot as well as the likely cover in which the fish may have bolted. Once you finish fishing down the drift return to a spot above the noted location(s) and start down again with a different pattern. If you don't care whether the fish pokes its nose through the surface of the water a low water pattern presented greaseline can be surprisingly effective. If you elect to stay on the surface a pattern with a different profile is often the best choice.

I have observed that many of those soft plucks that we sometimes get are fish that are actually turning just prior to getting the fly and what we feel is the water distrubance of the fish turning. I have had success with those fish by showing the same fly but either attempt to slow the swing through the suspected holding area or use the dead drift trick. If that doesn't get a response I then return with a completely different pattern.

I offer the above as some strategies that have provided me with an additional fish or two. Don't know if my observations make sense to the rest of you but in my limited experience following those theories has produce success. I will be interested in other ideas/thoughts from those with more experience or different observations.

Tight lines

07-06-2006, 01:29 PM
when the fish feels the fly. For example, a number of times, I have felt the hook strike the teeth.:mad:

07-06-2006, 07:26 PM
Excellent topic, Steve.

Smalma, thanks for the thorough response. Glad to hear some confirmation that my approach is at least reasonable, because...

For the last couple of years comebacks have been nearly nonexistent for me. For several years prior to that, I had an excellent percentage of repeat rises, follows, and grabs. The most I've had a fish come to or boil on the fly is 9 times, and one of my better steelhead came to the fly on the fifth rise, with the 3rd fly pattern, making a wake downstream as it chased the fly after it had passed.

Why the change in comebacks? I wish I know.

My process is like this, FWIW, since I am a mediocre fisher as you know. The following applies to waking flies:

1. Same fly, same cast.
2. Same or similar pattern, 2 sizes smaller, casting 5-6 feet shorter.
3. Same as 2, but casting the same length of line that drew the initial look.
4. Same as 2, casting 5-6 feet longer than original cast.
5. Same as 2, but with a wet fly.
6. Same as 3, but with a wet.
7. Same as 4, but with a wet.

After that, I switch back to the original pattern and keep fishing down the run.

The key thing, to me, is the switch to a smaller pattern. I do the same thing with wets, and will follow up a pull with a smaller fly, and can often get a sure hookup.

But the last couple of years I have done so poorly that I am starting to question everything!


07-07-2006, 04:48 AM
Fantastic stuff here thanks to all. Smalma your post is a study in steelie fishin in itself!

I like when a fish gets all twisty and antsy as the fly swings by. Thats one time I go from a wet to a dry and sometimes they jump on it vicious :Eyecrazy:

07-07-2006, 05:47 PM
Damn good stuff Smalma!

My summer responses have been the standard (1) same fly same presentation (2) couple steps back upstream and repeat and finally (3) beginning of the run with a smaller/dark pattern like an Undertaker.

Wish I had incorporated some of those ideas last spring - lots of plucks and tentative takes. :rolleyes:


07-08-2006, 04:24 PM
Thanks for the kind words guys!

Was not sure whether readers would find my ramblings of interest or value. I do enjoy taking my observations and forming theories on the fish's behaviors and see how those theories work out in practice during my days on the stream. Attempting to better understand the fish (biology, behavior, etc.) that I target has greatly increased my fsihing enjoyment as well as leading to a general increase in success.

BTW - why in the heck to I have to log in everytime I try to submit a reply? As a result I usually don't bother.

Tight lines

07-10-2006, 07:34 AM
Curt: please keep sending your thoughts. Great analysis you shared above.

One more thing: one of the tricks we used on the Dean to locate fish was to wake a fly across likely holding water. If a fish came and missed, we would switch to a wet fly and swing it through the lie. The steelhead would take, often as not.

-- cheers,


Green Butt
07-22-2006, 10:02 PM
I have had comebacks in summer using a repeat of the original cast but starting upstream several feet and bringing it back down. Have had some repeats immediatly at the same spot because I did not have the patience to do anything but get the fly back into the same spot as soon as possible. Most of the waters I fish I can't see the fish, so often wonder if the comeback was even the same fish. Changing to a totally different color--ie. from larger light color to a small dark fly has at times brought a response.
I have not had comebacks in winter that I can recall.
It is an intersting topic. I think the mood and how fresh the fish is play a large factor.

08-09-2006, 06:01 PM
That depends..... on how bad you stick them on the first take. My experience is that if I get anything more than a bump on the first take or if they boil then forget it.

My strategy, for what its worth, is to swing the same fly through the exact same spot again once, twice or three times, some times I backup a step, it all depends on how lazy I feel. If I donít get anything I switch to a smaller darker fly, usually that means a #6 or # 8 all black fly (Little Black Fly "LBF") and swing that through the exact same spot. If I donít get anything on the LBF after a couple of swings I go back to the original fly for a couple of swings then go on my way. I always do it the same way and sometimes it works.


09-16-2006, 12:35 AM
Well, I have had a steelhead take a fly more than once only twice that I know for sure. One time was in summer, and one time was in winter. Suprisingly both times I missed the fish on a larger streamer style fly and ended up hooking it on an egg pattern. I am bored and can't sleep so I decided to write two stories about the two events. :)

The Winter Story:
It was a cold morning and the water was gin clear. I was fishing a hole that is hard to fish from the side I was on, but fishermen were invisible in the morning on this side of the river. I brought my spey rod even though the river was only 60-75 feet wide with the low cold water. I was launching casts nearly onto the other bank where the fish were holding. It was an inefficient method but I managed to figure out how to get a decent presentation. I was making a large mend, letting the fly sink and walking downriver about 6-10 feet before I let the fly swing so that I was sure I was at depth across the several different current speeds. I fished through the hole and as I got through the tailout I saw a fish chase my fly on the swing and turn back. The next cast it's mouth opened but I felt no take, it spit quick. I was using a black/red fly I tie that is speyish in design but swims more like a GP. The fish took the fly twice but still I felt no bite. I was starting to think a fish this active had to be a giant dolly. I couldn't make out any colorations but I saw the fish go back to the same spot each time.

After the 3rd chase I tied on a bead headed glo-bug. I walked upstream, cast, mended, walked downstream about 10-15 feet and let it swing right as it got near the fish. I saw it chase again and it grabbed the egg and turned back with it. This time I felt it. I ended up tailing my first steelhead of the winter season, a 7lb hen.

The Summer Story:
I was fishing for summer-runs a couple years back and I spotted a steelhead lying underneath some large spring/summer chinook. I had a dark red and black fly similar to the one I used in the previous story but this was tied on a #6 hook instead of the #1-1/0 I usually tie it on for winter/spring steel.

The hole had a nice current at the top and a nice shallow tailout at the bottom also with a nice current, however the hole I was fishing got REAL deep and had some dead water. I cast my fly and let it sink. The current was slow and I was relying on the fly's soft feathers to give off some enticing action. The fly eventually sunk to the bottom and stopped as if it weren't even a river at all. I saw a steel head come up to it and look at it. I twitched my fly and the steelhead lowered it's head like a largemouth bass would when taking a jig off the bottom, and sucked in the fly (and some sand) and instantly spit it out in a cloud of sand the steelhead turned around and went back to holding under the chinook.

I noticed the chinook were dark and were probably losing eggs by now, and the steelhead may have been feeding on these. I looked through my fly box and browsed my assortment of egg patterns. I decided to use a glue egg, a little more realistic than the yarn egg since the water was clear and the summer-runs were picked over already by other fishermen throughout their 50 mile journey to this hole I figured it would be a decent choice. I cast the egg fly in front of the chinook in a way that the steelhead would see the egg coming at it in the same fashion a real egg would be leaving one of the chinook. Sure enough the steelhead raced out of it's holding spot like a smolt and slammed the egg and inhaled it. The hottest summer run I have ever hooked. Gave me a nice 3-4 minute battle before sawing my leader on a rock, but not before I got a few nice glances at it as it cartwheeled for it's life.

12-31-2006, 12:40 PM
Read this thread yesterday evening, went fishing this morning and immediately profited.

The air temp was -2C and the water 1C. I was swinging a small, dark brown wet as slow as I could, about a foot or two off bottom, when I fet a barely perceptible "pluck . . . . pluck . . . .pluck". In the past I'd hammer the fly right back four or five times and when nothing happened, continued on down. I've picked up a fish maybe once doing this.

This time, instead of hammering back it repeatedly, I kept stepping down the run, keeping in mind that the fish may have peeled back and taken up a lie further down. After no tugs, I waded back up about ten feet above the "pluck point" then started back down with the same fly. By the time I reached the pluck point, the fish hit it so hard that it broke me clean off.

My leader had been well used and I had noticed the tippet looked a bit shabby and short. Normally I'd tie up a new leader, but the biting wind had my hands so frozen, I just tied on an extra length of tippet and now I had paid the price. A little voice had said not to do it, but my blue hands had spoken more forcefully.

This season I also finally figured out something that's plagued me for more than a few years. I like to swing streamers for steelhead when the water is between 7C to 15C and I've frequently felt a hard, metallic-like "tick-tick-tick" in rapid succession, evenly spaced and almost always three. I'm of the, "Don't lift until you feel the weight." school, so I don't and there's never anything there. I tell my friends about the "tick-tick-tick" and they always scoff, suggesting I'm just bouncing off bottom. But it's too regular, nearly always three, and I'm running too shallow for bottom, yet I still half-believe them. I could never imagine the mechanics of a fish producing these hard, shortly spaced ticks.

This October, I'm swinging my Weamer pattern (looks like a baby brown or any small, brown and white minnow) and I get the "tick-tick-tick". A little voice says, "LIFT!" and even though I feel no weight, I pay attention. This time listening to the little voice rewards me with a nice chrome buck of about six pounds. When I land it, I find that the Weamer is lodged dead centre near the back of its throat -- and the "tick-tick-tick" is now explained. These fish must be coming up from dead astern of the fly, sucking it in completely, and then instead of making a sharp turn, they make a leisurely one without changing speed. I don't feel any weight from the fish, just the "tick-tick-tick" of the tight tippet skipping over the teeth of their closed jaw.


01-08-2007, 11:34 AM
I was missing fish after fish ... etc., and etc. The 'answer' for me with short striking fish 'missing' the hook (on long hackle intruder type flies) was the use of a small trailer hook that's floating at the very end of the hackles. Gather fish actually 'suck in' a bait in moving current; gather you can feel this (the pluck) and you set the hook on a fish that's really not there.

But with a 'trailer hook, even a 'short strike' puts a bit of steel inside the mouth.

01-08-2007, 12:32 PM
I was missing fish after fish ... etc., and etc. The 'answer' for me with short striking fish 'missing' the hook (on long hackle intruder type flies) was the use of a small trailer hook that's floating at the very end of the hackles. Gather fish actually 'suck in' a bait in moving current; gather you can feel this (the pluck) and you set the hook on a fish that's really not there.

But with a 'trailer hook, even a 'short strike' puts a bit of steel inside the mouth.


My Weamer pattern is quite long vs. the hook shank so short takes are a constant problem. Two hooks are illegal where I fish so the next batch will be tied up on Waddingtons instead. Had I hooked up every steelhead that had plucked or ticked a Weamer, by now I'd be GL steelhead god with my own book signing tour.

When I think back to all of the fish I've missed over the years on this fly, and not having enough faith that it really was a fish to go after it again properly -- I could kick myself. The approach mentioned in this thread is not new -- it's been mentioned a few times before on various forums, and most of us have probably figured out something like this on our own -- but Dec 30th was the first time I had had enough faith in it to give it an honest workout. I've tried it in a half-a$$ed way before, but never quite so methodically.

I figure that a Waddington Weamer + a thorough application of the "back up and try again" tactic should raise the dismal landing rate on this fly.