Winter steelhead presentations? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Winter steelhead presentations?

08-05-2002, 09:54 PM
Last winter while on the Hoh river for a couple days I had what I thought at the time were 3 grabs. Here is how it happened on all 3 I would cast out 90 degrees across the river and make a large upstream mend I mean a large!!! mend. My idea was to get the sink tip as deep as possible. On 3 ocassions right at the beginning of the swing the line came tight and there was a heavy pull with a "pluck". Normally i would think it was on a rock and the line getting tight until the fly came off. However with repeated identical casts I was unable to reproduce the same results.. a fish????? Anywat since then I have been wondering what is the best presentation??
Is it best to cast across and make the mend to sink the line or would it be better to use a heavier tip and fly and cast more downstream so that the fly is always under tention and rely on the heavier gear to get the fly down??


08-05-2002, 10:35 PM
Excellent question amazes how little literature has been devoted to seriously breaking down the steelhead swing and varying theories about varying mends and angles etc. etc.

Some may say alot of us put too much thought into the swing...'cast, mend, swing'...and they catch fish. Others may think we dont put enough thought into the swing...and they catch fish as well.

Scott K
08-05-2002, 11:04 PM
I think it's important that we call come clean and admit that we are all swingers. I know the wife may not like it, but she's gonna have to live with that fact. We'll always find a way to swing, I know I do.

I usually cast accross, throw a big mend, and then feed some line into the drift so as to employ somewhat of a dead drift. This is an example of where a shooting head style line can shine in that you make your cast, your initial mend, and then feed line into the drift to dead drift, then employ a slow swing at the end, then strip in line back to the belly and make your next cast and dead drift into another lie either farther, or closer, obviously. It is also obviously imperative that you keep your guides somewhat ice free if possible, which in extremely cold weather can be a pain.

Feeding line into your drift allows you to get deeper and deeper with your tip and/or weighted fly, Then when the swing comes around after feeding some line into it, you will be swinging right into oncoming fishes faces if they are between when you finish your dead drift and the shore. I notice that the take sometimes comes at the moment when you are just about to start your swing. I wonder if it is maybe the fish seeing your fly, following it as it drifts downstream by swimming lightly letting the current carry them down, and then as the fly starts the swing they snap at it. I think this is how the two largest STeelhead I've ever hooked on the fly occured (one 15 lb's, one 17 lbs, the 17 lber landed, lost the 15 lber to an albright knot which I didn't wrap enough times, douh!). I have also taken one close to shore too which means it followed the swinging fly. This is a situation, like with the long belly line (you can do it with a long belly line too, you'll just be feeding thick line into the guides), where you should probably work with a fixed amount of line and cover the water in a very organized fashion.

I find this method far more enjoyable and desireable than "nymphing." However if you are a nymph fisherman, I think it is imperative that you come clean and admit you're looking for a nymph. Tell the truth!

Realistically, I think the results are somewhat similar in terms of the finished "presentation product," Whether you cast upstream 45 degrees and nymph downstream to about 45 degrees, there is a dead drift there, or cast accross, and then feed line to emply a dead drift, then swing at the end. I find feeding line more enjoyable and more "sexy," than nymphing.

08-06-2002, 02:13 AM
Roballen, those very well could have been fish, and in any event, it's nice to think they were in order to build confidence. It's tough to say, but if you couldn't hit bottom again in those places, shoot, call 'em fish.

Anywyay, here's my .02 on the cast and mend for winter fish. Take it for what it's worth. I think it's a common perception that the farther you cast upstream, the deeper the fly will get. If you are dead drifting a nymph, then yes, it's probably true and if you keep the belly of the line out of the water (high stick technique) it works fine. But when swinging flies with a long-belly floating section and a sinktip, there other, more important concerns--namely the speed and direction of your fly. If you cast at 90 degrees or farther upstream in an attempt to gain depth, even with a big mend, frequently a belly will develop and pull your fly downstream faster than you want. I think this happens (even with big mends) because of two reasons: One is that the floating section is generally fatter than the sinktip portion, and therefore has greater drag, which means it catches the current to a greater degree and pulls the middle section downstream faster than the tip and fly. This may be good for Atlantic salmon, but it seems to be counter productive to winter steelheading. The second reason is that I believe the current near the bottom, where your tip and fly are, is frequently slower than the surface current, causing, again, the belly to get ahead of the tip.

So what's the solution? I've actually found that a quartering downstream cast with a mend that pulls the line back upstream gets the fly deep and more importantly, helps the fly to fish properly across the current. I also generally make the cast, mend and then step downstream in that order to gain more depth without having to cast across or upstream. The faster the water, the farther downstream (greater angle) I like to cast and the bigger "pull" mend I make. In almost all cases, I like the line to land with the belly already upstream of the fly and tip--with it's greater drag, the belly catches up quickly and swims the fly cross current, but not downstream.

All this is assuming you are fishing a typical run with relatively constant or at least gradual current speed changes from bank to however far you're casting. If there's frog water and a distinct seam with fast water on the other side (as is common in good steelhead spots, especially near the top of runs), it's a whole different story. For these spots, since the floating section will be in very slow water and the tip in very fast water, I frequently cast upstream without mending, as the tip will very quickly get below the floating part on it's own and make a nice swing. I usually have to fight the urge to mend on this kind of spot, and may even need to make downstream mends into the quiet water to keep the fly swimming across the seam. As the seam becomes less distinct, I will cast directly across the seam and make an "S" mend, which is basically an upstream mend on the fast water and a downstream mend on the slower (and closer to the rod) part of the run.

Well, that's how I fish on two kinds of typical winter water. Take it for whatever it's worth--I'm not saying it's the only way or even the best way, it's just what works for me. Hope it makes sense and is at least a little helpful. If parts (or all of it, for that matter) don't make sense, let me know and I can try to clarify. Good luck.



08-06-2002, 10:58 AM
My take on this is match the swing to the spot. In other words while working a long sprawling run on the chance that a feisty fish lies waiting, coverage is the game and I go for a nice broad sweeping slice of the big river pie. Speed of the fly is important, there needs to be enough resistance to put the fly into a dancing descent, down and across. Unless focusing on a particular structure, I will generally cut the current speed in some fraction depending on how frisky I think the fish are. I never dead-drift at current speed during the presentation, but will use that to position the fly before applying tension. If there is a trough straight down you can bet I will hang it down. I've caught a lot of fish straight down especially twilight hours.

If fishing a fishy bouldery run I will work the fly into and out of various seams by mending the line above the holding water and letting the current move the fly side to side to maximize the "dance time" in the fishy zone.

Winter fishing for me is sinktips and non-weighted flies, so when fishing non-descript runs I try at least three casts before moving down - (a) a standard winter swing, (b) a cross-current swim greaseline fashion and (c) a big upriver mend dredger. The inside swing gets down surprisingly deep, in fact you have to be careful not to lose the fly or bind the tip in the rocks. You also only want to do this where the sintip will not line the pool, or you can scallop the swing like a waker but deep.

I prefer to fish runs with features that require concentration and active direction of the fly. When a fish is where the mind has envisioned the take is that much more satisfying and it's these spots that I find fish repeatedly over the years.

Great topic... but what about the summer runs that are about to turn on in a big way around the PNW?

08-06-2002, 12:41 PM
Some great replies and strategies. I also tend to use the straight across then big mend method. I will rarely slip line into the drift instead prefering to go with a heavier tip or larger hook or tube.

One trick that has worked well for me is to overcast the current seam and then to back mend until the fly is positioned right on the edge or slightly inside the seam. The fly is then dead drifted till such point that the mend belly is removed and then it starts its slow swing through the lie. Takes are spread out along the swing angle but I have had some memorable ones right as the fly comes tight from the dead drift.

I find fishing the seam to be productive fish wise but also it allows the fly to get down. I see a lot of spey casters casting across the seam and then expecting to get the fly sunk with a mend. In most cases, if the fly after the mend is still in the fast water, it will not get down much.

$.98 to go