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Thread: Dose Size Really Matter (When it comes to Flies)? Reply to Thread
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Topic Review (Newest First)
12-03-2003 10:50 AM
Salmon and Steelhead

are different. I am wondering if Atlantics and Pacific salmon do not have their differences as well, to further complicate the equation.
12-03-2003 10:29 AM
Topher Browne Riveraddict,

The early season (first three weeks of June) in Quebec is certainly the best time of the year for "search" type fishing. Dec Hogan found the three rivers he fished very similar in tactics, if not in scale, to the Skagit in April. I would agree, having fished both locales.

We do fish some larger "profile" type patterns in the early season: big Magog Smelts (4") and Tiger Ghosts; certainly not necessary, however. Flies of average proportions tied on #4 doubles account for the lion's share of my fish. The water is clear and the fish have no problem seeing the fly. Large profile flies are also very useful in late September in Quebec and in October in Nova Scotia: the fish are becoming very territorial once again.

Generally, I prefer slimmer flies for salmon. Once the water is in the 50+ degree F. range, it is difficult to fish the fly TOO QUICKLY. This is a radical departure from Winter steelheading, where it may be difficult to fish the fly too slowly. Salmon, in general, seem to prefer a faster fly than steelhead (unless you're talking 42 degree F. water). I don't want to piss off the Dean River, Deschutes, and N. Umpqua floating line crowd with this statement, but I have heard the same from many experienced, bi-coastal anglers. Slim flies seem to work well with a fast swing.

As a hardcore steelhead fly swinger, you may find the 'beat' system in Quebec--where you are limited to certain sectors on the river--a little frustrating. You might prefer to take your best steelhead guiding clients for an all expenses paid trip to the Kola Peninsula in Russia....all expenses paid for you, that is. Slap a "research" label on that or a "furthering of steelhead/salmon relations," and who knows, you might even qualify for a tax write-off!
12-03-2003 02:03 AM
inland Riveraddict,

Going down the same road, and taking different paths, I am all too fond of catching summer fish with small flies. The smaller and sparser the better. I live for the subtle rise of a good steelie to a size 8 low water dress just under the surface. It never ceases to amaze me how soft some of these fish take, and the eternity held in your gut waiting to know if they are hooked.

As for winter steelhead, a few years ago something started to draw me to fishing the floating line for the deep wet fly swing. Tinkered with it a bit but eventually gave in to fishing the known tactics. Through a stroke of pure luck we, myself and a grand fishing buddy, happened to run into one of the finest examples of angler and gentleman alike. A friend of yours, and now mine, he took me under his wing and coached. What was once viewed with pessimistic uncertainty is now confidently seen as opportunity. It opened my eyes to a new world of careful water editing, line control, and fly designs. I love the thought that goes into these flies, always tinkering the balance to get maximum profile with minimum bulk. Certainly not the easiest, or most effective, way to hook these fish.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer questions and debate my ramblings!!!

12-02-2003 11:11 PM
Fly Size

Exactly! The anticipation is the spice of the game. Hopefully I will someday make it "back East" for some Salmo fishing. I am presuming that the early part of the season is best for "search" type fishing?
To add even more dimension to the fly size debate, any experience/opinions on fly profile? Example, will a fly with a bulky profile display any advantageous aspects for certain fishing conditions as opposed to a fly with a slim silhouette, or vice versa? I should think that the Atlantic Salmon community should have far more insight into this subject than us steelheaders because of the fact that a good portion of salmon fishing is over known fish lies and therefore more study can be concentrated on what responses particular aspects of a fly may/may not produce from a fish.
12-02-2003 04:56 PM
Topher Browne Riveraddict,

I ain't a low water kinda' guy, and I never figured you for the type to fret about fly size. I like water up in the trees, the more the merrier; don't like to know where they are, increases the anticipation: "When is IT going to happen?"

It's blowing hard now and the season's done. I'm one big cold snap away from loading up the truck, and pointing it over the Divide.
12-02-2003 03:54 PM
Fly Size

Your thoughts regarding "generally accepted RANGE of fly sizes" pointed out a circumstance that may alter the thrust of what I have been trying to establish in my posts, that circumstance being how clearly/unclearly one manages to explain a point. I have not been trying to say that a difference in fly size as specific as, say between a #2 and a #4 is going to critically affect whether or not a steelhead decides to take it or not. The context of my posts on this thread have been aimed in a more general aspect. Quite frankly, I should have been saying "range of fly sizes". Deschutes fish are a small fly fish in that they are usually caught on flies ranging from size 6-2, as opposed to Skagit winter fish which are most often caught on size 2-2/0, etc., etc. Hopefully my posts will now be better understood, and no one will envision me running around fretting about having to have the absolute exact size of fly for a given fishing situation.
Your thoughts on fishing the Skagit/Sauk are totally dead on. That's what I love about the steelheading here, the act of "searching". I too am a "presentationist" and base my fishing on finding the "right fish".

I don't always fish flies that make the most sense of the conditions. I fish flies that I think are going to give me the best chance of producing the results that I happen to be seeking on that particular day. Some days I may wish just to catch a fish, most days however, I am looking to elicit the most aggressive take, even at the risk of reducing my chances for hooking any fish at all. If I were to use a smaller fly I would in all likelihood catch MORE steelhead, but the grabs would not be the same. I have been flyfishing for steelhead long enough to be well past the stage of having to catch as many fish as possible.
Fish the same fly for a season and catch the same numbers of fish? Let me put it to you this way. If two anglers of equal skills fished together for an entire year, one always using the same size/color of fly, while the other was allowed to match flies to the varying conditions - would they catch the same amount of fish? I think not! I couldn't buy that theory no matter how well it was dressed up.
During my Deschutes example, I fished that fly every which way except backwards and upside-down!
12-01-2003 10:41 PM
flytyer Topher,

I think you pretty much got it regarding steelhead. Any reasonable fly fished at a reasonable speed and depth (depending on time of year) will probably induce a take.
12-01-2003 05:18 PM
Skilly Ted

Thanks, I will have to try some of the tube flies.

12-01-2003 02:25 PM
Topher Browne
Fly Size


To continue the movie motif (and speaking purely about myself):

As his cellmate in "Trading Places" says to Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), "It ain't cool to be no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving." And so I renounce my earlier devil's advocacy in order to come clean.

I, too, believe fly size is important. Alec Jackson, with whom I have had the pleasure of discussing such concepts (and Philip Green, with whom I have not) refers to the question of fly size as a search for the "reasonable fly." By "reasonable," I take Alec to mean a generally accepted RANGE of fly sizes for a given river system, strain of fish, and time of year.

The size of the fly must work in concert with the speed of the fly in order to present the illusion of a living thing going about its business. That speed is determined, or greatly governed, by the size of fly one ties on in the first place. This relationship has a bit more of a 'chicken and the egg' sort of thing going on than one might prefer when gift-boxing one's pet theories.

In medium to low water on Atlantic salmon rivers, we generally know right where the fish are. Fish location ain't the problem; getting the little fellers to bite can be. We often run a tremendous variety of fly sizes over the the fish: I'm talkin' 5-inch rigs down to sz. #14 doubles, and everything in between. We're looking for a combination of the right fish, the right size of fly, the right speed of fly, and, yes (to introduce a greater obfuscation into our little discussion), the right fly pattern. As a 'presentationist,' I believe "the right fish" is by far the most important part of that multi-faceted equation.

I've fished the Skagit and Sauk both Spring and Fall in the company of Messieurs Rossano, Stroebel, Kinney, Mahoney, and Farrar. The steelhead were far more scattered than I am used to on your typical Maritime Atlantic salmon river. Taking into account my REAL limited time on these two rivers, actually finding steelhead was definitely the toughest part of the deal. I figured if I found a taking fish, any reasonable fly fished at a reasonable speed would probably get him. Please correct me if I don't have it quite right.

I look forward to conducting additional research in your neck of the woods.

Best regards,

12-01-2003 11:36 AM
large fly small hook

Skilly - using tube flies or a Waddington shank, it is possible to use large flies with smaller hooks. These often hold fish better too, while doing less damage. Also, These can be bulky without being so difficult to cast, as you do not have the heavy hook. The "appearance" of bulk with materials that do not absorb a lot of water.

The "intruder" style fly is a good example of this idea.
12-01-2003 10:19 AM
Skilly I use flies that are sutible to cast with the rod I am using. In the years past I have tried very large flies but they are a bear to cast. Mostly now I use size 4 or 6. I catch enough fish on them to keep me happy.

Additionaly, I think the large hooks can do severe damage to the fish. If I were fishing only over hatchery fish I wouldnt be concerned, but most of my fishing is over a mix of wild and hatchery fish. I dont want to put their eys out with a large gap hook or take the chance of killing them.
12-01-2003 01:27 AM
inland RA,

I agree that all things are relative.

A couple of questions come up from your post.

1: If you are always fishing flies that seem to make the most sense out of the conditions, how do you know for sure that the other, smaller, flies do not work as well as the bigguns? With your knowledge of the resource I would wager that your number of steelhead hookups, throughout the winter season, would be remarkably similar if using a 2 inch fly compared to one three times the size. I would also wager that if you fished the same size and color fly for the season, the numbers would still remain even, or nearly so.

2: With the Intruder example given on the D, did you present the more traditional size fly exactly as you had been fishing the Intruder? Just curious.

In the whole scheme of this game I do believe that fly size sometimes seems to make a difference. I have my pet beliefs and set of hunches that I follow to address the conditions. But I also know that there is more than one way to catch these fish...

What I believe matters most is that good anglers know where taking fish hold under certain conditions and how to best present a conducive swing, at the correct depth, to that lie. The rest of it falls under 'black magic' as it seems we all have our formulas of what works and when.

Tight lines,

11-30-2003 01:14 PM
Fly Size

Without a doubt, I agree that presentation is the most important aspect in flyfishing for steelhead, and fly speed is one component of presentation, and that larger flies can be swung effectively for steelhead at a faster speed than small flies. However, assuming that the correct presentation is being used for whatever size of fly is being used, my experience has shown me that fly size does matter. Yes, there are circumstances where it does not seem to make a difference, but when one steps back and looks at the overall big picture for a given condition, then a definite trend can usually be established. For example, the average fly size that I would use for fresh-run winter steelhead in February and March under the most commonly encountered water conditions is larger than the average size fly that I would use for summer steelhead in the same river in September during the conditions that usually occur at that time of year. The average size fly that I use for Kispiox steelhead in October is not the same size as would be used for Deschutes, Clearwater, or Snake river steelhead during the same time frame. The fly sizes that I select for clear water conditions are most often not the same sizes that I would use for murky waters. In steelheading, I think that one can definitely establish that certain sizes of flies work better for specific seasonal conditions and specific races of fish when considered in the overall context of the situation. Of course exceptions occur, but keep in mind the definition of "exception". I have way too many personal experiences that validate the importance of fly size in steelheading. Try fishing a 3 1/2" Intruder for three days on the Deschutes in October while your buddies are fishing size 4 Freight Trains, Coal Cars, and Purple Perils. During that time I didn't get so much as a sniff on my fly, while my compadres scored 4-6 fish apiece each day. On the last day of fishing I switched to standard sized Deschutes patterns and voila! caught steelhead. On an interesting note, is it coincidental that inland summer runs that come from streams that are rich in aquatic insects, usually an implication of prolific amounts of small sized insect life, are the races of fish that seem to prefer small flies? The Deschutes is the prime example. Compare it with the Grande Ronde, more of a freestone river with less aquatic insect life, and a river where larger flies (large-grasshopper and stonefly sized) can be equally effective as the tiny stuff. Of course this theory does not explain the Clearwater, a large freestone river where the steelhead also seem to prefer rather small flies.
Another thing to think about as far as each of us relating our personal experiences about fly size. Size is relative - to each condition , fishery...and individual person. One person's large fly may only be a medium to another angler. Also, fly size is not just a function of length. A 5" string leech is definitely quite long, however it has a very skinny profile. A 5" Intruder would displace 3-4 times the volume of a similar length string leech. I state this just to let everyone know where I am "coming from" when reading my opinions about fly size. When someone tells me that they are using a "big" fly and they show me a 1/0, in my mind an instant mental clip of the movie Crocodile Dundee appears, that scene where a would-be mugger pulls a out jack- knife and Paul Hogan says, "You call that a knife? Why that ain't a knife", sssccchhiiiiiinnnnggg! pulls out his Huge pigsticker knife and says "Now THIS is a KNIFE!" Like I said, it's all relative.
11-27-2003 12:31 PM
Smalma As this discussions there are not any absolutes when it comes to steelhead and what they will or will not take. That said it has been my experiecnce that effectiveness of large flies verus smaller flies is success with larger flies is in part dependent on the river and fish conditions being fished in and for.

As a rule (there are lots of exceptions) in off-color water large has been better than small. It has become my belief that vibrations produced by the larger/bulky offerings can be a triggering factor, especially in high and dirty water.

In low clear conditions small has been the most consistent for me.

New fish, un-pressured and/or traveling fish seem to respond as well or better to large flies as smaller flies.

On stale fish, especially on those heavily fished, a change-up often is what will produce a take. In this case a large or even guady offer may be exactly what the doctor orders.

For sub-surface fishing a larger offering has become the first choice for me in most situations. For me large means something at least 3 to 4 inches in length. While casting larger flies can be an issue I have found that with careful thought and choices in fly design and use of materials some surprisingly large flies can be fished fairly comfortably. I'm an exclusive single handed rod guy that fishes mainly the Skagit/Sauk and fish with 7 weights or less rods. Obivously for me large flies must be un-weight and constructed with materials that don't absorb or hold water. That means I use my lines and careful presentation to achieve the desired depths and rely on mostly synthetic or carefully select natural materials for my tying.

One of the interesting aspects of the attempting to take steelhead on a fly, especially winters is there are room for a wide variety of approaches and completely opposite approaches (bright/dark, large/small, etc) can be equally successful. The only method/approach that consistently doesn't produce fish is to stay home!

Tight lines
11-26-2003 07:54 PM
Salar-1 Topher
I think you're on the right track with the "speed" comment
Two incident's that I can recall that relate to size ( and one 2nd to speed also, happened to me on the Madeleine River in Gaspe ).The Madeleine is as gin-clear as the Grande riviere,Bonaventure or Petite Cascapedia
As it happens both were in LOW water conditions.In the 1st a 7lber charged from 70+ ft. downstream below the #10 fly to hit it !!!!!
In the 2nd incidence ,we had found a pool with about 50 odd salmon just laying in a still "swimming pool" Tried everything to interest them and finally got a 30lb class fish interested (or so I thought) in a # 12 Green Cosseboom tyed on a 4 lb leader !! I had cast near this fish and it rocketted towards the fly barely missing it !!!It was onlywhen this fish returned to its spot and I cast again to it did I realise that the tiny fly had actually spooked the fish and it was turning away,not towards ,the fly !! My fishing partner eventually tried a # 2 streamer and stripped it at high speed through the pool . A Salmon of about10 lbs nailed the fly on the first pass through !! So I guess there's only one concrete theory on Salmon ( and Steelhead ) fishing.
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