fly presentation techniques
Unlike the active retrieve methods of the tropical, northeast, or warmwater scenes - this presentation style is one of swimming the fly in an carefully calculated manner through the complexities of the river's domain.
Steelhead fly presentation, like it's mentor the salmon fly presentation, is all in the positioning of the rod, line, fly and more importantly the resulting tension on the fly as it is swum (swimmed?) down through the promising lies in the pool.
There are perhaps dozens of famous names for these techniques and hundreds more unnamed ones, but these would be the list in a nutshell for me.
Given the three basic elements of the presentation:
variation in these three provides a wide range of combinations. Whether one casts upstream or downstream makes a huge difference. Whether one applies tension on the fly or not is everything to the swing. The finish is often when the payoff occurs.
The most simple is the classic salmon swing. You cast slightly down and across the river, then put the brakes on the fly so that it eases down and across at about half the current speed or less. If the current is faster between you and the fly, you'll need to mend to keep a slight curve in the line in the direction of the oncoming current. The current eventually straigtens out the upriver curve, so you repeat mending. This ensures that the fly swims downriver from the line which swims downriver from you. The result is that the fly positions itself in the current, facing toward the leader butt upstream, and the feathers undulate temptingly in the current. Because it is not flotsam it attracts the attention of the steelhead. If the fly is meticulously tied to appeal to some deeply buried memory in the fish's brain, or to trigger an aggresive reaction that the fish can not inhibit, the angler is in for the fight of his life from a giant silver trout.
(next: part 2 of series - setting the swing upriver)
RE:fly presentation techniques
When using a sinktip in a "slot" shaped pool, fishing deep into the drop off at the foot of rapids, or being limited to where you can stand to reach a good lie - it often helps to be able to set your line up so that it is parallel to the current flow, upstream and deeply mended... to avoid whiplashing the fly in the current. There are far more important and effective techniques but this one provides an effective method to set-up the basic swing (previous message) when you need it.
Essentially, the cast is made directly across or even upstream - but to avoid creating a sail in the line and whipping the fly downriver, a combination roll / mend is thrown into the line to set the line into a sharp upcurrent "hairpin" bend. The fly is able to penetrate the current because the line is laying with the direction of flow and the upriver bend takes the currents force. You can even half-mend the near side of the mend as it swings into position. By the time the line has reached "normal" position (above) the fly is much deeper having traveled from an upstream position into the "swing zone" without drag or whiplash. You can now apply the half-current speed tension and the fly swims in a much deeper plane than without.
For sinktips, you need to be careful not to snag from the extra depth charge.
One nuance is that if a fish takes while on the descent, you won't feel the direct take unless you are in the swing zone. Although rare that a fish strikes just then (as opposed to the swing or hang down), the ways I've found out that a fish has taken the fly in the past include line feeling 'hung up' and but a flick of the wrist to free the fly and suddenly the pool explodes.
Another is that you really aren't fishing the fly until you apply tension on the line... the initial part of the drift is for setting up the deep swing and not for hooking a fish per se. Of course I can recall several times when fish took on the setup and I didn't know it until the line tightened up with a twang! (but not as a general rule).
Next... finding and working steelhead lies. There's a joke there somewhere http://126.96.36.199/images/flytalk/Wilk.gif
RE:fly presentation techniques
Before moving into discussions about holding water, there are a lot more presentation notes to cover. I've only got my little slice of thinking on this topic but it's an area that has raised centuries worth of contemplation on the rivers of the world. Although the trout doctors of the world may have a myriad of such presentation nuances to cover, the steelheader (as I know him) is a pragmatist, a hunter, an optimist who swims his pet flies in the mysteries of the river's promising features. The connection is not so much one of following the observable actions of the fish like it is in trout fishing - it's more like the making of a connection to the psyche of the steel-forged searun rainbow; to appeal to some deeply imprinted notion that lacks inhibition in the giant trout's mind, to invoke a split-second of weakness from it's steadfast goals to defeat the river's obstacles - to achieve that which many consider to be among the most worthy of challenges in flyfishing - the steelhead on a fly.
And I don't mean with split shots, or slinkies and strike indicators... I mean with a greased line and a Spey fly in the surface film, or a riffle hitched deerhair caddis waked high and dry. Moved, hooked and landed like it was meant to be done.
And so the third primary technique... the greased line / broadside swing. In this technique, the fly is cast slightly down and across, where the rod postion and mending maintain the fly in a nearly crosswise postion to the current (and thus the fish). The fly is "led" down and across toward the near bank, maintaining an effect where the fly distinctly swims across as it drifts downcurrent in the lie. By leading the fly through the whole lie, the rod ends up pointed downriver toward the shoreline trees by the time the swing has advanced to it's end. Because of the position of the fly, when a fish strikes the hook is almost always in the near corner of the mouth, ensuring a high probability that the hook will not be thrown. This technique, or at least the way I employ the technique, is particularly good for provoking aggresive fish during twilight hours.
I like to cover long bouldery somewhat non-descript runs with each of the three techniques before stepping to the next position. Setting the deep swing works best when standing in rapids positioning the fly into a deep trough just downriver. The standard swing works well when covering large stretches of holding water, searching out aggresive fish. The broadside swing has produced best for me at first light and dusk then fish move into the trenches and pockets near shore, and are prone to be triggered into aggresive strikes as the fly scurries across their strike zone.
Regardless of which cast and presentation technique, the fly swings into a downriver position before each subsequent cast. What you do during this finishing moment is important - a very large percentage of the fish you hook will occur on the "hang down". There is plenty of fishing left at the end of the swing, especially where the currents are complex and there are opportunities to mend to either side to keep the fly swimming provokingly.
Next - the hang-down technique...
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