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Great Lakes Steelhead & Salmon Amazing "Inland ocean" fisheries

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Old 11-12-2004, 10:43 AM
shotgunner shotgunner is offline
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methods matching the water

hello all. i did not want to hijack the insight thread started by Shaq so i simply started another. i suppose it would be accurate to view this post as a pet peve of mine and also a vent.

gillie, sorry to nitpick earlier but i think there is a tendancy here to lump any & all together whenever there is a mention of weight. i certainly agree with you that one on the swing provides an added thrill.

already just the word weight instead of shot is less offensive. is it better to use a sink putty type product or maybe a match stick twist on designed for fly tackle?

i think some of the differance of opinion here is in what method is employed. by popularity, swinging.... vs... all others.

there is an active parallel thread concerning dead drifting a fly. i suppose i could have squeezed in a reply there but i don't feel qualified with my fishing being confined to the three great lakes tribs of michigan, huron, and superior. there was a great one made there by moose [thank you] that i thought appropriate for my local. i'll try to place it below.

#4 Yesterday, 09:39 PM
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Here's why!


On the river I regularly fish, beadhead nymphs are dead drifted in the current for steelhead quite effectively. The idea is that these flies represent the nymphal life stage of aquatic insects that opportunistic trout find naturally drifting along on or near the bottom with the flow of the current, usually along seams. If any action other than the dead drift of these immitations were imparted, the trout would refuse it as unnatural. These insects will rise through the water column when hatching, but not against or across the current. Rather, they tumble along with the current. The flip side of this is that predatory trout will chase a swung fly as well, so rather than dead drifting under an indicator (bobber ) an angler can cast the fly upstream of a desired piece of water, letting it sink (mend big here) and dead drift it though a likely looking holding area where a fish may lie, and then when the dead drift has run it's optimum length, given the amount of line out, current speed, etc. and a dead drift can no longer be managed, the fly can be swung around under control (mend!) to the dangle. We use caddis pupa, flashback pheasant tails with a turn of partridge, birdsnests, etc.. It should be noted that this is in a river and at times (much of the year, actually) where the steelhead are not big, often referred to as half pounders, and behave much like regular old trout.

the point of this new thread is mostly to point out differances in water[here anyway] isn't it true that the water dictates the method to a large degree?

i find myself crowding into back woods difficult to access areas on smaller tribs with a much lower fish count than many of the bigger popular and more desirable ones. almost all wild fish with an occasional stray. the attraction is in the solitude. a big part of what i crave and seek on most outings. its an improv game, playing in pocket water and wood infested slow pools. i often use the dead drift into a swing tactic described above so well. chances are that there might be a micro shot or two added in addition to the bead head. these fish don't come easy and you can't help but appreciate them. no chance of becoming jaded.

i have ran a couple of searches on the words weight & weighted among others. its surprising to see where they turn up...........

just having trouble with opinions that this is "not really fly fishing". maybe i'm part of a minority here, but doubt it. not on the great lakes board.

thanks for your time. SG
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Old 11-12-2004, 10:58 AM
Shaq Shaq is offline
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methods match the water

Great post, I also do some smaller tribs, yet I use the single handed rods for this. WHen I fish a bigger trib, I also change lines and techniques frequently. Move throught the pools on the swing, then through the pockets with a nymph or egg, then back through the next pool with a sink tip and a swing ect. I cover alot of water and have connected with many fish, I don't see anything wrong with it.
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Old 11-12-2004, 11:01 AM
Smolt Smolt is offline
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I had the pleasure of fishing with ShotGunner this week. He certainly knows how to handle a two-handed rod and, I would say, is a real student of the sport. The flies he ties are beautifully done and, IMHO, their precision exemplifies his approach to the sport in general -- well thought out and carefully executed.

BTW, neither of us caught a steelhead on our trip, but, for me, it was a blast regardless. I almost gave ShotGunner a chance to practice his life-saving skills when I stepped onto the upstream edge a pretty deep hole while wading on the Big Manistee. Had I not been able to regain my footing (it seemed to take forever to do it), I am sure he would have excelled at pulling me out as well.

I'm not much for cold weather, but I am looking forward to fishing with him again before the snow flies too heavily.
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Old 11-12-2004, 11:52 AM
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voodoofly voodoofly is offline
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cold weather, ice and snow

I use egg flies, I use shot, I use bobbers, I use a floating line and I use a 2 handed rod.

The only stares I get are from inside the passing cars wondering why that nut case is fishing in January, in the middle of a snow storm with a below 0 wind chill.

There is something special about sliding a steelie onto shelf ice to remove your fly and watching her swim back out.


P.S. CD is not in my vocabulary, unless you mean cold drink.

Last edited by voodoofly; 11-12-2004 at 02:43 PM.
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Old 11-12-2004, 12:05 PM
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Dornblaser Dornblaser is offline
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Great Lakes Steelhead Methods

FWIW - I just posted the following on the similar thread in the Techniques section of the SpeyClave:

A point distinction: the post from the anglers who dead drift seem to be all from the Great Lakes steelhead fly fishers. The fall run GL steelhead over-winter in the rivers. The winters in the Great Lakes can be severe with many of the tribs completely freezing over. The weather and rivers dictate a different style of fishing than is common in the PNW or Scotland. Dead drifting, nymphing, and swinging, etc. all have their place in the GL steelheader's arsenal depending on the conditions. All of these traditional fly fishing methods.
I do NOT approve of C&Ding.

David Dornblaser
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Old 11-12-2004, 12:51 PM
Gillie Gillie is offline
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I definitely do appreciate the skill required to dead drift with minimal weight through stack mending and line control. It should not be lumped in with fly rod drift fishing.

I also agree that the water you are fishing dictates the method required. There are certainly runs where the fish are held within slots and the water is too cold to expect them to move to a fly. (Although as an aside there are mentions of wild fish on the Bulkley rising to dries while the water temp is in the 30's- but those are a unique strain of wild fish). But rather than the water I fish dictating my technique, I have decided that my technique will dictate the water that I fish.

I do not disapprove of true nymphing. I was earlier answering Shaq's request to try to understand why some of us have abandoned the technique or at least use it sparingly. I have many friends who fish the Salmon River with a nymph, a few micro shot and no strike indicator and are far more talented at handling a rod and controlling line.

The truth is that one of the reasons I like swinging flies so much is it requires less line control in some ways. I firmly beleive that once the initial mending is complete a wet fly swing should not be disturbed. Just follow with the rod tip and wait for the fly to stop.

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Old 11-12-2004, 08:10 PM
h2o h2o is offline
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It was not long ago when indicators were a coreless 2" piece of flyline, a red mono butt section of the leader, a small pinch on piece of foam. Today it is common to see 5/8" to 3/4" lil' corkies(hell........I have them), ice fishing floats, enough yarn to make a sock. It went from a indicator to a float rig.

The scenario about the nymphs natural dead drift, the mention of Trout, almost a "match the nymph hatch type thing" sounds very May or June'ish(makes me want to tie some emergers,grin) and is a bit melodramatic for me. All though I use to say and sound the exact same when nymphing for Steelhead. These days if I drift I drift and make no bones about it.

It's November look under the rocks what do you see..............not much. There are not many bugs now. A few stone flys if your real,real lucky. And if it's a shale type trib even less. Then I would use the.............when the Steelhead were par & smolts they would feed on nymphs in the stream, when they re-enter the stream they remember these traits. Sounds good but again its November and I never mentioned the fact that for months these now large fish have been feeding on schools of baitfish. Then the streams are to small, to fast, to many chutes, not enough swing water.............etc. Yet, come Trout season or even on a Brookie stream anglers will swing a soft hackle, wets, streamers,etc. on even smaller or more gradiant water.

Steelhead fisheries get more pressure these days from anglers than ever. They get pounded.................C & R............over & over again as they make there way up river..........each fall & winter. The more pressure from anglers.........the more line & drift shy they become.........less likely to pursue. Then there is the whole "egg" thing. It's a vicious cycle that spins downward(slower drift,smaller flies,lighter line,.........spookier & spookier presured fish) which is why hardwear and drift fishing is outlawed on some Steelhead waters. It's fine if your in the middle of nowhere's.........say maybe Iceland (certainly is not any "nowhere's" left in the lower states) but it's devastating from a conservation standpoint everywhere else. At somepoint you have to take a look at the fishery as a whole. It's about pressure. I fish a Trout tailwater from a drift boat when water temps. are only in the 30's.........yes 30's. Big Browns chase sz. 2 / 6x long streamers cast with a 200 grain streamer express and striped as FAST as we can strip then. There is no pressure .......................on that water.

Those Steelhead were not drift shy untill they became pressured from getting pounded down low. They are meat eaters..............just as most Trout over 20" are...............even in May.
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Old 11-12-2004, 10:05 PM
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Moose Moose is offline
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You can avoid the chuck and duck and still fish deep enough by finding the balance between a fly's weight and your style of outfit, in my humble opinion. I prefer to tie flies with heavy hooks sparsely dressed, or weight the hooks with a few turns of lead or a tungsten bead. On a spey rod and long belly floating line many small to med sized nymphs and wets can be fished on a long leader without the adverse C&D effects. The flies, that are not too heavy but just heavy enough (#10 beadhead birdsnest, #6 purple peril hairwing on a heavy english salmon hook) to want to sink on their own, are cast just upstream enough to allow for enough of a sink to fish the depth you desire. If you need to get deeper tie em bigger and/or heavier and/or use a short belly with sink tip. You can then adapt the depth and fishing style (dead drift, swing) to meet the immediate situation.


The end of your flyline is as good an indicator as any bobber, and to approve or not of another's style of fishing is to apply your world view to another individuals world; one of the classic root causes of conflict in the history of civilization.
Life is but a walking shadow. A poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury!! Signifying nothing. May as well go fishing!
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Old 11-13-2004, 06:22 AM
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juro juro is offline
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I often dream of walking thru the trees to the waters edge, the sound of water getting stronger and the long rod threading through the last of the path to the gravel shore. The lie is not deep nor shallow, fast nor slow and lined with stones that any man would labor to carry, but he could. Between these stones lie gravel of varying granularity, from pea to baseball, shifting into scallops and ridges with every freshet and creating a diversity of chutes and slots, pockets and lies.

And in some of them lie the alpha trout, the realizations of chrome daydreams, the wily hardbodies home on leave from searun bootcamp - the wild steelhead of the legendary variety, hard to have but dear to hold even if just for a minute.

Now I could fool them with roe, or tempt them with metal. In fact I have in the past. I could play the numbers high with slinkies tapped on the gravel with a level-wind reel on a trigger handled drift rod, or float a bobber on a centerpin reel for 75 yards of seam standing on the same rock all day. But while some are quite happy with all that, my personal choice is not any of those because I don't fish for numbers, or even so much fish - I fish for satisfaction and I get that from seeking to perfect Spey casting and fishing the swing. The more 'pure' the swing, the better the casting, the more satisfaction I bring to hand. No split shots, no bobbers, no egg flies for me but I use sinktips because they let me swing through the winter months with reasonable (sometimes ridiculous) success. And summer greased-lining can be purely indulgent when the fish get to thinking it's time to torpedo a surface bug.

I am quite happy with the results of a season of swinging flies even when a particular day might be less productive than another method. But a day is not pivotal in an entire lifetime of swinging flies for steelhead and salmon, and a lifetime's worth of swinging fish to the fly is worth much more to me than many times the fish fooled by roe.

I am convinced that when my arms and legs fail me and I contemplate the days I have logged in my journal, it will be the fish I took by most honorable means (again, in my own humble opinion and perspective; very subjective) that I will remember as the accomplishments of my angling life.

Strip-strip-strip, switch. Hmmm... I stare into my Wheatley at the creations from the night before at the no-tell motel with fluff and feather flying about the room, spitting out bronze mallard bits floating in 20 year single malt in a tin cup. Weather channel in an infinite loop, and losing sleep over the excitement of being in steelhead country on a mission. And here I finally stand, and a black heron spey tied with a signal light tag makes the grade and gets the double turle nod.

The leader is fresh; the line mended as the first swing of the day begins. For me, there is simply no other way to seek the grab. Again, I fish for satisfaction, and sometimes that means a fish. When all goes right it means several in a day. But it always means satisfaction as long as I am surrounded by beauty, making good casts, and playing the numbers to move a fish to my fly on any given day.

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Old 11-13-2004, 06:40 AM
Gillie Gillie is offline
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Very nice Juro

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Old 11-14-2004, 08:45 PM
shotgunner shotgunner is offline
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juro, very nice read. tough act to follow, but that seems to be your M.O. writing or casting. still i need to try, like the long awaited furlough of a days fishing that sours with poor weather. at least put forth an effort.........

"I stare into my Wheatley at the creations from the night before at the no-tell motel with fluff and feather flying about the room, spitting out bronze mallard bits floating in 20 year single malt in a tin cup". borrowed from juro.

this i can relate to. tell me though, is there no life in a small perfect black bead head pheasant tail? or an intricate flash bodied partridge & philoplume tied on a small heavy wet fly hook? if not then i've been decieved..........

even within your post above there seems somewhat of an undertone that anything other than a swing is done to hedge the bet or stack the odds, and never out of necessity. the small numbers of fish i play, or even less that come to hand would test the patience of any mortal.

"But rather than the water I fish dictating my technique, I have decided that my technique will dictate the water that I fish" borrowed from Gillie.

this i can understand easily and makes good sense. i too have my reasons for choosing some of the water i fish as i stated earlier.

a last quote by a man who gave the credibility to a method that i've been searching for here on this site, concerning my little corner, the great lakes area.

"Another case in point are small streams with fast currents and/or exceptional depth. Such watercourses are too narrow to actually produce any real sort of "swing", whether it be to initially "trigger" a steelhead to take, or to work the fly down deep enough to attract a fish's attention. The narrow, confined aspects of such streams makes "traditional" approaches of flyfishing almost impossible." borrowed with great thanks from Riveraddict.

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Old 11-14-2004, 10:02 PM
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juro juro is offline
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In my annual pilgrimages to the great steelhead rivers of the pacific northwest; and in my dreams to fish more of the great atlantic salmon rivers of the world - I envision more suitable swing water than I could cover in a lifetime (though I would like to try). With every cast, mend and swim of my fly, I see more opportunity to refine and improve every aspect of what I am doing and have no doubt that I will never even come close to learning it all.

However, if one deploys other means to find satisfaction in their home waters more power to these crafty anglers I say. I hope I did not come across as anything other than one voice from the perspective of the dedicated swinger, just as some have effectively put nymphing and indicators, et. al. into perspective in other threads.

In fact I have a lot of respect for the capable drift fisherman, savvy plug puller, and spoon/spinner angler as they really have figured out a lot about fishing and catching. Not my choice to fish that way, but there is no wrong or right, just many rights to each his/her own and we are all fortunate to have the opportunities to explore and indulge in these pursuits.

Ed Link, seasoned 30 year veteran guide on the Salmon River Idaho and an acquaintance I am glad to have made recently might say... "A good guide needs to know all 5 disciplines of steelhead fishing to make a living. One day you need to use Skagit casts to work down a tight bank, and the next day you'll place a boat rod in the hands of a cigarstore Indian and row steady down the center aisle just like you're in church on Sunday, sideways into the seventh row, over and stop at the pretty lady and place the hotshot underneath her petticoat without her knowing it." It's his mastery of so many angles that impressed me the most. Besides, Ed's shore lunch is so legendary that even an off day is worth the boat ride and the stories are as good as any you'll hear in a lifetime of river bull. Somehow I am left thinking there was no bull in Ed's b/s, or at least not enough to matter. Ask him about the rocks that line the canyon near Shoup.

I never knew that elk steaks and slow roasted red onions with a dutch oven cobbler could be so good by the campfire. Tom, Keith, and the gang sure put on a mean dinner I won't soon forget!

Anyway my point is, it's all good and each technique requires it's own brand of study, discipline and mastery.
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Old 11-15-2004, 09:28 AM
h2o h2o is offline
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After reviewing, I would just like to appoligize for my previous reply. It did not come off the way I intended it to................sorry.

There are some conservation issues, here on my local Steelhead waters, which are on the back of my mind when posting.

On smaller tribs I love to fish soft hackles sz. 6 to 10 slightly weighted or bead head, cast 45% upstream, drift and then swung out. I use a floating line, hand tied mono leader with a good butt section, a small size b or bb split shot or two when needed, etc. This is about the only way they(smaller streams) can be fished. A RIO 7' sinking leader only comes into play if the flows are high and in a couple certain pools.

I fact I do the same on larger rivers when the Steelhead won't chase much,slots,chutes,etc. or if every indicator nymphing egg fisherman and centerpiner is hooking up and because of pressure, cold water, what ever........I can not get a fish to pursue a streamer,bugger,etc. on a sink tip.

I very much enjoy tying and fishing my soft hackles for both Steelhead & Trout...............always have, always will. Very simular to what you "spoke of".

The only problem I have with "how people fish" it effects the fishery from a ethics and conservation standpoint and how it effects the fish being pursued from a respect and conservation standpoint. Unfortunately on some waters the great Steelhead & Salmon become a numbers game and get about as much respect as catching buckets of panfish from a boat with bait.
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Old 11-15-2004, 10:44 AM
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Skilly Skilly is offline
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Day of the swinger

Unfortunately you might find it tough to find a place to swing your flies.

The Deschutes has been my home river.

When you fish it today you might want to bring you own autographed flat rock to stand on. Even then you may not find a suitable place to swing a fly. The only sure method I have found is get there EARLY. Be standing on the rock you brought long before its time to fish. So its 2:30 AM get up drive two hours to the river, stand in the river for two hours trying to hold your spot then hopefully no one low holes you and you get to fish the run.

When I get there, and there is no suitable water to swing, someone is already fishing it. I tie on a nymphing rig and fish the water no one wants. One of the local fly shop owners asked me why I would nymph. I told him simply, I dont get up and drive eighty miles to watch other people fish.

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Old 11-17-2004, 09:01 PM
Muckle Salmon Muckle Salmon is offline
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Shooting ducks on the pond gaurantees you will get a few ducks. Is that not what it is really all about?
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