Riflle Hitch [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

Riflle Hitch

01-18-2005, 11:47 AM
From which direction does a fish take a riffle hitched Fly? Does he chase after it? And take it from behind? And in doing so, does he then turn in a downstream direction to return to his lie? Or does he attack the fly head on, as most fish would, and then turn in the other direction?

And if a hitched fly swims on it's side, as Art Lee pertains in his book, Tying & Fishing the Riffling Hitch, this would dictate on which side to tie the hitch. Which is really what I am trying to determine here.

We've all heard tales of Salmon & Steelhead chasing a fly. But are they only playing with it? Do they then come at it head on when they finally decide to eat it? So that when they turn, or as the fly is drawn into the corner of their jaw,,,,which jaw????

According to Wood in Greased Line Fishing, the fish facing upstream, simply rises, inhales the fly, and the line pulling the fly towards the anglers bank, puts the fly in the corner of the (nearside) jaw. If the fish turns at all in taking the fly, it is assumed that he turns away from the angler, and in so doing, adds to his own demise.

Art Lee, on the other hand, contends that the fish follows the fly as it swims cross current, and upon taking the fly then turns downstream. Which puts the fly in the opposite jaw. Hense the controversy of which side to hitch the fly.

It should also be noted that Lee Wulff hitched his flies opposite of Art Lee. In fact, Lee brings up that fact in his book. It is left to speculation however, whether Wulff fished his fly in that manner because it was more effective, or more of a challenge.

Of course one could fish double hooks, or simply hitch the fly from below. But that would not answer the question. So lets hear from you. On which jaw is the fish hooked when taking a hitched fly? On which side do you tie the hitch?

01-18-2005, 12:18 PM

I hitch the way Wulff did with the hitch coming off the bank side of the fly when the fly is pointed downstream. I do so because first that was how I learned how to do it from Wulff's writings on the hitch. Secondly I do so because it gets the fly up and riffling a little higher than Lee's method of putting the hitch on the opposite side of the bank when the fly is facing downstream.

As far as where the fish is hooked, I found most of them are hooked in the right side of the jaw when fishing right bank and left side when fishing left bank.

I know Lee says you have a better chance at a solid hookup with his opposite side method because the fish simply turns downstream after picking up the riffled fly. This would put the hook in the left jaw on river right and the right jaw on river left. Maybe so, but by putting the hitch on the opposite side like Lee advocates, the fish should be hooked in the opposite jaw from the river side you are fishing simply because that is the way the hook point is angled.

Therefore, I've come to the conclusion several years ago that hooking effectiveness isn't really any different with either method of placing the hitch, and that the most important thing is getting the fly up and swimming erratically as soon as possible. Since Wulff's method gets the fly up a little faster, helps keep the fly from drowning because the hitch is always pulling the hook eye up (whereas Lee's hitch is always pulling the hook eye down a bit), and keeping the fly broadside for the largest profile is most important to me, I use Wulff's method.

As far as putting the hitch on the bottom of the fly, it certainly works and keeps the fly riding high; but the fly doesn't have nearly as large a profile when the hitch is under the eye and not on either side. And since the only wets I use a hitch on are low-water wets, I want as large a profile as I can get. I also use the hitch with a bomber (I never fish a bomber without a hitch) to keep it up and swimming erratically all the way across the river.

01-18-2005, 03:25 PM
I use the riffle hitch quite a bit on the Gaspe with a great deal of success. I will point the fly upstream and then tie 2 half-hitches so that they come off the bank-side of the fly. I find that this is effective for 2 reasons. First, the second hitch keeps the first one from slipping off. Second, the fly planes just in the surface and the v-wake is very pronounced.

As far as hooking the fish goes, my experience is varied. Sometimes the hook ends up in the corner of the mouth, whereas other times the fly ends up in the middle of the mouth. I never figured that out until this past season. I had a couple of guys fishing a small pool on the Grande River. The run is narrow and has an easy flow of water. The angler was working his way down and I was 30 feet below him and 10 feet below where his fly was swinging.

As the fly came across the run a grilse rose straight up, stuck his head out of the water, and took the fly. What is memorable about this take is that when the head came out of the water there was a "pop" sound that was made-- just like a bluegill makes on a popper. The other angler and I wacthed this whole episode and started laughing when we heard the "pop". Ironically, the angler was looking into a glare and could not see the fly or v-wake but heard the take!

The other observation I have is that when a salmon takes a hitched fly I see the head and back out of the water; it is pretty amazing. One word of advice; don't set the hook when you see the head and/or back.

Bill Greiner
Malbaie River Outfitters

01-18-2005, 03:29 PM
I fish surface flies 80-90% of the time for summer steelhead, and I am always using riffle hitched hair flies. I've had the fish take the fly seemingly every way imaginable--sips, head-and-tail, explosions, follows and grabs, and wait until it passes and chase it downstream like a torpedo. So, I don't think one can generalize about how steelhead take a waking fly; Atlantic salmon may be different.

I hitch like Lee, but I have the leader come off the bottom. Since I'm fishing hair flies, the profile is already significant, but I'll still vary the size of fly depending on water depth and speed. I'm not certain if that matters, but I'm pretty convinced that having smaller flies to follow-up to a "player" is very helpful.


01-18-2005, 09:55 PM
I agree with Sparse. I've had both steelhead and Atlantics take the fly many different ways. I've had some follow across stream and take from below, some let it pass then rush downstream and take it headed downstream. I can't predict. I generally hitch on the side of the fly I'm fishing it from.

Earle Fletcher
01-19-2005, 10:50 AM
I have fished the "hitch" since 1964. I learned it from my guide Clifford House on Portland Creek, Newfoundland. He taught me to place 2 half hitches on the opposite side of the head just as described in Lee Wulff's book. He also instructed me to strike the moment I detected any movement in the vicinity of my waking fly. I have had lots of success with this method in many different rivers for Atlantic Salmon only. I have never fished for steelhead. Sometimes when changing to the other side of the river, I wouldn't bother to change the hitches to the other side of the fly head. It didn't seem to make any difference to the salmon.

After reading Art Lee's book on fishing the "hitch", I changed to placing the hitches on the near side of the head. He made the point that the position of the hook would pull into the corner of the jaw when the salmon turned to back into its lie, resulting in more successful hookups. I can't say I've lost fewer salmon since using Art's method, but his theory sounds good to me.

When to strike or not to strike the take is a question that depends upon the intent of the salmon and the nature of the water you are fishing. Usually in fast water the take is so fast you don't have time to strike, and in slower water the strike is more delibrate. Sometimes there is an explosion without any pull on your line. However, the advice to strike whenever you see movement near your fly does have merrit. I have found many times a salmon will take the fly straight on and not quickly turn. If you don't strike this take, you will probably end up with just a pricked fish. Depending upon the water conditions, quite often you will see the salmon open its mouth. You won't feel a thing, but I will guarentee the fly is in there. After a while, you seem to develop a sense of whether to strike or let it ride, just like in dry fly fishing.

The riffling hitch is my favorite way to fish for Atlantic Salmon; and other than the dry fly, is the most exiciting way to hook a salmon, much more so than just swinging a wet fly. My favorite patterns are Green Butt, Blue Charm and Thunder and Lightning tied in size 4, 6 and 8 on Tiemco #7989 light wire salmon/steelhead hooks.

Earle Fletcher

P.S. Bill, I have taken salmon on the Dartmouth, York and St.-Jean rivers using the "hitch".

01-19-2005, 10:57 AM
Everyone who has replied to this thread is online now. :whoa: Thanks for the replies guys. But why aren't we all out fishing? :tsk_tsk: Me? I'm about to fix that as soon as I finish a cup of coffee and get dressed. :chuckle:

01-19-2005, 11:18 AM

That one is easy for me to answer today. Our rivers in Western Washington are at or over flood stage! And there is more rain forecast to come in later this afternoon or tonight that will push them back up even higher. It looks like it will be a week or two before there is fishable water again with this "pineapple express".

01-19-2005, 11:26 AM
It is tough for warm-weather anglers like myself to get out and fish in 20 degree weather. Give me 70 degrees with a light breeze and I am on the water!


You are certainly in the minority of Gaspe anglers who fish a hitched-fly. Those who do fish a hitch have generally been exposed to it in Labrdaor, Newfoundland, or overseas. Most of the guides (not all) on the Gaspe are either unwilling to recomend it or are not familiar with it.

My personal favorites are a blue charm, green machine with a white tail, nighthawk, and hary mary.

You are right on with the take; very exciting and hard to beat. For me, the strikes from a salmon on a hitched fly or stripped fly are the most exciting.

Bill Greiner
Malbaie River Outfitters

01-19-2005, 11:48 AM
I fish the hitch as often as I can with both dries and wets using Wulff's method. To me an important part of the process is to tie the hitch and toss the fly into the currant holding onto the tippet and watch the fly on this little mini swing to find a consistant and desirable fly posistion. With just very minor adjustments the flies orientation will change.

With Art Lee's method the fly swims backward at the latter part of the swing. Not to many things in nature swim backward toward the beach. That never seemed right to me.


Topher Browne
01-19-2005, 06:14 PM
Everyone that I fish with in Labrador--Canadians one and all--puts two hitches directly UNDER the eye of an up-turned salmon iron; it fishes the same from both sides of the river, and solves the "wrong end" dilemma that GPearson describes.

If a fish rises to a hitched fly but does not take, remove the hitch and fish the same fly as a standard wet. It's a built-in "closer."

01-20-2005, 12:42 PM
I have only fished with a hitched fly on a few occasions and found it to be a very exciting way of fishing. The only concern i have is with the hitch itself, does this weaken the leader (tipet) in the same way as wind knot. the reason that i ask this is because a large fish snapped my line at the hitch. The fish had been on for approx 5 minutes and was probably on its 5th or 6th run and the drag wasn't set too tight for the line i was using at the time. The line broke too easily for the braking strain it was rated at. Has anyone else had problems with the hitch or do i need to brush up on my knot tying.


Earle Fletcher
01-20-2005, 08:43 PM
Wilbert, I'm glad you brought up leader strength after tying the hitches. It does weaken the leader. You shoulden't use anything less than 12# test. I've caught a lot of salmon using 15# Maxima. Salmon don't seem to be leader shy, especially in fast water. On the Pinware River last summer I used 14-1/2 # Mirage.

01-20-2005, 09:42 PM
I fish maxima leaders and tippets exclusively (I find that they withstand nicks and are much more enviromental friendly) and go down to 6lb. Most of the time I hitch in August and September on lower water and on small flies and light leaders. I have never broken the leader on a hitched fly. I do not know if it is because I double up the hitch.

Bill Greiner
Malbaie River Outfitters

01-21-2005, 12:13 AM
Like you Bill, I've never broken a tippet on a hitched fly and I use 8# tippet duing summer/fall low water time here in the pacific northwest. I also use a double hitch and did so from the beginning of using a hitch. I figured it would keep the tippet from sliding off the hook eye and forming a wind knot.

01-21-2005, 08:35 AM
I love maxima line and have never been broken on it because it has so much stretch in it. The time I got broken I was using flurocarbon that my guide gave me to use and it was probably 8-10lbs breaking strain. Can you get the clear maxima in breaking strains over 15lbs?? I can only find clear upto 15lbs but can get the green or brown upto 40lbs although anything above 25 takes some searching. I am going back to russia this year and would like to take lots of maxima (10lbs - 30 lbs) with me rather than expensive flurocarbon that does not perform. I have tried many differnet makes of flurocarbon and although some performed very well i found most of them to be poor at knot strenght and had bad line memory and they were expensive especially rio fluroflex. Maxima may be old but it works and works well.

01-21-2005, 06:03 PM
I have been fishing the riffle hitch or the portland creek hitch for 15 years in the waters of newfoundland. You put the hitch on a different side of the fly depending on which side of the river you are fishing. If you are fishing the left side of the river with the flow going to your right you want the hitch coming off the left hand side of the fly coming around the bottom. This will keep the fly pointing up stream and make it swim slower as it is coming toward you. If you put it on the wrong side your fly will be upsidedown or be pointing downstream and be going to fast and the fish will not take. Reverse this if you are on the right side of the river with flow going to your left. If you put the hitch on the bottom your fly will ride on its side, usually this works in a boat when u are fishing directly below you, but normally I would just us a tutle know when fishing like this.

I also use a double hitch, put these parallel to each other with the second on behind the first ( going toward the bend of the hook ) this keeps it from sliding around when you are casting a long line which may produce an undersired or unpredictable swimming action. The double hitch or any hitch does weaken the breaking strength of the leader. But if you use high quality mono or floro this doesn't seem to be a problem. A lot of people in newfoundland use maxima but I do not. I use dai-riki or Rio 10 - 15 lbs.

The fish will usually be hooked in the side of the jaw closest to you. Salmon will follow the fly and then make a swipe at it and turn away from you. This is ideal but sometimes they will just rise slowy and nip it in which case you will need to set the hook as soon as he hits. In this case he will be hooked in the upper or lower jaw in the middle of the snout.

01-21-2005, 10:23 PM
I believe that there is maxima clear up to at least 20lb test. I find that maxima does a great job in maintaining its breaking strength as well as holding its knots. I am partial to clear maxima on the Gaspe because the rivers are extremely clear. Whether or not it makes a difference I will never know for sure.

The leaders I use are custom-made by Gary Selig and are made from maxima. He glues all of his knots.

For what it is worth, I have had clients complain about mirage slipping and/or breaking at the knot. One dwears he willnever use it again after having his leader break on a 25lb+ salmon this past August. I also hear that it breaks down very poorly and is therefore not environmentally freindly? Anyone have any info on this?

Bill Greiner
Malbaie River Outfitters

Gary W
01-22-2005, 08:39 AM

I often use the Maxima Green and find it to be excellent leader material. I went off the brown Maxima while trout fishing with no success one day and a fellow fisher said "change the leader, the brown stuff spooks the fish". Sure enough, a change to a less conspicuous leader material brought instant success.

I do not like the Maxima Clear because it seems to have a short shelf life. I've had experiences with it where it turns almost brittle after being stored for a few months.

When I want a clear leader material I always opt for Hardy Co-Polymer. I find this hard to beat for salmon fishing. I've used it in breaking strains up to 20lb, but have never looked for anything heavier.

The only exception is when the fish want a small fly high in the water but not skated. In that instance I will use a longish flourocarbon leader that just drags the fly under the surface a little. I don't suppose this is an issue when fishing with a riffle hitch.

Earle Fletcher
01-22-2005, 03:35 PM
I just checked (2) 2005 fly fishing catalogues found that Maxima is available in Chameleon, Clear and Ultra Green from 1# to 40 # test. For the first time they are making fluaorocarbon leader material from 2# to 40# test. I had some breakage problems with the second generation Mirage this past season. The first instance was with a 125# +/- tarpon on 20# Mirage. I noticed when I was tying up my salmon leaders, I was getting a lot of breakage when snugging up the blood and double surgeon knots in the small tippet sections. I didn't loose any salmon because of leader breakage, but I didn't use anything less than 12.5# test. I'm going to try the new Maxima fluorocarbon for this year's salmon fishing and stick with the old standby Mason for the tarpon leaders.