Ever wondered whether your fly is swinging at the right depth, at the right speed, or even in the right water for the quarry at hand? We receive comments all the time about how or where the fly should be traveling when swinging for anadramous species, and for good reason.. It’s tough!
Thanks to long-time spey-guru and Northwest rep for Sage, Redington, and RIO, George Cook, for a super in-depth look at how to make the most of your swing, depending on your targeted species.
The Engaged Fly – The Swingers Guide to the World Beneath
Over the course of 30 plus years chasing sea going critters such as king salmon, steelhead, sea run browns, and giant sea run dollies, one thing is crystal clear.. When it comes to a successful swung fly presentation, fly engagement is mega critical. Each of these species has its own preference in terms of water type and speed, and this is your strategy as an angler to define.
When fishing for steelhead, learn to play the near to far game as many fish often come from closer lies than expected. Many an angler has stepped in a prime piece of water, particularly in early light, only to simply step on that easy holding fish. The near to far rule states that your first couple of casts should come from an ankle deep wade with nary but a small chunk of line, be it sink tip or floating extended from that rod of choice.
From there, progressively longer casts should take place. Take your time, enjoy the morning mist, and know that plenty of fish can and do come from a point blank cast, and not just mornings mind you. I’ve seen lots of newbie steelheaders clean up in part because their spey casting skill level hadn’t matured into a bomber caster. That becomes a gift in that many fish choose to be in that easy close holding water that the better casters have blown past with 80’ lasers. While their fly does indeed ‘swoop through’ that same edge, it often is at a different engagement speed based on initial landing distance. Food for thought as you wade in next outing.
As a general rule, Kings will more often than not be the channel dweller. With this, a major dichotomy occurs each season as early season high flows level off into the brilliant long glides that we all cherish. The high flows while not nearly so inviting, offer the traveling Chinook an easy, shallow highway to travell in and therefore a lesser sink tip (Type 6 and 10’-12.5” T-11) is needed. Here, a “Short Game” mentality often wins out.
Once the water drops, the Channel Dweller will indeed reward the casters who can simply throw the furthest, and do so with the largest, nastiest sink tips (13’-15’ in T-14, T-17 and Megatron T-20). At this juncture, the engagement range comes into full view and deserves close study. I learned a long time ago guiding and fishing in Alaskan waters that the “Plug Boys” not only crush Kingy, but provide some really good clues as to just what is going on that gets it done! The first observation is that they are ALWAYS engaged in the ZONE. Ol’ Pluggy is always doing his magic thing in the king hallway. Second, Kingy gets faced with two basic equations.. Eat or leave. So how do we as fly anglers become laser focused to this task ? It is important as fly anglers to accept a couple things.
- No matter how fast a sink tip you choose to employ it will only get so deep. We must accept the fact that some water is just flat ass unfishable with a fly, with the exception of a boat set angler running ‘old school’ thunderdoming techniques. Once we became the spey nuts we all are these days, the game and the perspective changed somewhat. Most of the really successful king spey anglers simply target only “workable water,” accepting less fish but better odds.
- Your swung fly “Zone” is a dramatically smaller window of which to play in. This requires the spey enthusiast to learn to cast well, but be a thinker at the same time. An example of such a scenario would be this; The channel dwellers are approximately 65 to 85 feet away from your wading position. Here, a 75 foot cast has but little chance, since a mend now places the fly in an engagement zone of a mere 5o to 60 feet from your wading position, producing only the odd take. Most likely, smaller jacks or chums. So, a long ball cast of 80 to 105 feet is the fundamental cast needed here to grove into the zone.
Sea-Run Brown Trout
“Touch The Bank George” was probably the keynote advice I received prior to the first of 8 eight trips to Tierra Del Fuego. Peter Crow, the Fishing Sales manager at SMITH Optics rattled that off to me and boy was he dead on! Brownie lives in the trenches and those are most often straight up on the other side so the “engagement range” is relatively defined as the grassy bank on the other side. The engagement zone is a short “bucket,” and getting down matters.
Sea-Run Dolly Varden of Near and Far
Sea-run dollies found in Washington state and British Columbia make up the “Near” while Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territory make up the “Far”. These critters are an interesting lot. I’ve seen them in a host of water types, at times a simple run apart. A 15’ type 8 sink tip with an olive intruder pattern might be the ticket in a deep slot followed by a tailout, while a floating line, a size #4 Brad’s Brat, and a step back in time, might set you free in the land of the midnight sun.
Like the big boy rainbows of both western Alaska and the mighty Kenai, you can get away with some sloppy presentations here as both species conform to the apex predator label. To be sure, the biggest beast will likely fall to the “engaged” angler who brings the steelhead and king salmon methods mentioned above northward.