When swinging flies for species like steelhead or king salmon, more often than not a slow uniform swing is best. Rarely do salmon and/or steelhead actively feed upon first entering freshwater. Therefore, a slow uniform swing swept past the nose of the fish is usually the most likely presentation to elicit a strike. The take may be a result of aggression, curiosity, or some other instinctual response, but most anglers agree that the majority of strikes are not a feeding response. Thus, a uniform swing moving at a speed just fast enough to suggest life within a fish’s ‘comfort zone’ is the name of the game.
However, when targeting a more opportunistic species such as trout (or even more aggressive species such as chum or silver salmon), sometimes a more erratic retrieve is best. Since trout are constantly searching for prey, swinging a fly in a less uniform fashion to suggest a wounded or fleeing baitfish can be extremely effective.
Will trout still take a fly on a slow uniform swing? Of course! However, sometimes actively manipulating the fly throughout the swing can help spark the interest of more aggressive (and often larger) trout. We’re calling it ‘active swinging,’ and we recommend giving it a try. The next time you’re swinging flies for trout, try varying up your swing using the following methods.
- The twitch. After casting downstream and across, make your mend, and allow your fly to swing through as usual. While you’re fly is swinging, make sharp downward twitches with the rod tip towards the surface of the water. Doing so causes your fly to ‘bounce’ slightly underwater followed by a slow dead drift as the slack from the twitch is taken up by the speed of the current. This causes the fly to mimic the erratic behavior of an injured bait fish. Try twitching around snags or other fishy structure.
- The drop in. When fishing to structure in the middle of the run (think root wads, logs, rocks, etc) , it can be difficult to keep your fly in the ‘zone’ long enough to get an eat with a uniform swing. Instead, as your fly approaches the structure, make a large pull back mend to create slack. Allow the current to take the slack causing the fly to drop into the structure before continuing to swing.
- The pulse. When trying to impart more action to the fly during the swing, a simple but effective method is pulsing the rod. While the fly is swinging under tension, slowly pulse your rod hand back and forth. We’ve found this method to be extremely effective when swinging for aggressive species like chum and silver salmon, but can be effective on trout as well, particularly in slower water or inside seams.
- Speed up the swing. Sometimes speeding up the swing around fishy structure can make all the difference. Throwing a downstream belly in the line or simply leading the swing towards the bank with the rod tip just ahead of the structure can evoke the ‘eat it before it gets away response.’
Remember, resident trout are predatory by nature. Try the methods above to help key into this behavior and we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Good luck out there!