Sounds like a typical day at one of our lodges to us..
Today’s post comes from the ‘topics you asked us to write about‘ category!
Spey casting is a fun, efficient, and versatile way cover a whole bunch of water. There are numerous casts (and variations of those casts) designed to present your fly in situations which would be otherwise impossible with a traditional overhead cast. However, for many anglers new to spey casting, it can be really confusing as to how to determine which spey cast to use, and when to use it.
There are a number of variables present on the river, all of which can dictate which cast (or even variation of such cast) will be best for a particular situation. Some of these variables include, but are certainly not limited to; wind direction, the side of the river you’re casting from (river position), present obstacles and obstructions, the desired presentation of your fly, and so on. However, today we’re going to talk about the two most governing factors in determining which spey cast to use for most every situation; wind direction and river position.
Safety should always be of the most utmost concern when spey casting. No one wants a hook in the head, especially the size of which are most often associated with spey casting, and choosing your cast with the wind direction in mind is crucial to keeping you out of harms way of your fly.
We like to simplify the wind direction as either upstream (blowing in a direction traveling upriver) or downstream (blowing in a direction traveling downriver). This direction dictates which side of the body the anchor must be placed in order to keep the line (and thus, fly) from being blown into our body during the cast.
For example, if the wind is blowing upstream, it is crucial that we choose a cast which places our anchor on the upstream side of our body so that the wind will help to carry the line safely away from our body during the forward cast. Such is true in the opposite scenario as well; with a downstream wind, a cast must be chosen which places the anchor on the downstream side of the body.
Obviously, in the event of a calm day, or a wind blowing either head on or directly away from you, casts can be chosen with anchors on either side of the body. However, keep in mind that even the slightest cross breeze can reposition your line into an unsafe position. Always veer on the safe side.
Aside from wind direction, the other major factor dictating which cast to choose is your river position, or perhaps better put, the side of the river you’re casting from.
We like to simplify our position on the river as either river right (on the righthand bank when looking downstream) or river left (on the lefthand bank when looking downstream). Knowing which side of the river you’re casting from (along with whether you cast right or left handed) helps dictate which cast we can use, and how to perform it (whether off of our dominant or non-dominant side).
For example, lets say you’re casting from a river left position, with an upstream wind, and prefer to cast right handed (with your right hand on top). The wind direction immediately dictates that we must choose a cast which places the anchor upstream of our body. Therefore, a few casts we could choose from could be a snap T, circle spey, or a single spey to name a few. Due to the fact that we are a right handed caster, casting from river left, each of these casts will performed off of the dominant side.
Now, lets jump over to the other side of the river, on river right, but still assuming an upstream wind. We must still choose a cast which puts the anchor upstream of us, but because our river position has changed, so must our execution. For a right handed caster, appropriate casts now might still include a snap T or circle spey, but they must now be executed “cack handed” (such that casts across the body off of the non-dominant shoulder).
Note: Keep in mind, casters who are able to cast both right and left handed are afforded the advantage to always cast off of the appropriate dominant shoulder regardless of the wind direction or river position.
More often than not, there are more than one effective spey cast to use for a given situation. However, an appropriate cast can be narrowed down by remembering the following.
Always think about these two factors before starting down a run and you’ll be sure to choose the best cast for the situation at hand.
To outsmart any quarry, you must first understand it, and steelhead are arguably one of the least understood, and thus elusive, species out there.
However, today we present to you a killer article written by Alaska West alum, and TU’s Wild Steelhead Initiative Organizer, Nick Chambers, on the biology of steelhead and how it relates to, well, catching more steelhead!
If you’re like us, and love fishing for steelhead, do yourself a favor, read the article below, and become a better steelheader today.
One thing you will notice about anglers who have spent a lot of time on the water, and I mean a potentially unhealthy amount of time on the water, is they catch fish. This can be frustrating to new anglers who are just learning to steelhead fish and spend many fishless days casting.
There is no substitute for time on the water, but understanding the biology of steelhead can certainly make us better anglers. There are two basic biological principles underpinning all of the mumbo jumbo steelheaders spew about catching fish in various weather and river conditions.
There are several other factors, often correlated with the visibility and water temperature, that also influence the aggressiveness of steelhead. Each of those factors may provide an angler with a bit more information about how and when to fish for steelhead.
The first is weather. Many anglers have a ritual of checking all of their weather and surf forecast and stream flow websites prior to their trip. While all that information will tell an angler how to dress for their upcoming trip, weather is a secondary factor and the effects of variable weather is underpinned by visibility and temperature. For instance, winter storms are generally warm and full of moisture, which tends to increase water temperatures. This warming trend will increase a fish’s metabolic rate and fishing can be at its best if the warming temperatures are coupled with a reduction in visibility to the point where fish feel safe but can also easily see the fly or lure. Think about the old adage, “three feet of vis and dropping and clearing”. We can assume that a storm has brought in warm rain which has raised the level of the river as well as warming the water. The storm may have brought in new fish but there are also plenty of fish mixed in that were unwilling to bite just a few days prior when the water temps were significantly lower.
The opposite is true in summer. Rain storms tend to decrease air and water temperatures. If the streams were too warm the reduction in temperature can improve the metabolic ability of steelhead. And as with winter, the challenge is finding the proper balance between water temperature, stream flow and visibility.
The second is cloud cover, a symptom of the weather, and shade. As all steelheaders know, fishing tends to be best on those gray muggy days when there is little variation in temperature from morning to evening. Similarly, steelheaders often seek out shaded runs during sunny days, presumably because prolonged periods of high sun tend to force steelhead down to the stream bottoms where they will hold until evening and morning. This means that being successful during the middle of hot summer days requires looking for and identifying shaded areas where steelhead feel more comfortable holding and being active. Regardless of the season, maximizing success depends not only on visibility, water temperature and weather, but also being very specific about reading the water to find those micro-habitats where steelhead are most likely to be aggressive.
Third, many anglers pay attention to barometric pressure and it is commonly felt that a falling barometer is a poor time to fish while rising pressure is ideal. Fish can sense pressure using their air filled swim bladders, however water is denser than air which means that a fish moving up or down three feet in the water column will be exposed to a much greater change in pressure than from an approaching storm. Hence, migratory fish coming in from the ocean and moving up through shallow riffles and pools would experience relatively large changes in pressure, greater than we would typically expect them to notice when the atmospheric pressure changes. This means that barometric pressure is a bit of a red herring for anglers. The fish are most likely responding to other cues such as rainfall and changing temperatures rather than specific changes in barometric pressure.
Lastly, and perhaps the titan of all factors influencing steelhead success is fishing pressure. Hundreds to thousands of anglers are fishing many of our best steelhead rivers in the lower-48. That means a tremendous amount of fish are hooked and landed or lost, and that fish are seeing multitudes of different flies, lures and baits over the course of a season.
Pressured fish are less likely to bite regardless of conditions. Period. Whether it is a fish that has been hooked and played or simply reacting to dozens of boats going overhead, large numbers of anglers generally spook fish. This sends them in to hiding and makes them less aggressive. Why? Well we are not exactly sure of the specific causes, but it is likely related to stress. Steelhead and humans share the same stress hormone known as cortisol. Once this is released into our bodies it must be metabolized and it does not dissipate immediately once a threat is gone. On heavily pressured rivers then, steelhead could be responding to the threats with elevated cortisol levels. While this hormone helps them, and us, survive by causing cautious behavior and even hiding, it makes fishing for them that much more challenging. Steelheaders get up early for one main reason, to get first water so they are not fishing over stressed fish, and another reason that the internet chat boards have chastised any and all anglers to keep a zipper on it when mentioning specific places that are less fished.
Ultimately, when thinking about fishing for steelhead we need to think like a steelhead and understand the reasons for their behavior. This typically boils down to considering two major factors, can a fish see your presentation and it is active enough to move and take it. As we covered here, there are many factors that play into this but they all likely depend on the basic biological needs of steelhead.
Of course, there are other factors we did not discuss that can mitigate certain conditions, such as speed and depth of the presentation, color and size of the fly or lure, and what parts of the river to focus on during different types of conditions. Regardless, don’t get too caught up in all the talk, the most important thing is to get out and spend time on the water. There is no golden rule for steelheading except that being on the water and actually wetting the line is necessary to catch a fish. We have all likely caught steelhead in less than optimal conditions, but we also know that our most glorious successes tend to come when there is a magical confluence of appropriate visibility, perfect water temperatures, fewer anglers and ideal weather conditions. However some of the most memorable fishing days occur during times we did not expect the fishing to be very good at all, so most importantly, just go fishing.
From swinging flies for anadramous fish, to banging the banks with streamers, to skating mouse flies for trout, we fish a lot of articulated and stinger-style flies over the course of the year. However, until now we’ve yet to find a great way to store them.
We’ve long been fans of simple Plano Boxes for housing the majority of our flies, particularly larger patterns. They do a great job of housing a whole bunch of flies, but the errant nature of articulated flies that gives them their uninhibited action in the water can also make a mess out of your box. Reach for one fly and pull out a mess of a dozen entangled stinger hooks and bunny strips.. Sound familiar?
Large slotted foam fly boxes finally gave way to a long lasting solution to carrying large flies in a reasonably compact manner, but still, articulated flies tend to swing freely, often becoming dislodged from their slot, resulting in a disaster (or at least a few lost flies) upon opening your box. Also, being entirely flat, slotted foam boxes have the tendency to mash up the materials on the underside of the fly, particularly on larger patterns tied ‘in the round..’ You know, like that intruder that took you forty five minutes to tie.
That’s why we were excited when we first got wind of a series of fly boxes designed specifically for articulated flies by the good folks at Plan D Fishing Solutions. They work pretty darn slick, so today we thought we’d tell you about them.
We often say that simplicity is a key factor in quality gear, and Plan D’s articulated boxes feature a simple but super clever way to house both articulated or stinger-style fly patterns. Like most ‘large fly’ boxes available today, the boxes consist of a large slotted foam designed for the hook to be slid between allowing flies to be taken in and out without damaging the foam.
However, unlike other fly boxes, the articulated boxes feature small stainless steel ‘hooks’ at both the top and bottom of the box designed to grab the eye of the fly.
To house a fly, simply hook the eye of the fly to the stainless hook at the top (or bottom) of the box and slide the stinger hook into the corresponding slot in the foam (see photo below). This allows the fly to be anchored at two separate points, thus keeping it from swinging around. Plus, because the stainless hooks are mounted on an elevated piece of foam, the fly remains suspended, thus preventing the materials on the underside of the fly from being flattened (a feature we really, really like).
Currently, Plan D offers articulated versions of their boxes in several different sizes including the three shown above (from smallest to largest); the POCKET, the PACK and our personal favorite the BOAT box. They retail for $24.99, $34.99, and $69.99 respectively and can be found at your nearest Plan D Dealer. For more information visit Plan D’s website by clicking right here.
In the nearly 8 years since the inception of our humble little fly fishing blog, we’re happy to report that our online fly fishing community continues to grow! That makes us really happy and we have each and every one of you to thank for it.
Some of you have been following along with us since the beginning, wow. Some of you may have just recently started checking in. Either way, we like to stay current with what each of you like (or don’t like) to read about, so every now and again we just like to ask..
What would you like to see more (or less) of on our blog/newsletter? How about..
It’s been over a year since we’ve asked, that’s too long, so please leave us a comment below to let us know how we’re doing and what you’d like to see from us. Thanks for reading!
Here’s a scenario that most two handed anglers can relate to; You’ve made a nice cast to the opposite bank, kicked over a big mend, and stepped down the run setting up your swing to perfection. Your fly tracks through the gut of the run at that magical speed at what you’re confident is the perfect depth, only to find.. No one’s home.
You think to yourself, ‘there’s got to be one in there,’ and start to strip back to your shooting head for your next cast when, Pow! A fish nails your fly with a half-hearted grab, and as quick as he came, he’s gone.
We’d venture to say that more fish are lost when hooked at the end of the swing (i.e. the hang down), than at any other point during the swing. Part of this is due to the fact that fish hooked directly downstream generally result in a poor fighting angle, making it difficult to find purchase in the corner of the fish’s mouth. Unfortunately, there’s little we can do to control that. After all, we can’t decide when a fish will take a fly. However, part of the reason also lies in the fact that its during the hang down when we least expect a fish to take in the first place!
Therefore, when swinging flies we always like to assume a fish has moved out of its holding lie to chase the fly. Its not uncommon for a fish to track your fly while under a slow uniform swing, only to eat it once it does something out of the ordinary. That’s why we like to end each swing with a little something to impart some sort of action before making the next cast, and here are a few ways how.
Last week we said goodbye to our last guests of the season at BC West and want to extend a big thanks to all of those who joined us this year.
Thanks for yet another unforgettable season. Hope to see you next year!
Over the past few seasons, mild winters and reasonably dry summers have made for some low water conditions on our home river at Alaska West. However, this year we’ve been experiencing significantly higher water levels of late, and we really dig it!
Due to a few substantial rain (and even hail) storms, we’ve seen a couple big bumps in water levels during the back half of our season. Most anglers dread such spikes in water levels, most often due to the decrease in water clarity caused by excess sediment being deposited in the river. However, believe it of not, high dirty water actually makes for some pretty exciting fishing opportunities in our neck of the woods, particularly late season, that wouldn’t be available otherwise. Therefore, we love a healthy ‘blow-out’ every now and then, and here’s why.