Fred Telleen has been guiding on the Kenai River since 1989. He also hosts groups at Alaska West during our king salmon fishing season. Fred put together some thoughts on gear and swing techniques after his trip this year – experienced anglers in particular are going to like today’s post.
Make sure you check out Fred’s web site too – if for nothing other than to look at pictures of giant Kenai rainbows.
Adjusting the Swing
In early July, I made my second trip to Alaska West on the Kanektok River. Once again, I learned lots about spey casting and spey fishing for King Salmon and I enjoyed the week immensely. All the guides are excellent casters and Brian Niska was on hand for extra tutelage. Whenever I felt I had a problem with a particular cast or if one of my head and tip combos was not working for me, I would ask Brian a question. He would tell me what adjustment to make and wow, everything would work the way it should.
Conditions were very different this year. The water was lower and very clear. Between tides, most of the Kings concentrated in a few of the major runs and they got a bit finicky. In certain spots, you knew fish were seeing your fly on every swing, but getting a solid eat was a challenge.
I tried a variety of tips on both regular and intermediate Skagit heads. I fished rods from 7 to 10wt. The traditional down and across, upstream mend, slow speed presentation was not producing for me. The bites I did get were not aggressive and the first fish I landed were jacks and smaller adults. I felt like I was missing out on something. Playing around with lots of rod and line choices was fun, but my casting was not always pretty. At one point, I had a complete Skagit melt down trying to throw a 720 grain Intermediate Head into a stiff wind.
I’m still relatively new to the spey game and most of my fishing is done with lighter rods. As a trout guy, I often fish 4-6wt Switch rods. My biggest spey rod is an 8126 Sage One. I decided to stick with that one rod, combined with a head and tip that really balanced it well. I settled on a 570 grain Airflo Skagit Compact and a 15’ Type 8 tip. With my casting under better control, I just had to figure out how to present the fly with my chosen outfit.
The technique shift that eventually provoked more aggressive eats started with a cast straight across the current or even a bit upstream. I gave the line some slack, often feeding 5-10 feet of running line before allowing the head to come under tension. The result was a quick sink with a downstream belly, followed by a rapidly accelerating and rising swing. The fly was also showing a sideways profile through the prime water.
With clear water and laid up fish, the goal is not just to get the Kings to see the fly, but to trigger an aggressive response from unmotivated fish. With this method, the eats were very aggressive and the fish I began hooking were larger. Whitney Gould scolded me for battling 10wt fish on an 8wt rod, but once I had a working combo, I stuck with it and had a blast. Of course I did eventually get destroyed by Megatron, which caused me to babble incessantly for some time afterward and provided Brian Niska with some amusement.