- Cast across and slightly downstream. You certainly need to read the water you’re fishing and adjust accordingly, but in general if you’re fishing a broad, gradual gravel bar, the most effective presentation is across and maybe 20 degrees downstream from perpendicular to the flow.
- Mend big. No delicate mends here. In your typical king swinging water, a big upstream mend immediately after the fly lands will result in the best presentation. Mend big – use the whole rod. Move the whole fly line.
- Mend slack. If you shoot all your line on the cast and then make that big mend, you’ll be pulling the fly back towards you, rather than taking advantage of the beautiful long cast you just made (right?). Hang on to that last 5 feet or so of running line when you make your cast, so that when you mend you can let go and mend slack– positioning the line and the fly properly, not pulling the fly back towards you.
- Maintain a straight line to the fly. Kings want a long, slow, steady swing. In most water this is best achieved by keeping your line as straight to the fly as possible. Don’t worry about perfection – make a few big mends to keep the line straight, and then just let ‘er swing.
- Don’t set until you’ve got a steady pull. The classic king take goes like this – Yank…yank…pause…deep pull. Wait for the deep pull to set the hook. We’re not always sure what going on underwater during a take, but we know you need to wait for the deep pull. Of course, if line just suddenly starts screaming off you reel, you don’t need to wait for much of anything.
- Set low, hard, and towards the bank. A lazy rise of the rod tip will not get the job done here. After you get the deep pull, give a hard, quick jab downstream and toward the bank with the butt of your rod. If your knots are tied well you’re not going to break him off– set hard.
- Don’t try to stop them. Particularly on the first couple of strong runs, let them run. If they’re headed downriver and you clamp down to try to halt the run– here’s where you are going to break them off. Unless you’re staring at your arbor knot and you’ve got no choice, let them run and work hard to retrieve line once they stop. Besides, this is the fun part!
- Put the heat to ’em. Once you’ve got the hook set, and after the mayhem of the first couple of runs, fight them hard. These are big, strong fish, and if you’re not working hard, they’re resting. The longer the fight lasts, the longer the hook has to work itself free, and the more time the fish has to be come dangerously exhausted. Fight them hard! You should be breathing hard after landing a hot king – really.
- Walk backwards to land them. When the fight is nearly over and the fish is ready to be landed, the easiest way to end the fight is often to keep a tight line to the fish and slowly walk backwards until the fish is in shallow water. If you’re not in a spot where you can walk backwards (like up against a brushy bank), you may just have to get creative.
- If you’re going to take a picture, leave the fish close to the water. If not in the water, that is. It’s much easier on the fish and it just looks better!
In a few short months we’ll be heading North to kick off our summer seasons, swinging flies for one of our favorite species of all time – Big, bright, sea-lice ridden, king salmon.
Due to their affinity for deep water, kings are a notoriously difficult species to target on the fly in many areas throughout the Pacific Northwest. However, at Alaska West, we’re really lucky to be situated on a lazy, low gradient, coastal river that’s relatively shallow under normal flows. That not only makes for targeting kings with spey/switch rods possible, but super effective as well!
Over the last couple years, our friends over at Aqua Flies have produced quite the collection of chinook worthy fly patterns, several of which were designed by friends and/or alums of ours at Alaska West!
Needless to say, they work really well on our river, so today we thought we’d share some of our favorites.
- Stu’s Chinook Intruder.Designed by our pal, and Alaska West host, Stuart Foxall, the Chinook Intruder is the ultimate tube fly for king salmon. At roughly four inches in length, its much larger than your standard steelhead fly, maintaining a huge profile in the water for big eats from big fish. Available in six popular king salmon color combinations.
- Stu’s Rhea Intruder.Tied on a 40mm shank, and modestly weighted with 5/32 brass eyes, Stu’s Rhea Intruder (also designed by Stuart Foxall) works great for presenting a medium-large profile at deep holding fish. Rhea shoulders create an extremely life-like movement in the water which works great in a whole bunch of depths and water speeds.
- Dirty Hoh – Chinook Size.A larger version of Alaska West alum, Jerry French’s innovative steelhead pattern. A combination of an intruder and a string leech, the broad composite loop front shoulder pushes water, while a hitched rabbit tail provides incredible movement. We’ve seen it in action, and trust us, it works. Chinook sizes (4 inches long) available in four popular colors.
- Hartwick’s Flashtail Tube.Like a marabou tube fly on steroids, the Flashtail Tube presents a larger profile than your standard single-station marabou tube, while remaining really easy to cast. A brass cone head helps prop up the front shoulder to maintain a large profile while under tension. The fly also uses a generous amount of flash adding more ‘sizzle’ than most the patterns listed above, which we find can work really well on bright, sunny days.
- Fish Taco.Designed by yet another Alaska West alum, Jeff Hickman, the Fish Taco is a great option when a sparser, less obtrusive, pattern is desired. Believe it or not, when it comes to king salmon, bigger is not always better! Probably best to have a few in your box.
More on King Salmon
We’ve said it many times before, but when swinging flies for salmon and steelhead a common mistake made by many spey anglers is actually casting too far – often missing out on the good fishy water right in front of them.
However, casting far is fun! And today our own Jason Whiting lends a tip when it might be a good idea to actually chuck a little further, and extend the distance between you and the water you’re covering.. Take it away Jason!
Low and Clear Water? Fish Further Away
When swinging flies for anadromous fish, low or clear water can create many challenges. Fish can see you much easier and tend to be far more spooky. Well, if you’re fishing such conditions, and you feel like you are fishing well, but just can’t get those fish to eat, try making a longer cast to your target!
Don’t change the area you want to fish, but let’s say you’re standing 40 feet from point ‘X’ that you want your fly to land on. Keep that same target, but try moving upstream so that you are now positioned say 70 feet from the same target. This will allow you and all the movements you are making to be just that much farther from those spooky fish.
Of course, one thing to take note of is that this will change your swing angle, speed, and depth considerably, so adjust how you let your fly sink accordingly.
In the end, there is no definite science on how to approach those spooky fish when water conditions aren’t ideal, but the next time you find yourself fishing low or clear water and just can’t get those fish to eat, give this a try.
More on Swinging Flies
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.
- Strip with Intent. At the end of your swing, rather than stripping back to your shooting head as fast as possible, start retrieving your running line with three or four slow legitimate strips, such as you would when fishing a streamer. After a few strips, its probably safe to say there’s no one eyeing your fly and you can strip quickly back to your head for your next cast.
- Let it Sit. While it’s not imparting any action per se, letting your flight sit for a brief moment (we’re talking a few seconds here) during the hang down can sometimes cause your fly to ‘dance’ in funky hydraulics directly below you. Plus, waiting a moment on the hang down ensures your fly (not just your shooting head) has had a chance to swing all the way through – A common mistake when fishing sink tips.
- Pulse the Rod. As your swing straightens out below you, try pulsing the rod back and forth three or four times before stripping in for the next cast. Doing so causes the fly to swim quickly upstream and fall slowly back downstream, all the while remaining in the same few feet on each pulse. This can work well to entice a fish that may have followed your fly but lost interest. Plus, because you’re pulling in-line with the direction of your fly line, you’ll have instant feedback if a fish is toying with your fly on the hang down – which can be difficult to detect when not under tension.
More Posts on Swinging Flies
We’re in the midst of a pretty epic King run this year, and that means we’ve seen a heck of a lot of nice fish landed, but even more lost.
King fishing is by no means a numbers game.. They’re big, strong, fast, hard mouthed fish that don’t come easily to hand (for both experienced and novice anglers alike). We’re lucky to get plenty of opportunities, but if you get one out of five to hand, we think you’re doing pretty darn good. However, there’s always room for improvement and by avoiding the following common mistakes you’ll increase your landing ratio in no time.
Cardinal Sins of King Fishing
- Setting the Hook Too Quickly. As we’ve mentioned many times before, a ‘textbook’ king take goes something like this; Tap, tap tap, deep pull. Waiting for the deep pull before burying the hook is extremely important. Setting the hook on the first hint of a grab will pull the hook right out of his mouth every time. ‘Wait for the weight,’ and then drive it home.
- Setting the Hook Upstream. One of the most common mistakes we see from spey anglers new to king fishing is setting the hook either straight up or to the upstream side. Instead, always set the hook in the direction your fly is swinging.. So, if your fly is swinging from left to right, when it’s time to set the hook, set low and hard to the right side (or in other words, to the downstream side). Setting ‘with the swing’ in this fashion ensures the hook is under tension all the way into the fish’s mouth creating the best hold possible.
- Pulling Softly. After setting the hook, two things lose more king salmon than anything else; time (length of fight) and not putting enough pressure on the fish. It’s not uncommon for a big fish to take over 100 plus yards of backing (ahem, we’ve already had one ‘spooling’ this season) and in order to put enough pressure on the hook hold at that distance, you need to pull hard, really hard. Plus, any time you’re not making the fish work, he’s resting.. Don’t let him! Keep your rod low and towards the bank, and bend the rod all the way to handle for as much of the fight as you can.
- Changing the Rod Angle. Constantly changing the rod from downstream to upstream and back again during the fight is no bueno. Set the hook ‘with the swing,’ pull hard to the downstream side, and fight from that position for as long as possible. Make the fish force you to change your rod angle, but until then, keep the heat low and towards the bank for as long as you can.
- Running the Bar. When a big fish takes off down river, your first instinct might be to take off running to gain what you lost.. Don’t! You can’t out run a king salmon at top speed and running the gravel bar with him only allows him time to rest. Stand your ground and show that fish who’s boss.
- Fiddling with Your Drag. Fighting big fish requires concentration. It’s really important for your reel hand to be ready at the helm to gain back any inch of line you can the moment he gives you a chance. Therefore, the last thing you want to worry about while fighting a fish is whether or not you set the drag right. Set the drag appropriately ahead of time and try not to mess with it while fighting your fish. How much drag is appropriate? Here’s a tip, when it comes to kings, if it’s easy for your to pull off with your finger tips alone, it’s probably not heavy enough.
- Fishing the Deep Water Only. Most first-time king anglers are aware that king salmon love hanging out in the deepest, darkest, pocket in the run. However, experienced anglers know that while that is often the highest concentration of fish, kings are found of all different types of water, not just the ‘bucket.’ Fish the entire run, fish it thoroughly, and never underestimate the short cast.
- Not Listening to Your Net Man. Putting the mesh on a big fish requires much more than simply ‘scooping’ the fish up with the net. The current acting on the surface area of such a fish can put tremendous strain on your leader during the moments leading up to the net shot. Often times there’s a very small window of opportunity to make a stab, and therefore being on the same page as your net man is crucial. Communicate during the fight and allow the net man to dictate the steps needed to get the fish’s head in position for the shot. Pulling one way while the net man is anticipating another generally results in a heartache.
More on King Salmon
As many of you are well aware, our Alaska season is in full swing, and in a few short days we’ll be kicking off our season in British Columbia as well. That means we have spey fishing on the mind, and with that, Stuart Foxall presents us with a simple tip on selecting the proper sink tip.
Swinging Flies – Think 3D!
When swinging flies for anadramous fish, don’t look at a run and fish in ‘auto-pilot.’ Instead, do your best to estimate the depth and pace of the water, as well as the line that you think the fish will be traveling in. This will dictate the length of sink tip you will use as well as the proper angle of your cast to get your fly at the required depth as it swings through the run. In other words, think 3D, not 2D!
Often times, the deeper or faster the water – the longer the tip you’ll need, and the more square to the river bank you will need to cast. However, in some instances such as a pinch in the river, deep drop offs, etc, a shorter but heavier sink tip can do wonders to get the fly in the zone quickly through a short window of the swing. On the other hand, in areas with less current or depth (let’s say down in tidewater while the tide is turning), sticking with a shorter, lighter sink tip can make all the difference in keeping the fly from digging too deep, allowing it to swim freely through the run.
The next time you change sink tips, do your best to estimate the bottom structure of the run first.. Think 3D!
More on Spey Fishing
Our annual return of king salmon are trickling by our camp at Alaska West, and in a few short days we’ll be targeting them with one of our favorite tools for anadramous fish, spey rods!
With that in mind, and seeing how some of you might even be joining us, we thought it might be a good idea to present you with..
3 Tips for Spey Fishing for Kings
- Wait on the hook set. A typical king take goes a little something like this; yank, yank yank, deep pull. Waiting for that deep pull before setting the hook is extremely important, wait for it!
- Short casts catch fish too. Long casts are fun to make, and certainly have their purpose, but never underestimate the water in close. It’s not uncommon on our river for folks to hook their largest fish of the week with their skagit head still in the guides! Fish the close water first, trust us on this one.
- Fish the tailout. Contrary to popular belief, the deepest/darkest bucket of the run is not the only worthwhile water to explore. Just like steelhead, it’s not uncommon for kings to hold in the tailout – the shallower ‘transition’ water at the end of the run. Fish out the run, the whole run, with confidence.
More on Spey Fishing for King Salmon
In less than two weeks we’re going to be kicking off our seasons in Alaska and British Columbia. With it comes the year’s return of ocean fresh chinook. So, in light of their return we offer a simple tip practiced by most experienced chinook anglers..
When you land a nice fish, celebrate, but get back out there!
After landing a nice fish, the usual response is to head back to the boat, grab a cup of coffee, and look through your photos until your hands start shaking. Don’t! Get right back in there where you hooked the last fish.
Often times, these big fish travel together, and your next cast could be another monster. So, when you land a nice fish, by all means rejoice.. But then get back out there! Or, you know, let your buddy fish on through.