Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Fall Swing: Keep it High and Tight!

As I enjoy a day off the water, I find myself pondering the steelhead swing on our unique, dynamic, shallow river. Two very common mistakes I see anglers make is the depth of their presentation, and lack of tension. I believe these are rooted in the Salmon River tradition of drifting flies.

Steelhead, as all fish, are built to look up an away-using a "cone of vision." This cone grows in radius as the depth increases, so the fish can see farther away the deeper the water is. Logically, the swung fly will draw more fish when the number of fish exposed to the fly is increased. By simply shifting the depth of the swing up in the water column, you will allow more fish to see your creation, and for a longer period of time. A drifted fly should be "with the fish" as the intent is to make it easy for the fish to eat-however we are not trying to make it easy when we swing, that would result in lost tips and boring bites. Who wants that!? I firmly believe the angler will recieve better bites, and more of them, when they lighten the load and swing higher in the column. Temperatures need to be factored, as does depth and speed of the current when selecting tips. However, it is rarely necessary to plummet to the depths, the steelhead we want will come to the fly. I find that a proper swing depth has a certain feel to it-when the hairs on my neck stand erect, then I know I have the right tip. Once I gain that feel I stick with the tip unless the conditions change very drastically. I will make minor adjustments by shifting my cast angle or how I lead or follow the swing with my rod tip. I want my fly as high in the water as the fish will move! It's a game of chess, but for me, the quality of the take is more important than the number of takes. My efforts are directed at finding that area of the column that will be up near the maximum distance the fish will move, but just close enough to them to get consistent results.

Tension on your fly is absolutely required in order for the fly to come to life and attract fish. Tension should be established immediately after the cast, or the pull mend if required, and sustained throughout the entire drift. One of the magical properties of swinging flies is that you can incorporate all of your senses into the experience. By learning to "feel" the water against your fly, you can free your mind to smell, listen, taste, and hear the river environment as your fly does its work. I see too many anglers cast upstream, toss repeated mends, and swing spaghetti with tiny flies. Simply put, that approach is limiting their success; the fly is not alive since it is not under tension, and with all the slack bite detection in minimal at best. Even if you did get, and detect, a bite it would be BORING! You would be better drifting the fly in a straight line path to maximize response time. A swung fly needs to be seen for an extended period of time (read: ABOVE the fish), and it needs to be ALIVE (read: under tension).

So, next time out try swinging high and tight!


  1. A very informative post. I am new to steelheading and plan to hit it pretty hard this coming spring. I will remember your post.

    Also, found your blog on OBN. I will follow.

    the Average Joe Fisherman

  2. Great info on swinging speys! I'm heading up to the Salmon on Tuesday for 4 days & I have a box full of spey flies!