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Spring Steelhead Update- April 15

Posted on April 15, 2019 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (2)

There are still good numbers of fresh steelhead running the Ohio rivers

Ohio has been fishing very well over the last two weeks. We had a decent amount of rain the last day of March that pushed in a good run of fresh fish into all major tributaries, then again last night we had another system move through with rain and low temps. This should extend the season an extra week or two. I expect good fishing as the water drops again, with what will probably be the last significant push of fresh fish of the spring. Based on what I'm seeing, I'd expect all but the largest tributaries to be wrapping things up by the end of the month, as these late runners are usually quick in the rivers. The biggest rivers in the area will probably continue to fish until about the second week of May, water temperatures permitting. This is based on the ratio of fresh fish to drop backs that we're seeing. On the big river that ratio is about 60/40 dropbacks to fresh, while everywhere else is more like 80/20. We still have some excellent fishing ahead, but the '18-'19 steelhead season is nearing the end. Going forward it will be important to keep a thermometer for taking water temperatures on those warmer afternoons. Get out there and enjoy it while you can. Won't be long till it's the smallie show.

Tight Lines,

 - D

Spring Steelhead Update

Posted on March 26, 2019 at 7:25 AM Comments comments (0)

John with a really nice swing fish

Spent the weekend fishing with John again, and we just had too much fun. This '18-'19 steelhead season has been weird. In the fall it was all water. Everyday was rainy, the Catt was out of the pic. Now in the spring, when we usually see the most water due to rain and snowmelt, everything is super low. Go figure! But it isn't preclusive of success, and we caught our fair share of fish. In fact judging by the looks of the people we saw fishing around us, we might have caught their fair share of fish too haha.

The focus, as it usually is when fishing with me, was spey fishing. Towards the end of the trip on the last morning John's casting was really coming together, and he had a good couple hours were most of his casts were tight loops out to 60 feet or so. Impressive for a guy with only a couple days time working a two hander! As a result of his progress he landed an absolute stunner of a buck. Not big but beautiful. We fished both the Chagrin and the Grand. The Chagrin is gin clear and if we don't get meaningful rain it may fall below 100 CFS. The Grand has some flow right now but again it's still very low considering what is normal this time of year. All in all, John landed four swinging and lost about as many. We did a little indicator fishing too, and he picked up another half dozen or so, and hooked many more. Not bad for a weekend of fishing!

Tight Lines,

 - D

Gorgeous little buck

John working a run

Another pretty swing fish


Swinging for Browns

Posted on November 29, 2018 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Catching a brown such as this on the swing is a reward many anglers desire

Catching a brown trout over 30 inches. That is many fly anglers' answer to the question of "if they had one wish to be granted during their fly fishing career, what would it be?" Catching a brown trout over 30 inches. And to a select few of the anglers that answered that question that way, it may even be qualifed to "catching a brown trout over 30 inches on the swing." Swinging for browns approaching or easily exceeding the double-digit pound mark is truly an experience that leaves us weak in the knees. It is at times incredibly frustrating, outright overwhelming, and just every once in a while so god damn good that it both haunts your memories and completely and totally ensares you into lifelong obsession.

This year we've been spending a lot of time chasing lake run browns. The steelhead run has been less consistent as it has in years past. But fishing for lake runs has been very good. Though many consider lake runs caught on the swung fly as by-catches for anglers targeting steelhead- and indeed many are- lake run browns can be specifically targeted with spey rods and the swung fly by knowing a few habits of the fish and making small adjustments to technique. We are not talking about complete overhall of the system here. We are talking about tweeks. 

First thing to know is a bit about the brown cycle. For steelhead in general, and fall steelhead especially, spawning can be months away. The fish adjust to their river habitats. Many have not fully sexually matured to the point that spawning is an urgent matter, and in the tiime between arriving to natal rivers and actually spawning, steelhead maintain curiosity towards their surroundings, including things such as flies swimming around in the currents. For this reason, steelhead are the usual targets of anglers wielding two-handers looking to swing.

Browns on the other hand are fall spawners. Many fish are sexually mature enough to spawn the very day they enter the river, should they arrive at suitable habitat. For this reason, the predator instict in even fresh run browns is often diminished. As a result, most of my success for fresh arrivals has been with smaller, drabber flies such as olive, brown, or black woolly buggers or brown hairwings such as brown trout fry.

A fresh 27" hen taken on a brown trout fry hairwing  

To browns actively spawning, males especially can remain responsive to those same small flies, though the ethics of fishing to spawning fish must be determined by each individual angler. Locating spawning fish in the riffles, and fishing below in gravel drop-offs or in the first main pool downstream is usually the better option anyways. Both pre-spawn and newly finished post-spawn fish will usually hang out around the spawners in the first available holding water, and are better targets in terms of receptiveness and in the fight of the fish.

In these deeper pools and runs where pre or post-spawn browns congregate below spawning fish, concentrate specifically hard in the slowest water available. Browns generally hold in slower water than steelhead. When swinging for steelhead, even in colder temperatures, many fish are found "falling into the bucket"- meaning as you transition from the head of the run into what would be considered the gut. Brown trout are usually found "falling out of the bucket"- meaning as you transition from the slowest part of the gut of a run into the tailout. On small creeks, this might only be a matter of a few feet difference, but on larger rivers this can be a difference of fifty feet or more. Though it is obviously a good idea to swing the entire run, as trout are first and foremost unpredictable, pay specific attention to the point where the current slows dramatically in the gut before dispersing over the tailout.

Jeff fighting a good lake run brown taken on the swing from the slow gut of a run

As more fish finish the spawning process, and the numbers of spawned out browns grows, baitfish and attractor streamers become the most effective flies to swing. Spawned out browns are eating machines. Lying in the slower pools and runs, they await to ambush anything small enough to fish in their large mouths. When I'm swinging to high numbers of spawned out fish, again in the slower water, I like to fish a floating line, leader down to 8 or 10 pound fluoro and a weighted fly. The cast isn't usually as pretty as fishing a weighted fly on that lighter tippet doesn't turn over great, but the swing is nice. In the slow water, any sink tip will usually ground out. Fishing without a tip and using a weighted fly usually does not. And at times, even in very cold water, browns can just go on a tear and be willing to eat anywhere from just below the surface to substrate of the pool. Most times, however, browns will be caught fishing a streamer weighted heavily enough to keep it near the bottom.

Pump the rod. I'll say it again. Pump the rod the entire time during the swing. Use the kind of pump that most steelhead anglers do on the hangdown and pump it throughout the swing. This will cause a jigging action, and the fly to drop back towards the bottom before it starts to swing again. Browns absolutely love to eat a streamer on the drop. And the take will be noticeably different. It will happen after one pump and as you pump again. There will just be weight there. That is a brown eat. It is not a turn on the fly the way a steelhead normally does. It is a brown that followed the jigging streamer, caught up to it, and, as the streamer drops toward the river bottom from a pump, inhaled it without turning. That is the way that most browns eat during the swing. They swim up and inhale it without turning back. If you were not pumping the rod, the fish might still take it. But that is a fish that can easily be missed in the slow water because the swing is slow, therefore the bite transfer to the rod is slow. By the time you notice something has happened, that fish could have spit you already. So I will say it one more time. Pump the rod the entire time from the start of the swing until the hangdown. If you feel any resistance, set low and to the downstream bank.

Smaller lake run taken on a bait fish streamer pumped through the slow water

So if you guys and gals have your eyes set on a trophy lake run brown trout on the swing, using these tips can be the difference between a successful day and spending an afternoon flogging the water. Browns are a beautiful species to target with spey rods and the swung streamer. Many remain in the rivers and creeks all winter long, and swinging or stripping streamers in the slower "estuary" sections in the cattails can help fire up even the coldest winter day. Browns put up determined battles when hooked, full of headshaking fury and sometimes acrobatics that will cause you to question whether the fish mistakenly thinks it's a steelhead. In short, lake runs are a ton of fun. And they readily eat a swung fly.

Tight Lines,

 - D

Pre-Season Scouting

Posted on September 18, 2018 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Beautiful stretch

Well spent a little time a few days ago looking around on some of the local creeks and rivers. It's starting to get to my favorite time year, and the best time to be outside as far as I'm concerned. Didn't spot any fish in any of the smaller creeks, which was a bit surprising to me. Though we've had hot weather over the last week, before that we had three cool rainy days that I'm sure pushed in some fish. The nice thing is that all the smaller creeks I checked had at least decent flow so any fish that entered a week and a half ago may have been able to make it up a little higher than I'd normally expect. 

Then I jetted over to take a peek at how things looked over on the Catt. Despite air temperatures above 80 and water temps reading in the low seventies people were out fishing low on the river. I feel like a broken record for saying this, but it's just too hot right now. Looking ahead, though we had been forcasted to drop down into the 60's for highs, that has changed. On Thursday the high is in the mid-80's, and low 80's today and tomorrow. By Friday though that all is supposed to change. Again, hopefully this will be the last bout of hot weather until spring. But only time will tell.

In the meantime, tie some flies.

Tight Lines,

 - D 

Defining success

Posted on August 5, 2018 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

What is success when fishing steelhead? That's a loaded question and the answer varies with the individual asked. As fly anglers for steelhead, success obviously does not mean hooking the most fish. If that was it, there are many more productive methods to catch steelhead. Same with spey fishing. In that facet of thinking, spey fishing is not the most productive method of fly fishing, and fishing a dry line is not usually the most effective method of spey fishing. So there must be something more.

To me the answer is personal satisfaction. Spending the day fishing the way I want to my favorite type of water. Each day I get to do so, I have succeeded, regardless of the outcome. With that attitude I never have a bad day on the river.

Go out there and succeed.

Tight Lines,

 - D 

Summer Browns and Fall Thoughts

Posted on June 30, 2018 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Our new guide Matt and a buddy a buddy of his getting after the some nice West Branch D trout!

Well sorry for the radio silence, but I've had to put out a number of fires all over the place! Haha. So smallmouth season this year was pretty much a write off for me. Pretty bummed about that, but hey sometimes we're not always in the driver's seat! But you know what I'm not bummed about? Some really nice trout Matt has been getting into on West Branch of the Deleware! He and a buddy or two of his were up there for a few days working up some really nice fat wild trout. Thats what we like to see!

Anyways, to give a quick update, smallmouth are finishing up their run into the creeks and rivers. We usually see most fish back into the lake by the 4th of July, maybe a straggler here and there afterward. With the hot temps projected over the week, though they are considered a warm water gamefish, I have a feeling most will be more comfortable in 8-15 feet of water near rock piles haha. So untill next end of April, see ya later smallies!

But now brings me to the fun part. We're starting to put the pieces together for our fall season already. Hard to believe. It's only July, right? Well over the past week and a half, a number of our old clients called looking for good peak season dates, and we're starting to get hit with new anglers looking for thier first FLR trip! If peak season on the Catt (October 15- November 21) is on your mind, I'd suggest giving us a call and talking about options sooner rather than later. We've already taken some bookings and are tentatively holding others waiting on confirmation. So hard to believe that this year, now is the time to think about it!

Finally, we're starting to get some lock downs on the Spey Hosted trip from October 18-21. We still got four available slots, but with how much interest we've had this early for the fall season, I can't guaranteed how long those last spots will be available. So if you want to spend two and a half days of on the water guided instruction, three nights lodging including nightly fly tying demos and shooting the shit spey style with some of the best guides in the region, give us a call!

As always, 

Tight Lines


Another Deleware beauty 

'17-'18 Season in Reveiw

Posted on May 7, 2018 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Time to say goodbye for a little while

Well, it's getting to be that time of year again. We still have a lot of steelhead in the rivers, but the water temps are getting significantly above 65 degrees and staying above it for most the day on most of our rivers. That's just too warm to fish steelhead unless we get a cool down, which according to the weather doesn't look too likely. Though there are a few days where the highs are projected to be in the high 50's over the next two weeks, most days are in the upper 60's to upper 70's which means water temperatures will stay in the low to mid sixties, even on cool days, and will spike up even higher on warm ones. So it looks like steelhead season has come to an end.

Looking back over the fall 2017 and spring 2018 season, we had some of the best fishing I've seen in years. The past fall in New York was easily the best steelhead season we've seen in the past four or five years, with the Catt coming into play very early in October and fishing extremely well that entire month. Flows were perfect for swinging dry lines and numbers of fish willing to play were high. Then in November, despite the Catt being out of the picture essentially that entire month, the smaller creeks really came into play with good numbers, despite the early cold snap the second and third week. Over the fall and early winter, we found some very large fish, up to mid-thirties in inches and low-mid teens in weight, especially in December.

Then starting in February, Ohio really started fishing well, with good numbers of fish running on every high water period until the end of April. Though we didn't land any monsters this spring, with the biggest fish being in the thirty inch ranges, we certainly hooked some that were much larger, including on Art hooked one the Chagrin that stayed deep and ran upstream through heavy water and we just could not turn it. It ended up wrapping the line around a big piece of slate and broke us off, but damn it would have been nice to see that fish.

One very pleasant surprise was how well all the Ohio rivers fished this spring. In most springs though we'll have good fishing on all the rivers periodically throughout the spring, there usually is one river that is clearly fishing better than all the rest on a consistent basis. I think it simply has to do with waterflows being prime at the right time as a large school of steelhead are cruising in the lake nearby and decide to run the river. This spring it seemed like each river had roughly equal amounts of fish in them. This is certainly a trend I hope continues as it made for nearly three months of perfect fishing somewhere along the Ohio Lake Erie tributary systems.

Going forward, we're going to be switching to trout and smallmouth, but things are going to quiet down for us a bit, as they normally do between May and early October. We're already seeing some really nice smallies, but want to give the steelhead a chance to drop out before we really start fishing them, as this time of year you can catch a steelhead and a smallmouth on back to back casts. Only problem is water temperature. If you really need to get another steelhead in before the end, please bring a thermometer with you and just be mindful. We've had seven full months of great steelheading already. 

Tight Lines

 - D 

More Ohio Steelhead

Posted on April 12, 2018 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Art with a bar of chrome on the swing

We are at peak season, but still running a couple weeks behind schedule. This means a couple things. We're still seeing a TON of fresh fish pushing in, and we havent seen too many post spawn. Based on this, we should get an extra week or two of the season!!! As I write this, all of the Ohio systems are fishing, and with good numbers of fish present. The Grand is still colored but if you put some time, you can find a fish or two. Everything else is hot. This morning, in three casts we swung up three fish- landing two!!! And it didn't stop there. So get out while you can folks. There are still a ton of fish to be had.

Tight Lines,

 - D

Art putting the wood to a nice one

The result

Yes, that's a whiskey hangover in his mouth

Art and Matt with a good one

Spey crazy

Posted on March 20, 2018 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Tons of fun over the last couple days

Over the past week, the fishing has been hot. With the exception of Conneaut, all the creeks and rivers are higher than what would usually be considered optimum flow, but it's from snow melt meaning the visibility is there- even on the Grand. As of writing this, the Grand is at roughly 1800 cfs, but she still has more than a foot of vis. Over the weekend she was at 1200 and had about 18"- right about what would usually be considered good fishing. Anyways, went out to a couple favorite spots and swung up some nice fish, and lost a few more. Didn't land any monsters, all around 26" or so, but did lose some fish that had more weight. Sometimes it's just luck of the draw. But still, everything looks like we are shaping up for an excellent month an a half.

 - D

Locked on

Another on the hangover

Pretty little doe

Low rod angles = successful fights on spey rods

Nicely colored buck

Cool shot of the hike in

Swinging a good run on the Grand

Winter swinging

Posted on February 6, 2018 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Big cold-water hen from a February thaw 

January and February are usually quieter months for us. Not necessarily because of a lack of fish in our rivers, but because of a lack of weather consistency makes pinning down dependable fishing conditions difficult. In our neck of the woods, the lower Great Lakes region, total ice coverage can occur at any time between late December and mid March. So we do our best to focus our guiding schedule accordingly.

But usually periodically throughout January and February, thaws occur, and rivers break free. These thaws generally coincide with significant rain and snowmelt that unlocks the frozen rivers, revealing the silver hidden below. And these thaws may last anywhere from a number of days to a few weeks at a time. It’s times like these that we try out hardest to get out and get a feel for the upcoming spring season, and simply avoid the madness that starts to set in after two months indoors.

During these trips, we are often greeted with higher than prime flows of colder water. Even when the mercury hits 50 degrees, the prevalence of snowmelt contributing to the flows usually mean that the water, even on those pleasant winter days, stays in the low to mid 30’s. So we are faced with swinging big, cold water. But don’t despair, success can still be found. You just need to know where to look and how to find it.

Soft water pays:

Many anglers walk into the deeper runs armed with heavy tips and weighted flies to dredge the classic winter water. While this certainly has its place in winter fishing it is not the only method of swinging up winter fish. Don’t overlook the soft water: shallow inside seams a few feet deep or less, wider knee deep flats with even current, and even the pocket water. This may all be worth your time, but running through this water with a heavy tip and fly means snagging up a lot.

Mike hooked up in a shallow run

There’s a reason why these locations can reward anglers, even in the dead of winter. Shallow water allows more sunlight to penetrate faster down to substrate. This means radiant heat is being absorbed by the usually dark river bottom and is then dispersed into the surrounding water. Though steelhead may be more skittish on sunny days, I’d take a skittish steelhead that is sitting in water warming faster than a wholly relaxed fish sitting in water that is barely warming at all any day of the week.

Even subtle warming of water temps can trigger a dormant fish to start becoming active. But if the water where a fish is holding is warming faster that the surrounding water, you can bet the farm that that fish will be thinking about knocking the ice off its fins. Doesn’t mean you’ll get him to bite, but it does mean that it’s a fish worth targeting hard.

Adjust you gear accordingly. If you fish the soft water in winter, and are worried about skittish fish on sunny days, lengthen and lighten your leader a bit, use a lighter tip, and fish a smaller fly. These adjustments are all things that anglers control. We don’t control the activity level of a fish, we can only control the type of fish we look for. So searching for active fish in softer warmer water can often be key to success on a winter day.

Fishing deep:

With the above in mind, it can still be worthwhile to fish those deep, classic winter runs. In the soft water, you are usually fishing to a single or couple fish that are moving through the run, and maybe just paused for a minute. In the deeper runs, you are likely fishing to higher numbers of fish, and a mix of holding fish and new arrivals. Those deeper runs often congregate fish for several days at a time. So if you want to show your fly to the most fish possible, reach for the T-14.

When fishing those deeper runs, really focus the most energy on the bucket. The bucket is the sweet spot in the run where the faster current at the head starts to disperse right before the run tails out. If the mercury isn’t really rising, or worse if it’s headed the wrong direction, fish will congregate in a bucket like a magnet.

A December steelhead from a deep run in 32 degree water

When I fish the bucket of a favorite winter run in colder higher water, I make several adjustments. I shorten my leader to between 24 and 30” and tie on my trusty big fly. In the cold, I like a large profiled fly that moves a lot of water. If you’re worried about snagging, fish the big fly unweighted. If you know the run and it’s relatively even without too many snags, fish a weighted fly.

One thing I find myself doing pretty frequently is casting well upstream of 90 degrees to the current. The cast, almost quartered upstream allows my fly to sink like a rock down to the bottom when I stack mend the line upstream. The first part of the swing will look a little weird with what appears to be an upstream belly, but that simply means I’m getting really deep, and swinging really slow. Precisely what you need for eliciting a cold-water take from a winter run.

As the fly line passes directly out from you, it should start to straighten out, then with a small downstream mend you get that nice, deep, slow swing through the bucket. Often times, you’ll be surprised by how much of a floating Skagit head will get pulled below the surface. And in those deeper buckets, just sit back and enjoy it. Your dog's hunting, let him do the work.

When you fish this way, pay close attention to that first third of the swing, even when you have that upstream belly. In this part of the swing, the fly will essentially be drifting broadside at the speed of the current on the bottom. Because you do not have a directly tight line swing like you would in a quartered downstream cast, a take from of fish during this part will simply look like the front of the Skagit head has stopped, and the belly begins to shift downstream faster than you expect. You may simply feel a bit of weight that wasn’t there a moment ago. If any of this happens, pull the rod downstream like you are trying to help the swing along. If you feel resistance, complete the hookset.

The good new is that colder fish are usually slower to spit the fly, and can munch a fly for a surprisingly long time. Instead of setting right off the bat, if it was a snag that hung you up for a minute, you can usually free it with that slow downstream pull and continue the swing. If it is a fish, however, the fly usually grabs in the corner of the mouth and holds. So while you pull, really feel for any resistance or the slow throb of a cold-water headshake then bury the hook.

Often times, after you’ve already made several casts through the “sweet spot” and have started to move deeper down the bucket, you connect with a fish in that first part of the swing. I attribute this to the slower, broadside dead drift that tumbles into the head of the bucket. So if you’ve reached what you consider to be the bucket and your first couple casts don’t connect, don’t lose focus, especially on the start of the swing. Changing the angle and pivot point by casting further upstream and reaching the rod out has put me on the board enough to pass being dispelled as simple flukes.

And as an added bonus, my experience with connecting to fish while “swinging” the water above me has been that the majority of those were dominant fish holding in the prime lie at the head of the bucket. The takes are usually not the crushing destruction of a swung fly that we all live for, but hooking into a sleeping giant means preparing for a drawn out battle of attrition. So, you know, all things being equal it balances out.


Finally, though this is totally cliché, fish what you have confidence in. Winter is not always the best time to be experimenting with new patterns or styles. Pick a couple patterns that you have confidence in, patterns that have put fish on the board for you before, and fish them. I like to carry two patters, one big pattern for deep water (cough, cough, whiskey hangover) and one smaller pattern for soft water, in a couple different sizes. The same with sink tips. I like to carry two heavy tips for getting down in the deep winter buckets, usually 7.5’ of T-11 and 10’ of T-14 MOW Tips depending on the conditions, and one light tip for soft water, usually a Type 3 or slow sinking Polyleader, with a preference towards the poly. The tapered build of a poly turns over nice if you're fishing a Scandi or long belly.

The whiskey hangover- my go to big fly

In almost all scenarios I can manage the type of swing that I want to feel like I’m fishing the water well. When I fish in the winter myself, I like to pack light. I can have a box with half a dozen flies, a wallet with three tips, and two small spools- one of ten and one of fifteen pound flouro. All that fits in my pocket, and the feeling of fishing effectively without a backpack weighing you down, where you are free to fish as you see fit with the rod in your hand ready to cast at anything that looks fishy as you work your way down a river is liberating.

In winter swinging, that in and of itself is success. You should find enjoyment in the act of fishing your fly properly to a tough game fish in less than ideal conditions, and a release from overcoming the incarceration of adverse weather. If you’re looking for numbers or success every time you leave the house, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Pick up a centerpin.

Tight Lines and Get Out There!

 - D