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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

Bead rigging

Posted on October 24, 2017 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

While we really like fishing the swung fly, and try to focus on spey techniques when possible, there are simply sometimes when conditions or the preferences of people fishing with us mean fishing an indicator rig. When we do fish an indy rig, more often than not at the end of the line you might see a little thing we refer to as "the item"- a colorful plastic bead pegged in place above a hook. I first started fishing a bead in Alaska in 2008 and quickly saw just how useful it would be back on my home streams. Over the years, I've tweaked my rig a bit so I can change things out (the hook or bead) without cutting my line. Here's my bead rig:

Step 1: What you need is your bead, tippet (already tied onto your leader), a hook ( for steelhead or lake run browns I prefer size 2 or 4 octopus hooks- bigger for beads 12mm or more, smaller for smaller beads, while if I'm fishing stream trout a 4 or 6) and a toothpick.

Step 2: Slide the bead onto your tippet, then tie a figure 8 loop in the end of your tippet. The loop will be what holds the hook on the end and should be about 1 1/2 - 2 inches. Why I like a loop is because I can then trade out hooks and even beads without cutting the line. Simply unloop the hook and pull the toothpick stopper from the bead and it will slide over the knot.Here is how to tie a figure 8 loop:

Make a loop in the tippet first:

Wrap the loop around both the tag end and main part of the tippet twice:

Pull the single loop through the double loop formed in the line:

Pull the knot tight:

Step 3: Use the toothpick to "peg" the bead. Push it in then snap off the sharp point. This will keep the bead from slipping down below the figure 8 knot. Later if you need to change the bead, poke the sharp end of a toothpick down the other side of the bead to push out the little piece of the toothpick that is broken off and it will pass over the figure 8 knot.

Peg the bead:

Snap off the toothpick:

There will be a piece stuck in the bead that holds it in place:

Slide the pegged bead down to the figure 8 knot to hold it in place:

Step 4: Pass the loop through the eye of a hook, wrap it over the shank, and secure it to the tippet:

Step 5: Bead up fish:

Notes: The rig above is tied with an ungodly large hook and 30 pound high viz big game leader. That is not my normal setup but was done so it would show up better in pics. I usually use 8-10 pound clear fluoro and a size 4 hook. Please do not fish a 3/0 saltwater hook with a bead.    

Though again, not our preferred way of fishing, but an incredibly effective method that has its uses as conditions or the preferences of others dictate.

Tight Lines,

 - D

Finding success with a floating line

Posted on October 16, 2017 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (1)

Noel taking a break in productive floating line water

There is nothing more challenging in the sport of steelhead fly fishing than setting out to take a fish on the surface, even more so in the GL region. The reasons the challenges against success with this type of fly fishing mount so high I believe are twofold: 1) water temperatures; and 2) time between fish entry and spawning. On the west coast, a majority of fishing effort with floating line and surface techniques is aimed at summer run fish. The watersheds that support summer runs have cool enough temperatures year round for coldwater game fish, and summer run fish enter watersheds months before sexual maturity and therefore exhibit more curiosity towards their surroundings and even as they become accustomed to natal rivers may act more like large stream trout than true migratory salmonids.

Jumping ship to the Great Lakes fisheries, while we do have some very significant summer run fisheries, the vast majority of steelhead that run our rivers enter between October and April. And the vast majority of the vast majority across the region enter between November and March. This means a few things. Most importantly our timeframe to engage in fishing a floating line with a likelihood of fishing to conditions supportive of success is much more limited, and spring fishing with a floating line is almost entirely focused on dropback fish.

With these parameters understood, an angler eager to fish a floating line should focus his or her efforts in the most conducive timeframes for success. This happens to be the first tip to finding success on a floating line. Focus your efforts when the mercury reads 50° F or higher. The warmer the water, the more aggressive fish can be. My best success has come when the water temps are in the upper 50’s or low 60’s. Again be mindful of the other end of the spectrum, and call it quits if you see temps above 65° F.

When the second factor that complicates success, time between entry and spawning is taken into account, it almost always means that fall surface season lasts only a few short weeks in October, when the first good run of fresh fish push in and before the water temps start consistently staying below 50° F. These first run fish of the fall season for all intensive purposes act like summer runs out west. They are months away from spawning and sexually mature in the rivers verses spring run fish in April for example that fully mature or near fully mature in the lake and may only be in the river a couple weeks before finishing the spawn and dropping back out.

To a spring run fish urgency of spawning is very high and, though water temps might be near to or at 50° F or above, there will be very little interest in chasing surface disturbances as a result until spawning is completed. Once spawning is complete, steelhead will feed in the rivers and will rise to hatches if the river they are in has good spring hatches, or take streamers such as muddlers fished on top or just under the surface. But again we are limited in time to target them in this fashion to a few weeks between late April or early May. So anglers looking to target fish with floating lines with dries or wets fished on the surface or just under should focus their efforts accordingly.

The second tip is to be very, very picky in the water you fish. Early run fall steelhead run a river quick, and as a result they literally can be anywhere- knee deep riffles, pools over your head, whitewater chutes, nice smooth waist deep runs, or rocky pocket water. The fish have almost a mythical feeling about them. At the best of times steelhead are elusive, but with those early run fish they are even more predictably unpredictable. The reason being that during those first weeks of the fall season, the time to target fish with a floating line, there just aren’t as many in the river as there would be say the middle or end of November, and they usually spread out pretty quickly.

Because the fish that have entered spread out and feel like they can be anywhere in the river, along with the fact that the water is usually on the lower side this time of year, we usually want to cover all the water available to try and get the fly in front of as many fish as possible. But now is not the time to put your fly in front of every fish that has run the river. Now is the time to show your fly to the right fish, not the most fish. If my experience over the years that I have been fishing dries on a floating line has taught me anything, it is that I’m looking for a moving fish in a riffle or choppy run between 1 and 3 feet deep.

Typical water I look for to fish a floating line

Though I have had success in pools, most of this has been pools on smaller creeks where fish stack up. In this scenario the pools usually have very little surface current and you use the rod to actually drag the fly across the top. Though it is an effective way to fish, it’s not my favorite. I enjoy swinging a line and not crouching and crawling into position in a more of spot/stalk fishing. And that’s just my personal preference, which means I usually fish the larger rivers as a result.

So back on the larger rivers, I’m looking for those riffles and shallower runs. To be more specific, I’m looking for riffles and shallow runs with cobble or larger sized bottom. Boulders are a bonus. This type of water, though on the surface may look to shallow and uninviting to fish, has tons of things going for it. It has a high oxygen content, a broken surface for cover, and with larger substrate even a moderately sized rock or piece of broken slate can provide just enough current break for a moving fish to sit for a while. And that’s exactly the fish I want to find- a moving fish that has paused for a while in a choppy riffle or run. So in the fall, this is the type of water I focus on. And you’ll find that once you start fishing this type of water, you’ll notice the lack of other anglers that really pay any attention to it, especially if it is more on the shallow side.

Another shot of good water

The next tip would be not to worry too much about fly pattern. Worry more about presentation. Though this may seem like a regurgitated statement in fly fishing, it is especially true when fishing a floating line for steelhead. There are some fundamental truths that you need to be able to accept when fishing this way for steelhead. You will catch far fewer fish. Most days you will not have a fish rise to the surface. But most importantly if you keep at it you will find a fish willing to come up. Despite all the failure you have witnessed trying to rise a steelhead on a legit skated fly fished on the surface of a larger river where you aren’t sight fishing or dragging a fly over pooled up fish in the only pool large enough to hold fish, you need to believe deep down that it works. And even when you go out in the morning with the belief that it will work for you sometime, you need to be able to come home in the evening just as fired up over the day you just spent not rising a fish. That’s the starting point.

Rainbow Muddler- good fly to fish dry, riffled, or soaked

So once you start fishing with the notion that you probably wont have a fish come up, you don’t really need to worry about what you are throwing- within reason. So far this season I’ve had 6 fish come up- 5 to a riffle hitched wet fished on the surface and 1 to a size 10 yellow humpy. All the flies were store bought. The wet was a baby rainbow trout streamer pattern that likely would have been a pattern included in the very first fly fishing kit you ever bought but you haven’t fished it since. There was nothing particularly special about them other than the fact that I fished them. The longer I fish for steelhead, the more I believe that there is a fish out there somewhere that will literally eat any fly I could tie on the end of my line, again within reason. So fly choice should not cause anxiety. Pick a fishy looking fly and fish it.

The presentation should be more of the focus. Worry about getting good casts and swings through the water you have chosen to fish. Worry about keeping your dry on the surface even in the chop, and making sure a riffle hitch you tie results in the wet fly pointing in towards shore as it swings otherwise it will corkscrew in the water during the swing and twist the shit out of your line. These are the important things to think about.

Finally make multiple passes through the same piece of water but using different techniques. I usually employ 3 techniques for each piece of water. I skate a dry over it first, then fish a riffle hitched wet, then finally fish a floating line/wet fly subsurface last. If I’m really focusing on top, I’ll stick to the dry then riffle hitched wet, and make several passes with those techniques. I always start up top and work my way down for the simple reason that if there is a fish in a run that would take a dry off top then it would likely take a subsurface fly as well, but not every fish willing to take a wet subsurface will take a dry off top. This way I can put the dry out first with the hopes that the most aggressive fish would be willing to take it and work my way down from there.

White rabbit- swing it on a floating line below the surface

Pay attention while fishing this way. A fish that will boil on a dry or riffle hitched wet but doesn’t commit can usually be talked into taking the subsurface wet. Try to match the color and size of the dry with the wet you tie on next, or clip off the riffle hitch and fish the fly below the surface. And even if you haven’t had any fish come up, don’t be afraid to upsize the size of a wet or small, unweighted streamer that you fish below the surface. Catching a fish on a floating line and an unweighted streamer in the upper part of the water column is an accomplishment to be proud of too. Plus they just hit it so, so hard. Often the take on a streamer fished just under the surface is an explosion of head thrashing, water-spraying, unholy ferocity that will leave you speechless. So it really is pretty cool too. But you should save that for your last pass through.

Hopefully the end result!

So if you are really gonna give a floating line a try, keep in mind the tips above. Though you probably wont catch every fish in the river this way, or maybe even any at all, it is just too much fun. So find your spot, and try to stay away from the fishing pressure. A few days spent swinging a floating line before the cold starts to set in is a reward all to itself. But if you’re lucky you might just get surprised by an explosive surface take. 

Tight Lines and Good Luck!

 - D

Good fish handling

Posted on November 8, 2016 at 3:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Good fish handling: keeping a fish wet and slightly upright for a nice pic. If the fish kicks, it'll swim away unharmed.

Everyone talks about this topic. But it seems like every time I go out, I see people mishandling fish. So gonna beat a dead horse anyways. It is really important that we handle our fish in as safe and careful a manner as possible. Especially when fishing smaller systems, where a fish can be caught several times over the season. While catch and release mortality remains low, mortality from catch and release can almost always be attributed to improper fish handling tactics. So here are a few tips:

1. Use a landing net or tail a fish in knee deep water when possible. Beaching a fish can result in the fish flopping around and injuring itself, especially hitting its head. A study on steelhead in BC found that almost all mortality from catch and release when fly fishing occurs when the fish thrashes in the shallows and hits its head. The fish would swim away strongly, but the radio trackers would find it washed up dead later. So be careful. If you do need to beach a fish, look for a spot with a sandy or pea-gravel substrate and no large rocks if possible.

2. It's okay to take pictures. Everyone loves a good fish pic. But make sure you minimize the amount of time the fish spends out of the water. Remember, they are gassed. They just struggled as if their life depended on it and exerted a ton of energy. They need to be sucking down some water to recharge. Having the fish out of water for long periods of time increases the risk of mortality. If you want a nice pic holding the fish up, have your buddy get ready for the shot, then just quickly lift the fish. Shoot to have the fish back in the water in a couple seconds. Keeping the fish in the water is another option, that really adds a nice aspect to the shot.

3. Spend the time the fish needs to be revived. It's actually nice to cradle such a beautiful fish and spend time with it in the water. That's what the whole experience is supposed to be about. It's not just for the pic or the fight. You caught the fish, now you need to spend however much time the fish needs to be properly revived. They'll let you know when they're ready, and will kick away strong.

4. And for the love of God, keep your hands out of the gillplate. Lately, I've seen this a lot more than I can remember: FLY ANGLERS lifting a fish by the gillplate. And judging by their technique, gear, and general appearance, these are anglers who should know better. There have been some pics going around the web showing off BIG fish this year, and one way anglers are holding them is with the gillplate-tail grip. This may look good in a photo, but it hurts the fish. The oils and salt on your hands harms the gills and the angle of lift causes the head of the fish to arch upward, straining the neck and back. None of these things are good things. Is it going to kill every fish? Probably not. Can it hurt them? It sure can.



Poor fish handling can cause death after release. We found this guy in a catch and release stretch where bait can't be used. Careless fish handling is likely to blame for mortality.

Final thoughs- have fun out there and be nice to our finned friends. They really are super cool animals, and it's a privilege to fish for them. If you see someone carelessly handling a fish, it's always a good thing to give them a few pointers for the future. We were all noobs once. But it shouldn't be anything to start an argument about. Some people just don't give a shit, and that's sad. But the people that do are generally greatly acceptive and appreciative of pointers.

Tight lines

 - D



We have water!

Posted on October 21, 2016 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)

The Catt at Gowanda!

The Grand in Ohio!

Ladies and Gentlemen, after one of the driest late summers and early falls in the last decade, finally our rain dances have been answered. We have a major weather system moving through the area right now, dropping significant percipitation and plunging temperatures as it goes. Looking forward, we have rain on and off for the next two weeks. Expect this system to trigger a big push of fish, a push bigger than any seen to date. Though the Catt has been holding fair numbers of fish, a significant run has yet to present itself, and all the smaller creeks in the area have only handfuls of fish spread over the lower reaches.

With this rain, the Catt in New York and the Grand in Ohio will likely spike up well into the thousands CFS flow, and will be offline for some time. To counter this, look to the smaller creeks, especially Pennsylvania creeks or western Lake Ontario creeks. Visibility of more than 10 inches, which though far from perfect is what I consider baseline fishability, can often be found on some of the smallest creeks hours after a significant rain event, and mid-sized creeks are generally fishable the next day. Look for dropping water, a good sign is piles of leaves on the bank well above the current water level. Fish larger patterns. If you still use want to indicator fish, hot orange, red, chartreuse, or a mix of those colors in patterns tied around the size of a nickle have been solid choices for me in low visibility. And fish in tight in back eddies near the bank- where the water swirls and flows upriver. In murkier water, fish will stay out of the main flow waiting for the visibility to increase before moving on.

Judging by the spike on the Catt right now, look for her to drop back into prime shape if there is only sporadic showers over the next few days by Monday or Tuesday. Currently she is still spiking up, but due to the low water tables and dry conditions, this may run off quickly. If we do continue to see moderate to heavy rain on and off over the next few days, it may take until Wednesday or later for her to drop down to good fishing levels. But when she does, expect high numbers of fish up to Gowanda.

So get out and enjoy the beautiful weather while targeting some other creeks in the area. Fishing in high water conditions can mean solitude, and a chance to hook a toad, like this 32" 12-13 pound buck Noel caught.


Tight Lines

 - D

Fishing a floating line

Posted on October 20, 2016 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

This steelhead crushed a muddler fished on top through a heavy riffle

Down the hatch! (Not to worry, the point was on the roof of the mouth away from the gills :))

In western New York, we are blessed with some of the best fall fishing for steelhead in the country. Each year while the weather is still pleasant, and water temps are good for active fish, fly anglers hit the creeks and rivers. Most are armed with indicators and egg patterns or nymphs, and some with sink tips and streamers. But one technique I don't often encounter is someone fishing a floating line and long leader.

It occurred to me that I've been writing a lot lately of chasing steelhead on the Catt with a floating line. But I haven't really posted any tips or tactics for anglers looking to get out there and fish without slinging shot or heavy sink tips. So sit back, enjoy the ride, and learn all that you need to know to properly fish the surface. But be forewarned. Fishing a floating line is not a numbers game. It is a quality game. You have to be dedicated enough to forego changing to a much more productive method after a few hours without action. If you think you can, keep reading!

First and foremost, there are three main methods I use for fishing a floating line on the surface. They are:

1.) Skating Dries

2.) Dead Drifting or Indicator Fishing with Dries

3.) Fishing Muddlers through the riffles

To be successful on a floating line, you need to know where, when, and how to use each technique. But even before you begin to select technique, you must know water temperature. When I fish a floating line, I am looking for water temperatures at least in the low 50's. Though it is not impossible to rise a fish in colder water- and I've seen fish come up in water as cold as the low to mid 40'-  the colder the water, the less metabolic activity the fish will have. Therefore the fish will be less inclined to move for a fly. But also be mindful of the other end of the temperature spectrum. Water temps of 65 and over are getting close to the maximum temperature threshold of an adult steelhead, and with sustained energy exertion (such as fighting a fish), mortality rates drastically increases. So just be mindful. Now onto the techniques.

Skating a dry fly is one of the coolest ways to fish for steelhead. Like all surface methods, you must be very specific in the locations you apply this techniqe. Our steelhead in the Great Lakes are generally less likely to move a great distance for a fly. So a good rule of thumb is take the dry fly to the fish by fishing in a location that places the fly as close to a holding fish as possible. I look for three main locations: choppy runs between 1 and 3 feet deep; the extreme heads of pools well above the bucket; and the extreme tailouts of pools just above the lip. These locations are generally shallow enough that even fishing a dry puts the fly within a foot or two of a holding fish. Start out by fishing from a position well above the area you want to cover. Use short casts at first, keeping the rod tip high. The goal is to fish the fly first like a skittering caddis across the chop. Then after each cast, lengthen up and drop your tip a little. By the end you should be getting a smooth and even wake as the surface chop calms. The pattern you fish will determine just how heavy of water you can fish- the bushier the pattern or patterns tied with foam the heavier the surface chop they can be fished in. I tend to fish leaders between 12 and 15 feet tapered down to 8 pound, but sometimes 6 pound fluoro. If you are lucky enough to rise a fish, the most important thing is to wait for the fish to turn on the fly before you set, or you'll likely pull the fly out of the fishes mouth. After a second or two, the line will begin to tighten up, signalling that the fish has turned away. Now is the time to set hard and downstream at a low angle. Good patterns are large october caddis flies with orange abdomens, yellow or orange stimulators, humpys, bombers, and ska-oppers. I look for flies from size 6-12, depending on the size of the creek I'm fishing and the water clarity.

Last year, good friend and longtime client Art Sandler took this beautiful fall steelhead on the dry fly indicator

Next is indicator fishing or dead drifting dries. This is pretty straight forward. Look for glassy pools with water between two and four feet. Often fish will be visible in this situation. A good indicator that the pool is a good candidate is fish suspending off the bottom. The higher off the bottom, the better your chances. Fish your fly like you would dry fly fishing for trout, or indicator fishing for steelhead. Approach from the extreme downstream of the pool, keep a low profile and cast up to the fish you want to fish. Cast so your fly will drift over the fish, but your line won't, as fish are going to be very spooky in these conditions. One thing you can do is to add a clear floating polyleader between your leader and the fly line. This will add an additional 10 feet or so of clear line that is less likely to spook the fish. As you work your way upstream, begin letting the fly drift down below you and swing out. Often a fish will show interest in the fly by following it. If this happens, target that fish specifically and downsize your pattern after each drift. I use leaders between 10 and 12 feet, and good fly patterns are caddis flies, stimulators, humpys, and the indicator fly (a chartreuse and orange deer hair bodied dry fly).

Finally, one of my favorite methods is to swing muddlers on a floating line through heavy riffles. The fish at the beginning of this article took a 3 inch long white deer hair muddler fished on the surface and I can tell you it was the hardest take I've ever felt. Good muddlers to use are white, olive, black, or purple, and between 2 and 3 inches long. When fishing heavy riffles, start well above the area you want to target and fish at an extreme downstream angle, well below quartered down. You will feel the muddler pop across the surface in the riffle, diving down and rising back up. That's exactly the way it should fish, and you can even add a little extra action by twitching your rod tip on the swing or the hangdown. The good thing about fishing heavier riffles is that fish are well oxygenated and likely to be active. Plus most anglers focus on pools so a steelhead in a riffle has likely seen minimal pressure. And don't worry if you lose sight of your fly during the presentation. A steelhead take on a muddler in the riffles is not a light take by any means. It will feel as if the rod is exploding in your hand.

So if you are looking for a challenge this fall, with lower water and warmer temps, get out and explore the riffles and choppy runs with a floating line. Though it may not be the most productive way to fish for steelhead, fishing a floating line is just too much fun. They are a joy to cast, and just when you least expect it, the nose of an 8 pound fish might poke through the surface. Not many anglers in this part of the country give any serious thought to fishing a floating line on the surface, and if you are lucky enough to see that beautiful sight, count youself amoung the select few. Bragging rights bestowed.

Tight lines

- D 

Fishing the unfishable

Posted on March 20, 2016 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Unfishable. It's a term that we anglers apply to conditions that are so adverse the likelihood of success has dropped to near zero. It means different things at different times to different people. It can mean the stretch is unfishable, the river is unfishable, or it might be better to stay home and tie flies. But the likelihood of success cutoff between heading out and staying home is different for anglers. Most people consider the very top end of fishability on the grand to be somewhere around 700cfs. At those flows and above, you will likely have most the river to yourself if you do decide to swing the big water, especially if the other area creeks are prime.

This morning the grand was flowing at 1170 cfs and between 8 and 10 inches of visibility. Far frome prime, but I got a long head scandi line for my bamboo spey rod and wanted to try her out on the big water. She cast slow and beautifully, but the line couldn't turn over a tip heavier than 7 1/2' of t-11. And the grand needed more like 10' of t-14. So I strung up a 12'6" 6wt graphite rod and started chucking the heavy tip.  There are places on the grand where even flowing at over 1000 cfs and limited visibility, I would say that I have a legitimate shot at getting bit. The first place I fished, I got smashed in a slow water seam below an island, but didnt hook up. It was a tough long cast to the far bank while standing in waist deep water, but I made the cast and as the line tightened to swing the fish grabbed it. I have to say, I was surprised at the fury of the take, considering the water temp must have been in the upper 30's.

After fishing out the stretch without another grab, I jumped in the car and drove lower down to a wide, long run. When fishing high and dirty, many people kill their swing the moment they start to feel bottom. NEVER DO THIS. Fish will sit in water that is a foot deep. To drive this point home, the second grab I got was while stripping in to cast again. The fish took on the strip less than ten feet from the bank in water that at most was a foot and a half deep. Unfortunately I didnt get a great set and the fish threw the hook shortly after coming up to the surface.

When the water conditions are less than prime, stack the deck in your favor. Fish a stretch you know well with a large dark pattern that you have confidence in. Today, both fish took the whiskey hangover. And always, always fish well. Don't get down on your luck of fishing when the conditions aren't great. Remember that looking down into the cloudy water against a dark background does not give a good perspective of what a fish actually sees. They are looking through cloudy water up into a light backrground. To illustrate this better, next time you are drinking a dark beer or a red wine, set it on the table and try to look down through it. Probably cant see the bottom of the glass. But if you hold it up to a light and look through it that way, you can see the top of the glass. It  just goes to show that fish in murky water see better than we give them credit for.Finally, we as anglers learn more on tough days than perfect conditions where we walk in, use the same techniques and fish the same lies.

One last thought: most of my biggest steelhead have come on days when conditions are tough. Think about every big fish story you've ever heard. They all start with "it was pouring rain..." or "the river was flowing over the banks..." or "I went out not thinking I'd hook anything...". There's a reason for that. Big fish like big water and cover.

All in all, two grabs in unfishable conditions isn't bad.

Check out the flex of bamboo-

Bamboo Rod Build, year in review, and coming season projections

Posted on February 4, 2016 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Welcome back to Fish Lake Run! After what was a mild winter, it looks like spring is just around the corner! January was quiet, and we typically don't fish much if at all. Because we really focus heavily on the swung fly, side ice and anchor ice means cold, cold water and lethargic fish, though most rivers in the area didn't completely freeze over. But things are starting to warm up already, and with how long the last two winters lasted, it is a welcomed relief. In fact yesterday broke 60 degrees! Though we will still have a few weeks of cold temps, it's time to start thinking about spring steel. From the way the winter has been, things are probably going to run a couple weeks early this season. Last year peak spring fishing occurred from mid april through the first week of may. This spring, our Ohio rivers will probably hit their peak sometime around the beginning of april, but with plenty of fish around in march and probably quite a few hanging in the rivers until the first or second week of may. To say the least, we are pretty excited about this spring, and a new drift boat might have something to do with it...

To pass the few cold weeks, I have been working on a bamboo spey rod build! I just finished the last touches on her this past weekend, and I couldn't be more proud! Can't wait to swing up some steel this spring on bamboo!

Check out some pics of the rod build.

At the workbench

Shaping and fixing the cork.

Finished product.

First time painting words...

The ferrules.

Check back soon for spring reports and fish porn! Wont be long now!


Starry Night Tying Demo

Posted on December 10, 2015 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Starry Night is tied in a classic hairwing style on an intruder hookshank. It is a solid clear to light murky water fly that takes steelhead where ever they swim. It's a fun fly to swing in the upper half of the water column, plus it's a quick tie on the vice!

Materials needed:

- Medium sized hookshank and intruder wire

- Purple anadromous brush

- Purple diamond braid

- Purple krinkle flash

- Natural Guinea Fowl

- Jungle cock swords

Step 1. Tie and glue in intruder wire. 

Step 2. Cut off a small clump of the purple anadromous brush fibers and tie in as a tail.

Step 3. Tie in and wrap the purple diamond braid up the hookshank up to just behind the eye.

Step 4. Cut off a larger clump of the anadromous brush spin it in a dubbing loop, and wrap around the shank.

Step 5. Tie in 4-6 strands of purple krinkle flash over the wing.

Step 6. Tie in natural guinea fowl as a collar.

Step 7. Tie in the jungle cock swords, tie off, and glue.

Good fishing, and a fly tying demo

Posted on December 9, 2015 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Over the past few weeks, we have experienced very good steelhead and to a lesser extent lake run brown fishing. There are solid numbers of fish in every river as we speak, and with mild temperatures and rain in the forecast, the next few weeks should be fantastic fishing!

Tying Demo- Whiskey Hangover (AKA Black & Blue Steel). This is one of the best big river steelhead flies in my arsenal. 


- Medium hookshank and intruder wire

- Weighted Eyes

- UV Polar Chenille

- Peach or orange chenille

- Pink, Blue, and Black Craft Fur

- Rainbow Flashabou

- Jungle Cock Swords

- Yellow and Orange Barred Rabbit Strip

Step 1. Tie in the intruder wire and weighted eyes. A lot of people like to fold over the wire and tie it back down, but I tie it in with loose wraps and then glue it to the shank so I don't waste the wire.

Step 2. Tie in the polar chenille first, then the peach chenille. Wrap the peach chenille about two thirds the way up the hookshank, then use the polar chenille as hackle through the peach chenille.

Step 3. Cut off a chunk of pink craft fur.

Step 4. TIe the pink craft fur in backwards (so it hangs over the eyes) then fold it back over the shank and tie it down.

Step 5. Cut off a larger chunk of blue craft fur and repeat the process.

Step 6. Cut off a chunk of rainbow flashabou (around 8-10 long strands).

Step 7. Tie the flashabou in half, then fold the forward section over the hookshank.

Step 8. Tie in the black craft fur the same way as the pink and blue craft fur.

Step 9. Tie in a pair of jungle cock swords. I like to strip the fibers off the quill so then I can fold the quill back and lock it down tightly.

Step 10. Cut off a chunk of yellow and orange barred rabbit fur from the pelt (or strip), and spin it in a dubbing loop. (The photo is before the fur has been spun).

Step 11. Wrap the spun fur behind the eyes and tie it in. Glue when done. (Finished product shown).

Step 12. Swing up steelhead.