Floating lines can be used to great effect in winter time but are you willing to use them? Are you willing to break out of your comfort zone and use something that is contrary to the popular and common beliefs about winter fish and how to catch them. Are you doing exactly what every one else on the river is doing? Sure sink tips work and work well but have you really experimented with the technique and given floating lines a go? It's fun,I say try it. Hooking a winter fish on a classic fly and a floating line in a down and across appoach is the apex of the sport.
I for one was pretty set in my ways, sinktips and big flies in winter....period. The last few years I have really been playing around with lighter and lighter tips,unweighted flies and floating lines and have learned a ton about how my fly is fishing with each type of set up. In my opinion someone who knows what to do and can manipulate lines and cast angles can make a floating line or type 3 tip fish a fly at the depths of T-14.
A floating line or type 3 tip and flies of various weights as well as different leader lengths can cover the entire water column. The only thing different is cast angle and water selection. This kind of line manipulation and playing with cast angles is truly fishing the fly and often much more rewarding than the huck it and hang on of a heavy set up.
I have and still do fish heavy tips and flies in places but have realized that I am relying much more on what my fly and tip do for me without doing any work myself. I find myself less involved with the connection to the fly and what it is doing sometimes. I find myself relying on the weight of both fly and tip to fish for me. That's the idea, sure I get it, but I often seem less connected with this method.As I mentioned,what I can GET the tip and fly to do to cover the fish can often be done with a much lighter setup. For me,the lighter the tip and fly the more involved I become in the actual fishing of the fly.
The common thing I see as a guide with clients and just in general observation is people fish tips and flies that are too heavy for the conditions they fish. The heavy tip and fly set up will get down and may cover the first part of the swing out in the faster water IF the angle of presentation is correct. But all too often I see that the cast angle is not correct and the fly is essentially swinging just subsurface even though the person is swinging a large lead eye fly and T-14+. Also,this heavy set up will never allow a swing all the way into the bank into the softer water where many fish hold.So what you essentially have when you default to a heavy set up is one that really does not fish very well in the fast deeper water at the first part of the drift (where you think it should) or the shallower water in the last third of the swing (where you keep hanging up). There may be a section in the middle of the swing where the fly presents itself decently but that is all. I want a set up that will cover more of the entire swing arc and especially the last half of the swing into the bank. This may mean looking seriously at the water you have always fished.
Fishing a lighter set up will make you fish different water. Maybe the same run but making casts in much closer,concentrating on where the line can swing at the optimum speed for most of the drift.Instead of trying to cast all the way to the other side and cover some far off structure ineffectively you may need to edit water in favor of what you see 40 -50 feet from the bank. Having a set up that can cover the entire arc of the swing is one that will show the fly to the fish the best. The more the fish has the time to see the fly, the more fish you will catch.Aggressive steelhead are going to move to the fly in most conditions and it does not need to be right in their face. The exception to that would be extremely cold and clear conditions where fish are very inactive.
Have some fun and experiment with tips and lines and flies and I challenge you to not fall into the trap of A) over casting, B) fishing a too heavy fly and tip just because its winter and you always think you have to GET DOWN. C) Fishing water where your fly does not present properly for the majority of the swing.
Enjoy the winter and take part in stewarding your favorite rivers
My wife Debi wrote this little piece the other day on one of her blogs and I wanted to share it here. She rocks,catches steelhead on dry flies and is awesome in every way. She knows of what she writes about and is gaining more knowledge and understanding every year she fishes for steelhead. She is passionate about the pursuit and gets it.She also is an amazing mom, teacher and friend to me and our kids. Nice to be able to relate with her in this way. So blessed to have her with me.
Here ya go:
When she comes up she’s lightning fast. One blink and you’ve missed her. If you’re lucky you might glimpse her back, or just the tip of her tail. If you’re lucky.
In an instant she’s down again, diving straight for the bottom and almost always heading away from you. She’s tricky and she’s nimble and she’s fast.
At this point your arms and your brain are playing catch up. They race to get into sync. Your ears join in, listening to the line. Your eyes are worthless, you can’t see her, she’s gone. Instead, you have to rely on everything else to do the work it will take to pull her out of the dive and into the shore. You want to land her and then let her go to fight another day.
Your arms are burning, she’s ripping out line like it’s mere thread. Run, reel. Run, reel. Don’t break her off.
Finally, you gain some ground. You’ve reversed her downward motion, her dive. She’s a little closer when she runs again. But not as far this time. Closer. Her silver side glints in the sunlight. Oh, she’s a beaut.
You lift your rod just a bit and reel her close enough to touch her, grab the hook and pull it from her mouth. Never taking her out of the water, it’s a fluid motion.
That fast she’s gone again, diving back to the depths. Swimming solidly. The fight is over and you’ve both won.
Fished with Tony again today and as always we had a ball. Fishing is tough with very few fish around but we managed to scratch out a couple of quality fish. Water is low,clear and CCCCCCCold. Didn't put a thermometer in today but my fingers told me all I needed to know. Pool selection and perseverance paid off and we were in the right place at the right time. These early fish, if you find one, will yank the rod out of you hand! Fun stuff!
Winter fishing is a crap shoot at best. High and blown out conditions are quickly followed by low,clear and cold conditions. Trying to be on the river at THE perfect time is never easy. There is so much water to cover and the water level in a run you got them in last week may not be suitable or just plain un-fishable this week. Knowing the water levels and fish movements associated with those levels can't be taught. It can only be learned through years of time on the river. The mystery of winter levels is especially puzzling at times. The key is finding unpressured fish holding in a run where you can actually get a fly to them without dying. I would say that in the winter, there are large portions of the river that just can't be fished effectively with a swinging fly. The fish have the advantage most times,as well they should.
There is so much of the river that no one really fishes, even in the summer. The opportunities to hike into little fished spots are numerous. As everyone continues to pound the old familiars, I have enjoyed discovering new familiars. Fishing un-named pockets and runs is a always a new challenge....especially in winter. Wading is treacherous and the hazards are many. The rewards are worth the risk. I would rather catch a fish in a brand new spot with no one around then two in the "General Store".
The river is as wild as it ever was and rewards abound for those that seek. I will continue to search for the out of the way places,in doing so making the river come alive again for me. Nothing on the river is truly new or un-fished as many legends have been on the same journey as I in years gone by. But to me,as I walk through the old growth sugar pine, douglas fir and cedar, heading to a new section of river,it feels as if my steps are the first to ever grace her banks.
Get tight to one soon and
have a blessed 2013