I had a few hours to fish alone last night and I jumped at the chance to fish a few runs after being away from the river for a couple weeks. The river was quiet and I found a favorite run unoccupied. It is a run that people drive by daily and never fish. A horrible run to wade for sure and I think that keeps the crowd down. Many see the run from the road and think "hey that looks good!" and often find its a better swimming hole (when they fall) than a fishing spot. I like it that way and have been baptized many a day in there myself.
...............at about 60 feet the fly catches the fast current and turns around squaring up and slowing as it approaches the holding zone to the outside of a midstream rock. Angle and fly speed are critical here as a cast too far down stream never slows the fly down enough in the taking lie. A cast too far up and across stalls the fly too long preventing it from reaching the fast current on the far bank. A very specific spot to fish properly but when you get it right the fly comes through and presents in the most seductive way, no fish in their right mind will refuse it.
This night the old single hander was throwing darts across the river and my angle and timing were perfect. As the fly comes into the 40 ft circle of holding water, I gently pulse the fly, making a slight disturbance as it swings. Woooooosh! A fish comes out of the water, full head and body emerge as it swirls on the fly doing a figure 8 missing the fly completely and disappearing into the gin clear North Umpqua. I let the fly swing into the rock and strip in quickly, thinking I have a player. I send the next cast out at the same length of line replicating the exact drift. The fly comes cleanly through and I just let it slide this time, no movement is put on the fly at all. I turn my head and look away, waiting for the sound and feel of a fish I know is coming. Every nerve is tuned to steelhead frequency! The fly continues through and the fish does not come.
OK.... I strip in and rest the fish for 2 minutes. I wind up the Sharpes and snake roll a cast across the pool,again perfectly catching the far side current putting me on a trajectory to put the fly back into the zone again. This time I twitch the fly again, a little firmer this time, the head of the muddler sputtering water as it digs and plows it's way across the run with this added movement. The fly goes through the zone, almost to the hang down off the rock before the fish again reappears and comes straight up from underneath the fly, jumps clear of his liquid home a full three feet, swaps ends and re-enters the water with high diver precision right back into the boil of water he came out of.
I rest the fish for a minute or so and then send a tight loop cast over to see if I can seal the deal with this obvious player. Fly swings through, I twitch it again in the zone..........nada!
Fine! You want to play, lets play!
I select a size 6 simple purple hair wing fly from my box and put it on. I reel in maybe 20 feet of line and quietly smoke a cigar, a Backwoods Black and Sweet, nervously waiting to throw the pay off pitch. I wait as long as I can, about 3 or four minutes and start in again, well short of the fish. I lengthen 2 feet at a time until I am at the proper length and back in the fishes window. The fly swims through the currents sweeping slowly across the holding water. Then it comes, the softest, trouty pluck, then a light pull and I mean light, I've had smolt pull line harder than this fish did. I leave my rod down and wait.........slowly the line starts to get tight then, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! The fish finally turns on the fly and races down stream jumping high and running hard. After a short fight I tail a beautiful fish of around 28 inches.
I have fished the comeback fly with great success over the years. There are no real hard fast rules to doing it but here are a few things that I have learned.
- Generally if I raise a fish, I try to rest it for a minute before I recast.
- Don't put a fish down by pounding it with the same fly you rose it with for too many casts. A drift or two then change.
- If I end up casting multiple flies I give them a different look every time. Example, rose to a foam waker fly, one or two recasts with the foam then change and recast with a muddler. One or two casts with a muddler, change and recast with a riffled wet of some sort, then follow with a straight wet. Then often back to the first fly whatever it was. Just change up the look, variety gets it done.
- Change size and color. My favorite comeback after a rise to a surface fly is a simple and small black or purple wet fly.
- Riffled hitch a muddler or wet fly as a comeback after a rise to a surface fly.
- When coming back with wet flies I often reel in anywhere from ten to 20 feet sometimes more and re-fish the area down to a known holding fish.
- Experiment with all of these, there are no rules we are just trying to out think these fish and show them something that they will crush. Each of the above rules can be bent or broken of course, I've found many of them work for me. Each situation is different and each situation will make you the angler think of the next move in the game. Be thinking a move or two a head of the fish. Its a chess match you know!