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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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Rethinking Winter Presentation

Posted by Mark Sunday, January 27, 2013

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



  1. Anonymous Says:
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  3. Mark:
    I'm with you on all points here, great read! I've been fishing the dryline in winter pretty exclusively for the past 3 seasons. You are right, to me there is a greater sense of involvement in every aspect of swinging your fly with this method. Everything from where you chose to be fishing to begin with, to the angle of the cast, to the mechanics of keeping the fly deep while employing the dryline (mending, feeding slack, manipulating rod angles, stepping down during the swing, etc) requires much more forethought that just chucking it out and hanging on. You are also right, the ability to fish the fly all the way across is a great advantage because as you say, steelhead often lie in softer water near OUR shore. Last year, I fished a spot my friend just got done fishing with a tip and I got a steelhead in the same spot because my dryline allowed my fly to swing through the soft water below me.

    When that sudden, unseen grab comes - sweet!


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  5. Randall Says:
  6. Not sure how I missed this, but it couldn't have come at a better time. I fish for steelhead employing two methods at opposite ends of the perceived spectrum of flyfishing. Nymphing and more recently swinging a dry line. There really is no in between for me. I don't care for throwing tips as I find that it's just not a very enjoyable way for me to fish. Prior to this year, I'd nymph a solid 90% of the time. After talking with Todd a fair amount about swing dry lines (we both have an affinity for fishing single hand glass rods), I decided to use it as more of a part of my arsenal. It's now more of a 50/50 split (and I enjoy both immensely. I am finding though, that the more I utilize that method of swinging, the more I enjoy it (despite limited success thus far), it's just relaxing (which is what fishing should be, IMO). At any rate, loved the post, thanks for it.

  7. No matter what method you use one should always be thinking about where you are casting and why. Setting your line distance and going through the run like a robot will produce fish but not as many. That's why a good bobber and jig angler are successful. Their bait is fished exclusively in the most likely holding water.

    My feeling is unweighted flies have quite a bit more movement. You can always add weight if necessary.

    One last thing. Huge flies dressed with tons of materials no matter how heavy will not sink fast or get deep. Too much resistance. A medium sized lighter fly will make casting easier and allow you to manipulate how deep you want the fly to swing, as you point out using the angle of the cast to adjust depth.


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