I’m hoping that this article may intrigue some of you to experiment with some different ways to sink your flies. Please feel free to comment on or question what you are about to read.
What I am going to propose to the readers here may or may not be a new concept to you. You may have read post from me at any time over the years about how I rig my lines for streamer fishing. I am quite sure I am not the only fly fisherman who uses this method but I can say that I’ve never came across a detailed article regarding how and why it works. Something else I should mention is that it is not my intention to ‘convert’ people to this way of doing the job, I don’t sell leaders and am not affiliated with anyone who does. It’s just a way of doing things that I stumbled into and then fine tuned over the past 25 years.
How you sink your line or fly is a big thing to consider. This is true whether you use a Spey rod or a single hand rod when swinging streamers / Spey type flies / salmon flies. It seems an ever growing array of lines are being produced to meet this need doesn’t it? What I am going to describe is a method I took up in 1994 and continue to use today. Prior to developing my skills with the system I will describe as best I can to you, I carried either extra spools or reels to meet certain conditions. The most economical aspect of the system is that it eliminates the need to purchase spare spools and the expensive sinking lines we would put on them.
Before you read on and before I continue writing there’s something to get out of the way first. We’ve all heard someone tell us, “If you aren’t getting snagged and losing flies you aren’t doing it right” or some version of that philosophy haven’t we? I hope you’ll have an open mind and understand that I don’t take offense when someone says that to me. I also will trust that you will not take umbrage when I say that I do not enjoy becoming snagged every sixth or seventh cast. I really don’t like losing my flies and I think one of the most ridiculous things I can see while I’m out fishing is someone who, every time I glance in their direction is tugging and bouncing with their rod due to being stuck on the bottom. Honestly, I don’t care how many fish that fellow may catch, there are no fish worth that level of frustration to me that would compel me to do it. I have been there, I have tied slinky’s to my expensive fly lines and my 400 dollar rods all the way back in the 1980’s. It didn’t last long, not at all, a few hours and I’d had enough. I love to fish and better yet I live for days when not one thing can bring a foul word from my mouth, heavy weights combined with heavy sinking heads will make you curse. Me, I’ll settle for a few less fish and a curse free day. I’m a fly fisherman and I don’t spend a lot of time tugging, rod bending or leader popping because I’m stuck to the bottom as if I were fishing bait with a sinker. There, I said it, Now you know where I’m coming from so let’s continue.
Anyone who has fly fished using both a floating fly line and a sinking line knows that these are two different worlds when it comes to casting. Two things (although there may be others) stand out when you make the switch from floater to sinker or sink tip line. Most sink tips have a 15’ section spliced and molded onto the front of a floating line and these are much more common than full sinking lines to most of us I believe. Let’s look at fishing a streamer with a floating line first. Rather than to expand on this I will suggest that you read the article just below this posting titled ‘Fishing / Controlling The Submerged Fly’.
I think we can all agree that casting is easier with floating lines. You are able to swing your fly until it hangs straight downstream and then sweep up the rod and a significant length of fly line to re-cast without too much effort, correct? Now when you put on that 15 foot type 6 or Hi Density tip things will become a lot different. You will notice that in overhead casting the sink tip will not only feel different but in most cases it will fly further when you let her go. I was always a fan of that added distance on the forward cast. I started with a sink tip line in 1979 and believe they were just being introduced around that time. Prior to that I had a full sink as my wet fly line but we’re talking sink tips and I digress. Aside from that presumed added distance on your delivery cast there is a minor amercement involved with using a sink tip line. You’ll no doubt notice straight away that it sure won’t sweep up with the same ease as your floater will it? When using a sink tip I customarily I had to strip in a great deal of my fly line prior to re-casting. Now if you are catching a fish every other time that you are dragging the fly back upstream I won’t tell you not to do it. I myself have caught so few by that means over the past 4 ½ decades that I found it to be almost punitive to have to strip in all that line for every cast. Please bear in mind I have never been much of a Stillwater fly fisherman where this stripping action can be of premier benefit, I fish streams & rivers primarily.
Enough of the buildup; how do I get away fishing my streamers and salmon flies without using a sinking line per say? I use small sections of various sinking materials in the middle portion of my leaders. I have talked about this in the past but this writing is meant to lay out the specifics of ‘How, Why, and when I make the decision of what length and weight per inch of the material I utilize in any and all fishing situations. When I first took up fishing using a 13 foot Spey rod I fell for the sink tip trap. I thought fishing with a Spey rod was a whole new thing, wrong! It’s all the same, but let me explain what happened. I bought a Scientific Anglers 55′ mid belly Multi Tip Line. I used that line for an entire season and by June of the following year I was so frustrated with my lack of improvement as a Spey caster that I was at my wits ends. It was at that time, camped on a river here in Alaska which was full of salmon, however I was struggling so much with my casting that the fun index was at a very low point. I waded back to shore where I had a chair unfolded and took a seat. Quite disgusted at that moment I was questioning whether or not I could do this. Of course the long rod had its advantages and not all casts were complete failures but something was wrong. As I sat there my gaze fell on the boat and in it sat my old tackle bag. Why not, I thought, why not use the same leaders and lead heads I’ve been using since 1994 on my single hand rods? It should work! To the boat I went and retrieved my old bag and within a few minutes I had tied some Perfection loops into some mono for a butt and for a tippet. The center section which is a weighted line comes with a braided loop on each end and ready to go so no work there. I threw a leader together having a 48” braided lead head from Beartooth Montana fishing products. I had bought a bunch of them at a going out of business sale back in late 1993 or early 94 and had used them with great success on PA. & CO. streams and rivers until I left for AK. ten years ago. The difference was realized immediately, I could cast without my line stuck in the water like cement. That was 2011 and I never looked back. Prior to taking up the Spey rod I had used these leader sections on my single hand rods but somehow thought / believed a Spey rod was different. No they are not!
I will try to explain how this works and why I believe it is (for some) perhaps the best way to fish submerged streamers on any fly rod with a floating line opposed to sink tip lines. When we use a sink tip line or attach a tip directly to the floating line it sinks. The problem is that not only does the length of the sinking Tungsten line sink but because it is spliced directly to your floating line it will tend to pull the floater under as well. At first just a few feet of the floating tip and as the line is used hour after hour you may see as much as the first ten to 15 feet of your floating line going subsurface too and I don’t mean by an inch or two. I can’t be alone in this observation can I? If you have already read my writing on fishing and controlling the submerged fly then you know that the mainstay of fishing them is to have, and to maintain control by mending with the floating line. It is Simply a fact that the more of your line that is beneath the surface the more difficult it will be to affect control over the fly itself.
Now let us use the mind’s eye to envision something different. You have a good quality floating line and have kept it clean and dressed with a product tailored for this purpose. That line floats very well and when you have allowed it to make a complete downstream swing it has barely went beneath the surface on you. Somehow you felt confident that you had your fly swimming deep enough to attract a strike had there been a willing fish there. How’d you do that? If you are doing what I do, you had between 5 and 6 feet of 30 pound monofilament attached to the end of the floating line. Looking at the simple illustration below follow this concept from the floating line to your fly.
Click this work of art to enlarge
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Your long mono butt has very little resistance to being dragged under the water unlike your hi floating fly line and can be taken down using significantly less than 15 feet of sinking line. This is due to mono having a higher specific gravity than water, it’ll sink on its own. When you attach any form of weight to monofilament it will sink quickly & readily. When you attach a 4 foot (or longer / shorter) section of T material to the end of the mono butt section that weighted line with a much higher specific gravity than water will take the mono down & do so rapidly without disturbing the floating vinyl coated fly line to any great degree. Your line stays up better and longer on every swing while the fly and the leader find the fish.
You’ll notice that you have a length of tippet material which due to its reduced size offers even better sinking properties than the 30 pound butt. If you chose to attach a weighted fly such as a cone head or similar to the tippet it too will have a propensity to sink. Depending on the length and weight of your weighted leader section you can determine how fast and how deep the fly and tippet will sink. You can mix these combinations up as follows: a heavier section of T material like T-14 and an un-weighted fly will allow you to put the leader at or very near the bottom while the fly should maintain its course slightly higher in the water thus avoiding possible snagging. Conversely you may chose to go with 5 feet of T 8 or 11 and use a fly with a weighted head or cone. These decisions are made site by site taking into account the velocity of the flow and it’s depth. Slower water allows for even more choice in how to rig and swifter flows dictate heavier leaders and perhaps flies also. Capisci?
Because the sink tip is not connected directly to the floating line your ability to mend and control that line right down to the tip is greatly enhanced. By spending just a very short time observing your leader & fly at close range while counting seconds you can easily ascertain how quickly the unit as a whole is reaching a known or perceived depth. I gotta ask; are you getting this or is it confusing to you, if so just comment and I’ll try to clear up any questions.
Now if, and that is the key operative word here ‘if’ you have been focusing on reducing drag on your floating line as discussed in the article about fishing & controlling the submerged fly, you are getting the hang of allowing your fly to reach its maximum potential depth. You are reaching this depth without the fly being moved to the surface by excessive drag formed by the bow in the line caused by current, or by overzealous line movements made by you the fisherman. When you combine good line management & control habits with a mental awareness of how the fly is being sunk and at what rate, you are able to present your fly where the fish will see it. My observations on fly control using this type sink system are as follows: because the mono butt section has very little resistance to the water it readily will react quickly to any change of direction imparted to the tip of the floating fly line via you and your various mends for directional control. Because the weighted section is at the very longest, 6 feet, it will also react readily to being directed by the fly line and the fly and lighter tippet follow suite. You can judge quite well what your fly is doing directionally simply by looking at the end of your floating line, because it’s floating it don’t get much simpler than that, no more guess work, you can become adept at knowing what’s happening underwater. I once wrote that “until you are in control of your line and fly in an active fashion, you are just standing there holding the cork”. There are times when I just hold the cork, but it’s nice to believe that you can impart some action and control if you deem it appropriate wouldn’t you agree?
Regardless of what you use to sink a fly there will always be a section of water so swift – so deep that nothing short of a 1 ounce bell sinker will reach the bottom. These areas in my personal view were not, and are not meant to be fished with traditional fly gear and so I don’t bother with such water while fishing. That isn’t to say that I don’t swing through it as far down as I can get to see if there are fish willing to play nearer the surface, I just don’t try to feel the bottom nor am I obsessed with the notion that I must.
If or when you adapt to this system of fishing with your streamers you will notice how much easier it is to bring a 2 – 3 – 4 or 5 foot length of T line up to the surface for re-casting than it is to strip in a 15 foot sink tip to a manageable length. Part of the strategy and technique of fishing wet flies is to cover as much water with each successive cast as possible while continually moving the cast and swinging fly down the stream channel. Once you have adapted a means to do this without time spent pulling in half your line before re-casting you are fishing more. This ability is also very helpful when you locate a fish that taps or bumps your fly during the swing but fails to get hooked. If you are able to cast again without significantly shortening your line it is simple to repeat your exact cast both in placement and length of swing / arc. I have to ask again; are you getting this concept? Is this making sense? God, I hope so because it took forever to compose to this point What I just told you is the best method I have found to produce a ‘come back’ strike from a trout – salmon or steelhead. ie; Knowing that your fly is taking exactly the same course through the stream because you were able to sweep up your line to cast without stripping in. This allows for you to duplicate any cast or to shorten it by a foot or two before throwing it back out. I generally go shorter by a foot or 2 because I’ve seen countless fish return to the same area but a tad further up channel when they stop, then drifting back to find their sweat spot in the current. The important thing is I have essentially the correct length of line before I even cast again…….
In the diagram, all of the connections are made via loop to loop splices.
Click image to enlarge
If your fly line came with a welded loop you may want to consider the braided connector that I will show you in an upcoming post here, you’ll have to scroll around to find things due to the way WordPress enters my writings here, sorry.
If you are currently carrying extra spools or reels to accommodate changing between floating lines and sinking lines the method I have attempted to explain may be useful in lightening your load. If you are currently using multi tip lines – sinking leaders like polly leaders that attach directly to your line and essentially do the same thing as a sink tip ie; drag the floating line under and protest when you need to sweep them from the water to re-cast, this may be helpful to you too.
A quick recap: I’m not saying it’s right for everyone but it works for me. I determine how much and what weight section of T material to add to my leader based on best guess in regard to current and average depth of water fished. If I run into a shallow run and have 5 foot of T-17 in my rig, I cast more quartered down and across and I hold the tip back toward upstream to create drag enough to keep my fly from snagging. When I come into a run averaging 6 feet deep I cast straight across and use the mending and following technique described in the Fishing the submerged fly article. Pretty simple, it’s actually a trigonometry exercise, angular velocity is what you are trying to solve for. If you are mathematically inclined you can easily create an equation for what we are trying to do if that will help you in grasping the meaning of this entire article.
I will put together a ‘How To’ post for making your own T sections if there is a need, you could I assume find a video on-line easier though
In this writing I will share some technique that resulted from my use of streamers and salmon flies over the past 40 years. I hope it will be useful to the readers.
After a fly has been cast into the flow there are a lot of things that one must train their mind and hands to do. A few of the control factors are current speed, depth, and whether or not you have a targeted zone where you expect there to be fish.
Think about the relationship between the rod tip which represents the semi stationary terminus of the line. The fly represents the moving point of your actions as it travels down and comes across the current in its effort to come to a halt directly below the rod tip hanging in the current. All of the things that happen between when the fly lands and when it reaches the dangle straight bellow the rod tip are in the realm of control of the angler.
The mends flipped into your floating line either upstream or down are your means to control both the flies depth and its direction of travel to some extent as well as its speed. The speed with which the fly travels is often a direct result of whether you are handling the line and rod correctly. Too fast = not enough depth, too slow = hitting bottom and possibly snagging your hook. The position of the rod tip, your stationary point of the line to fly connection is one of your primary tools for controlling the speed of the flies course. The speed with which the fly travels can and will have an effect on the maximum and minimum depths obtainable given the waters speed. The mending is your way to counteract the varied current speeds and seams of current between you, the rod tip, and the fly which is moving but doing so in direct relationship to the mends and movement or lack there of in the rod tip. It is a combination of line control (mending) and movement (or lack thereof) with the rod tip which allows for you to have some say in how fast – how deep and where that fly will travel.
All of what I will say here was learned fishing with traditional single hand fly rods and then applied to my casting & fishing using the Spey rods. I believe that the single greatest misconception people must deal with when they progress to using a 2 handed fly rod is that they must completely change the way they fish. What I am about to expand on is basic single hand fishing using a streamer fly. This is exactly how I have continued to fish in the wake of taking up a Spey rod. Let us assume that you have been using traditional North American fly casting & fishing techniques for an extended period of time here. By this I mean the single hand fly rod. The use of the Spey rod is simply your graduation to a more effective way to fish with a streamer type fly. The added length and the 2 handed grip make for control of the fly line and thus the fly much easier. Remember please that I do not use Skagit or full sinking lines as you read on. I believe that when using a very short shooting head you sacrifice your ability to control your fishing (the line and fly) to accommodate ease of casting. The braided or for that matter any running line you may have loaded behind the ‘head’ provides very poor mending and thus poor control over your fishing. Likewise a full sinking line leaves you at the mercy of the river once the line and fly have settled in and began their down stream trip. I am not saying that either of these lines don’t catch fish but they do limit your ability to actively interact with the swing to a great extent. So let us focus on the use of a floating line with a head length of at least 45 feet as I continue please.
I made a crude drawing that I hope will aid in my ability to reference the act of controlling a cast after it has landed and sometimes just before the fly has landed.
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I find it very handy to put the very first upstream mend into the floating line just as the cast is unfurling, right before the fly slaps the surface that is. This would be mend ‘A’. Please don’t confuse this with a ‘Drop or Slack’ cast because it is not. The mend is made as the bulk of the fly line has reached the surface and the leader is yet to turn completely over. It is at that precise moment that the wrist rolls creating a much larger circular motion in the rod tip and thus throwing the mend upstream. Depending on the length of line between rod tip and end of line, you will need varying amounts of power in that ‘wrist roll’ motion. The technique of doing this without a thought will be something you will at first need to focus on and remember to do, eventually it will become just part of your cast. Now why is this important you may wonder? Every motion of either pull or slack that you make to the line via the rod and rod tip are directly transferred to the sinking fly and leader. When you allow a cast to land – the fly to begin to sink & gain depth – and then remember, ‘oh I should make a mend’; that mend, that pull on the terminal end of the fly line which is that sunken fly will jerk it back upstream and Toward the Surface. Since the whole concept of the streamer type fly is for it to get down in the water column and swim along like something that may be fun to eat, everything you do with that rod and line should be targeted at keeping the fly down and traveling through or toward the area you believe there to be a fish. Make sense? By training yourself to instantly put a generous upstream slack loop into every cast you avoid jerking that fly back up toward the surface by a foot or more. In the game of sunken streamers every second and inch of sink after the cast & fly have landed are critical. After all the deeper the better is the rule in most cases right. So there’s something to begin with, if you already do this like a machine, good. If you don’t then perhaps that’ll be useful.
Now lets look at the smaller mend ‘B’ in that wonderful drawing of mine.
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This or these depending on current speed & depth, this is a smaller effort at giving the fly more hang time / sink time. In the scenario I am describing here we are assuming that the target water lies somewhere to your 11: O clock if we consider straight across the channel as 12: O’ clock, and the Dangle point which is at your 9. You can make as many upstream mends as seem appropriate but do remember the lesson about not jerking the fly back toward the surface when doing this. It is during these mends that you may or should be following the cast and swing of your fly with the rod tip. The follow comes natural because you will end up pointed right where you think that fly is at the end of each mend motion. You’ll find that with rods between 13 and 15 foot in length it doesn’t take much effort to make the floating line respond to a gentle flip of the rod / tip. Did I mention to be sure your line is clean and floating as high and dry as it can? I guess not and it’s time, I have been using Glide from Loon Outdoors and it seems to do a good job. Having that line bobbing along like a cork makes all the other pieces come together much better. You will find a sticky thread in the Spey forums here; How to make The Braided Connector For Your Welded Loop Spey Line; If you scroll down past the How To pictures you’ll find how I make my sinking leader. This system keeps your fly line on the surface better than anything else I ever tried. I have stayed the course since 1994 using some variation of this for sinking my flies. Whether or not you choose to try the novel way that I sink the fly will be up to you but if you do you may find that it leaves your line floating and allows for easy pickup and sweep when you are ready to cast again.
Looking again at the diagram that I so finely crafted
We have now determined that we are indeed following the fly with the rod tip as it courses the stream or river. However we are following in relation to that series of light flips or the rod tip we’re making to offer more time to sink to the fly and less drag from the current on the line between you – the rod tip and the fly. Good, we’re keeping it down as best we can all things considered. During all this focus and control the fly will pass through your ten O’ clock and advance through the 11 area. It is here you may want to consider the mends marked ‘C’. These are down stream mends made ever so gently so as not to greatly disturb the swinging fly. They do however have an effect that we sometimes fail to consider. The downstream mend allows for a very slight pause in the flies movement followed by an acceleration in swim speed and a slight change of direction. The size or sharpness of radius put into the loop thrown into the downstream mend will alter the direction the fly is traveling. The fly will deviate from the rather wide down and across path it has been following in relation to your position and take a more lateral cross current path before returning to the radial swing. This cross current action is what was known as the Grease Line Technique. Remember you & the rod are the fulcrum point in this angler velocity exercise, everything else is moving much more than either of you. You do have the control tool in that rod and floating line if you learn to utilize them to their fullest degree. With each ‘small’ downstream mend the fly will seek to realign itself with the new radius you have created in the floating line. I have found over and over that this slight variation in speed and direction is the trigger for many a grabbed fly as I near that last portion of the swing.
Getting to the ‘D’ or Dangle point, that’s what this has been leading up to. Everything you’ve done since you made that unconscious strong mend before the fly landed has been designed to slow the swing and to keep the fly in the water as long and as effectively as possible to this point. Let us not be hasty once the fly has reached point ‘D’ okay? When the fly has reached it’s destination directly bellow your position without a bump that doesn’t mean the cast is over, not by a long shot. Depending on the depth of the water directly downstream a curious but not sold fish may follow the fly from any point of its journey to the point of the dangle. Let’s for the sake of finishing this discussion that the water straight down below ‘you’ in the diagram is at least 18″ deep OK? Remember, don’t be in a hurry if the water bellow is not so shallow that you’ll get stuck. You are not done with fishing this cast.
Here’s that work of art one more time;
Considering that the ‘you’ is you, when you look past your left shoulder you see there is a significant amount of water between the straight down dangle and shore. It never hurts to make at least a couple mend flips with your rod tip to your left and shore. These are the ‘E’ mends and I like to make them in both directions before I sweep up the line. E stands for extra fishing on a cast and if you flip a loop toward shore then one back toward the straight down dangle you’ll see how the fly follows your leading loop. Be patient and allow the fly to make its course and not only might you get a bonus grab you’ll get some fly to fly line reference material for further use. If there is a fish hanging just below your fly trying to figure out just what the heck it is this may be all it takes to get commitment and a grab. Whenever you are in fishy areas every cast should be played until you start feeling stupid about it. Another good habit is; while on the dangle release about a foot of line to allow the fly to drop straight down a bit. Then gently lift the rod tip to move back upstream. I have caught enough trout doing this that it is part of my cast at least 75% of the time.
The hookup; generally when a fish gives an honest effort to grab and escape with the fly anywhere between 11:00 and the dangle they will hook themselves. You feel the pull and all you need at that time is to lift making sure it’s really there. At that point I like to keep tension with my free hand on the line and point directly at the fish. Tighten the line tension with the free / line hand pulling firmly back and lift that rod a little harder. In many cases that will finish the job and the fish is on solidly.
When you are using articulated flies or any pattern having a long tail being jumpy when you feel a tap will not lead to more hooked fish. Quite often it’ll be less and you may very well spook them from even trying again because of your abrupt reaction to the tap or bump. Consistently hooking and holding trout or steelhead on a streamer fished as I have laid out here requires good nerves and self control. I have caught fish after feeling them tapping repeatedly on my swimming fly as many as 3 or more identical casts and swings. The fact that they finally got hooked alone is testament that I never flinched and struck back.
I will write a thread about hooking fish soon. There’s more to it than luck, believe me. What we call the come back fish, one who follows again and again tapping and bumping but not hitting hard enough to become hooked could be an article on its own. Knowing how to judge where they go after a failed attempt to capture the fly is another part of the catching puzzle. Do I always catch fish? Well…………….. I can usually raise something unless they are just plain shut down so I actually believe my experiences could be useful to some folks.