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.