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

 Image 30180

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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 :D 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

Image 30180

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 

  1. January 22, 2015
    Michael Kemna

    Ard,
    It sounds so simple and makes so much sense that I can’t wait to try it. I am quite new to Spey casting so I don’t have a whole lot of reluctance to try it nor do I have a large amount of experience to compare based on pure knowledge so I will do side by side comparisons the next time I’m out there.
    Thanks for the great post!

  2. January 23, 2015
    Ard Stetts

    Hi Michael,

    Welcome to the F&R blog comments, this system works for me. While I can’t state that it is better than other means of fishing submerged flies but it is easy. When you combine the leader sections with good thinking & line control it works. When used with un-weighted or lightly weighted flies I experience very few snags due to dragging right on the bottom. Although the weighted section may be down the fly seems to ride a bit higher. You can control the depth of the fly by lengthening or shortening the tip section placing the fly closer to or further from the actual weight.

    Please remember that this way of doing things is not wholly related to fishing with a Spey rod, it just happens to work with them as well as it has on single hand rods. Do I miss out on some fish because perhaps I should be another foot deeper? Probably; but as I mentioned I have very few snags or lost flies and I’m willing to make that trade off. The more I talk about this system with other anglers it prompts me to concentrate more every season on my results so I may be better able to tell others how I am getting it done. It’s one thing to develop a way that you fish successfully while quite another to be able to articulate in words how someone else can get that same result.

    Your feedback or further questions would be appreciated here and I’ll reply,
    Ard

  3. June 18, 2015

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  4. June 21, 2015
    Ard Stetts

    The system is catching plenty of king salmon this season so there will be updates to the page when I have time to upload photos and write something up about the run.
    Ard

  5. June 24, 2016

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  7. October 24, 2016

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  8. March 1, 2017
    John Steels

    I enjoyed your article and believe your method could be used for steelhead in Lake Erie and Ontario streams and Atlantic salmon stream in Eastern Canada. My question is: what is T-line and where do you get it?

  9. March 3, 2017
    Ard Stetts

    Hi John,
    The material I refer to as ‘T’ line is the same thing which sink tps that are either integrated onto the front of a fly line or attached via loop to loop to a fly line. The sinking material is tungsten impregnated vinyl line and is made in weights such as: T-8, T-11, T-14 and so on. The numbers represent the grains per foot of weight built into the line. As an example, 4 feet of T-14 would have an approximate weight of 56 grains.

    56 grains of T = 3.6 grams. Keeping mind that there are 28.3 grams in an ounce we can see that as you would add greater quantities of sink material to the front of your line the weight of the entire line to be cast is going up.

    Some rods will handle a wide scope of weight variances but not all do well as we add more load to the cast. With this in mind I limit the amount of weight I put out front.

    If you were to watch the video posted here on the page you would see how I have learned to compensate for my lighter sink tips and the way I rig them.

    Availability of T line is a shaky thing, Rio sells it and some well stocked fly shops will have it in stock.

    There is also a Zinc impregnated line aptly named Z line, it runs one grain heavier than T line as follows: Z-9, Z-12, Z15 and so on. It is the same deal with the numbers referring to grains per foot of material.

    Availability: contact The Red Shed Fly Shop at Peck Idaho here; http://www.redshedflyshop.com/

    for T material and for Z line contact Steve Godshall at Bob Meiser Rod Works here; http://meiserflyrods.com/contact.php
    I hope that info will be helpful,

    Ard

  10. September 29, 2017
    John Steele

    Ard,
    I am interested in getting a spey rod and trying your approach for salmon & steelhead.. I am thinking of buying either & 7 wt. 12’6″ rod or an 8 wt. 13′ rod. Do you have any recommendations? To use your method do I buy Skaget, Scandi or plain spey line?

    Thanks,
    John

    • October 1, 2017
      Ard Stetts

      Hi John,

      I’d have to say Scandi at the least and shoot for head / belly lengths of 45 foot for good line control. Based on whatever rod you settle in on contact Steve Godshall at Bob Miser Fly Rods in Medford Oregon and he’ll make you a Super Scandi to fit the rod size and brand. I find the 45′ lines about perfect, short enough to cast with the entire head out the tip and long enough to allow for some control by mending. His lines come with an integrated running line welded behind the belly and are just plain sweet. I’ve been away a lot this fall but will answer any further questions as best I can when home.

      Ard

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