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.
Click image to enlarge / browser back arrow to return to article;
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.
There have been changes to the salmon regulations regarding the Susitna and Yentna River drainages for 2014. I see all of them as being positive especially for those who are seeking only to catch some of these most beautiful and strong of all the salmon species. For the local crowd many of whom are strictly looking to catch and kill the season limit the new regulations may not be so attractive.
In previous years the department of fish & game has delayed setting harvest ratios until they had determined that the fish were in trouble as far as the numbers of returning fish go. In my opinion the delay allowed for many of the precious stock to be caught & killed before there was a closure. Not true for 2014; my home river will begin the season with the rule set to harvest allowed only on Saturday – Sunday and Monday. All fishing will be single hook, to quote from the F&G website; [" Only one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure is allowed. Single-hook means a fish hook with only one point. Treble hooks and more than one single-hook are prohibited. The use of bait is also prohibited."]
What this means to a fly fisherman / Spey caster who is looking for the challenge of the kings is that there will be virtually no one fishing the rivers on days when the killing of king salmon is not allowed. Myself, I have stopped taking this species three years ago and prior to that time had never killed the 5 fish limit allowed by law. The most damaging facet of the harvest is that when the use of bait was allowed it was the hens which were the most sought after of the species. This was so that the eggs could be taken and cured for use as bait for the taking of more kings……….. Is it just me or does that sound a little short sighted?
My experience last season with rivers during the ‘no kill catch & release’ regulations was that I was virtually alone while fishing. Very few if any boats out and just me and the fish. It doesn’t get much better than that. My best day resulted in hooking and releasing 8 king salmon inside a 4 hour period and all were unharmed to the best of my knowledge. If you would happen to end up fishing with me as your guide I have stocked a good supply of the fly that has proven for 4 straight seasons to produce and produce multiple fish.
The regulations are also affecting the commercial fleet which fishes Cook Inlet with the big nets. Due to the restrictions of the 2014 commercial fleet we may see a dramatic increase in our salmon returns on all species. As soon as our ice goes out and travel is safe on the rivers and creeks I will begin scouting new destinations.
The new destinations will be the result of a new means of transporting fishermen to remote stretches of our waterways. This ‘new means’ does not have a dramatic impact on the price of guided trips and can be discussed at length with any and all people who contact me in regarding setting up dates. There are still some windows open for scheduling but they are filling quickly. I know that a real time calendar showing available dates would be helpful but I have not found one that works for me at this time. The easiest way to determine availability is a simple e-mail request and I will be happy to either call or reply via e-mail as to weather I am open during your trip to Alaska.
In a nutshell the king salmon season is looking good. At this time we are behind on snowpack throughout this region of Alaska. This may result in some of the best water conditions seen in years for the early season June – July. There is always a chance of three foot falling between now and the breakup but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. A deep snowpack results in high and discolored waters with the warming weather. As fly fishermen and women you know that a river running at normal of just below normal levels is a very desirable thing as opposed to the other……….
I’m ready to fish
This posting is an effort to help those planning a trip to better target certain fish during their stay in Alaska. Without further preamble I’ll get right to it.
Pike Fishing Through out June and early July the Pike fishing at the lake and nearby drainages is at its peak. By August they become much harder to locate so if you are interested in this species think early summer.
King Salmon will begin to show by mid June and the run strength should increase through the 25th of June. Generally by the 25th or shortly thereafter the large number of kings have returned to the rivers and creeks and are still bright fish. The king pictured is a rather small specimen but was chosen because it demonstrates what I mean by bright fish. As June begins to wane into July the fish begin to take on spawning color. The color does not affect the ability to lure them to the fly but they have begun to lose the bright body color of an ocean fish.
These 2 photos show a larger fish that is beginning to turn, this particular fish came to a rather small salmon fly called a Jock O’ Dee, I was quite surprised because I was hoping for rainbow trout in this run when the king took the fly.
Fishing for King Salmon ends by July 13 but the best chance at bright or lightly colored fish is from June 15 – June 30th. Many of our fisheries are now having Catch & release fishing for this species and they are not to be removed from the water during capture. I can still help you to get photographs of you and your king but the fish must remain submerged.
Fly Fishing the Rainbow Trout
Throughout June and basically all season long the trout are present and make for some great fishing. With salmon in the rivers and creeks it can become a challenge to find the trout and to avoid the salmon but it can be done. The best times for a rainbow trip in my experience would be during July or September. Those 2 months give windows where the salmon numbers are limited. During July most of the salmon are Kings that are engaged in spawning and large numbers of other salmon have not yet appeared. By July’s end the Pink – Chum and sockeye are entering the watersheds and their presence complicates trout fishing somewhat. As we enter August Pacific Silver Salmon begin to show in greater numbers.
September is perhaps the very best time for trout. The kings have spawned and died, likewise most Sockeye – Chum and pink salmon have spawned and are in the process of dying off. There are silvers in the rivers but they are colored up in most cases and although very aggressive they can usually be seen easily and avoided. The trout hang around these spawning salmon and the game is to draw trout to the fly and avoid having a silver hooked on many casts. On a first day the catching of the salmon will be exciting but as you see how often it can occur you learn quickly to stick with the target of the trout. There are trout in these rivers that will get as large as 30″ and that my friend is a salmon sized fish.
So: If you would like to hunt King Salmon, look at June 15 – June 29th
Chum – Sockeye and pink salmon – July 7 through August 1st
Silver salmon; August 5 – August 28th
Rainbow trout; June – September 30th with the best fishing occurring September 1 – 30th.
After late September the weather becomes way to unpredictable for me to tell anyone that it is a good bet to come to fish.
I will soon have a calendar on the pages here that will show days that are still open for this season. There are many people inquiring about trips and having a booking calendar on the site will be a big help for those wondering if I am available.
Soon it will be February and I will be gone, working at the cabin. Your e-mails will be checked by my wife and she will be able to contact me there. I have no internet at the cabin however the phone number on the contact page here will work out there. We can arrange details by phone during February and March if I am away working.