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JD
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Discussion Starter #1
We've all heard that if you are not ticking bottom, even to the point of losing flies now and then, you are not fishing deep enough. Recently I read, or heard someone say, that if you are ticking bottom and losing flies now and then, you are fishing too deep.

Point being that a foot or so off bottom was plenty deep enough. And that it was not always necessary to get even that far down.

Now discounting the rather obvious, that (1) losing flies to the bottom is not a good thing, and (2) surface flies are sometimes effective, and (3) there is a limit to how deep one can fish a fly before just packing it in and going to conventional gear, or moving to other water, what, where, is the answer?

Water temp yesterday was 64 degrees, quite warm for the Rogue. Air temp was in the 70's. Fishing both above and below riffles, sink tips or no, nothing worked. Not even smolts. The only consolation I have is that no one else scored either.
 

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#&%*@^# Caster
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64 degrees! Wow, that is warm. That is full floater weather up around this parts, would not even consider a sink tip.

I have never been convinced of the ticking bottom approach. One I hate losing flies, couple feet off the bottom is fine for winter fishing. Some of the best fisherman I know never fish on the bottom , if a fish is in the mood they will grab it no matter what the water temps.

However if you are a nymph fisherman (please JD do not say it is so) with a bobber, ticking bottom seems the right way to go to present a natural insect. I would not know though as I have never tried.

Doing the summer I may switch to an intermediate poly leader. On some rivers during high sun this has been the difference between a skunking and a smile on my face. Still not very deep and just a few inches under the surface film.

I think is also depends on the fish you are fishing for. Wild fish are always more aggressive than the hatchery clones. Some hatchery fish are worse for fly fishing than others. I do very well on Cowlitz summer runs which are all hatchery fish but do not do nearly as well on hatchery fish up on rivers like the skykomish. I think the fish are even the same strain but for some reason the cow fish are better biters.

Sorry for the rambling but in succint form my tactics are if I keep nicking bottom I always lighten up my tip. I feel no need to be fishing in the rocks.

-sean
 

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Recently at the Spey Clave, George Cook and Ed Ward said that the fish don't live in the rocks. They felt that the Skagit lines with the T14 tips got the fly down deep enough to where the fish are living to catch them. If the fly is bouncing off the bottom, it is too deep.

The only thing I catch when the fly is bouncing off the bottom is the bottom or some big old sucker fish.
 

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This topic is a major source of discussion on the GL's. As our steelhead population is largely stocked and the weather is very cold we deal with fish that are often very reluctant to move to a fly. There are many occasions where I am fishing a river that the stream thermometer reads 33 degress.

A lot of our anglers swear that the fly needs to be on the bottom. They argue that if you are not losing flies you are not fishing. Coming from this mentality I initially approached my wet fly swing with the same vigor. I lost a lot of flies and didn't catch all that many fish. I believe that at that depth you can't acheive a good swing of the fly.

No matter how cold the water is I now shoot for a depth of about 1 foot off the bottom. This results in the occasional tick of bottom especially as the fly is coming towards the bank on the swing. I have found that #1 the steelhead don't truly sit on the bottom, they are usually at least a few inches off the bottom. This means that my fly 1 foot off the bottom is now only 8 to 9 inches from the fish.

My second contention is sure to provoke some strong response and I am hesitant to write it, but here goes nothing.

I believe that a steelhead that will take a fly will move 6-9 inches for it even under frigid temps. I have watched bottom bouncers take fish out of 33 degree water when centerpin, nymphing techniques and spey techniques do not work. I am convinced that the majority of these fish are lined.


So from my perspective, no deeper than a foot off the bottom under frigid temps. I begin to go with lighter tips once the water temp reaches 45 degress. As far as the west coast; I can't comment, I plan my trips so that I can have a break from sink tips and fish floating lines or intermediate tips most of the time.

Gillie
 

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JD
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Discussion Starter #5
bottom bouncing nymph (fly?) fishers

Yep, that's the only way to catch steel on a fly rod. At least that's what most of them willl tell you on the upper Rogue. And although some will admit they would rather swing, they get impatient and go back to nymphing after 15 or 20 minutes.

Throwing two flies, one of which I am reluctant to even call a fly, under a bobber, with a fly rod, does not turn me on. I've spent way too much time and money learning to cast a fly to get any satisfaction out of trying to adapt a fly rod to a task better suited to conventional gear.

"If 9 feet of T-14 won't get you deep enough, you are fishing the wrong water" (Ed Ward- Sandy Clave 2005) I would really like to believe that with as much confidense as Ed. I hate to give up and think that maybe the locals are right. That maybe I need to take that line of thought as if to say get out and fish other rivers.
 

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Here in the GL there is a different mentality to fishing for steelhead and salmon. Some people still believe that these fish will NOT feed once they hit the rivers. They believe that once the fish hit the river they will not hit a fly of any kind and are there to spawn and thats it. As much as I hate to say this the only way these people believe they can catch these fish is to line them? In order to do that you need to be right on the bottom. Obviously not everyone believes this and there are a lot of people that are converting to other techniques to catching these fish in the rivers as they come out of the great lakes. I for one feel that if I am even ticking bottom I am too deep make adjustments to fish shallower. I want the fish to rise up and hit my fly not the other way around where my fly hits the fish! So as long as I am a foot or more off bottom I feel pretty comfortable and confident in what I am doing. A lot of times I will hit a run an start with a straight grease line approach, work the run. Then switch to an intermediate line and work it again and so on until I start to tick bottom. Once that happens I stop and go back one step so that I am at least a foot or so off the bottom. I personally would rather get skunked then take a chance and "line" a fish.
 

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well this should get interesting. i have caught steelhead and lr browns on dry flies waked on days i had to pick ice off my guides to make the final cast that hooked the fish. i am also a firm believer of (on the same river) the need to get the fly down within a foot of the bottom to consistantly hook fish on swung flies. i also don't hook these fish anywhere near the bottom, but when the fly is "getting away" and swinging from the slot. these fish and most of the rest i have fished for in my admittadly very limited range seem to like to be in the lowest, deepest part of the pool. preferably in a depression as well. this requires the angler to need to get the fly close to MOST of the bottom but not necessarily where the fish are lying. i have swung the same water for an hour and suddenly found the slot, made a deeper mend slowed the fly and had a take thirty feet lower as the fly straightened out below. if anyone else has a better explanation? these fish will chase a fly but they seem to need to think they can catch it. i feel strongly that these fish are not lined as they are usualy away from the perceived lie and the fly is usualy in the corner of the jaw on my side. i will freely admit that i can't be certain i never lined one. imho it is all about getting them to see something that they can't bear to let get away.
 

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Pullin' Thread
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I agree with those of the opinion that if you are constantly touching bottome, instead of only the occasional very large rock, you are too deep. Afterall, steelhead don't lay on the bottom, they are always suspended somewhat off the bottom.
 

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B.F

I think you and I are saying the same thing. I suspect lined fish when the fly is constantly rolling on the rocks and bottom and the fish is suddenly on the end of the line as a dead weight while in the lie. I agree fully that when they take below the suspected lie or as the fly comes around the corner they are pursuing it.

The guys I'm thinking of are usually tight lining through the lie and there flies are literally within an inch of the bottom and fouling bottom at least once ar twice almost every drift.

The situation you are describing is very similair to that day on the meadows. Those fish were definitely chasing the fly down despite water temps in the low 30's. But we also lost very few flies and rarely hung bottom.

Gillie
 

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My brief flirtation with being "on the bottom" thankfully was fairly short-lived. One of the old timers told me that as long as I could get the fly 2' off the bottom, I would do fine. Since then, I have come to believe he is mostly right.

For winter/spring fish ---
Hatchery - w/in 18" of the bottom
Wild - w/in 3' of the bottom

For summer fish ---
from 3' off to waking in the film
 

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Mr. Mom
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I don't think you can dismiss water clarity as a factor. In clear water the fish will see your fly coming from a long way off whether the fly is above or below its holding depth. An aggressive fish will move, others won't. The less visibility, down to "I'm probably wasting my time as I can take three steps ON this water before I start to sink" the more likely a steelhead is to have its chin in close proximity to a rock. Whether this rock is on the bottom, or whether the rock is 3 feet tall is simply a matter of luck, and the nature of the bottom.

This is strictly opinion, but under low visibillity I try to get deeper than under clear conditions.
 

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Skidrow Woolley Fly Club
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An observation. I and a friend did a little experimenting one day a few years ago on the Skagit. We found a spot that was holding fish that we could see from a high bank along side the river. This was in the spring and I would guess the water temps were in the mid forties. Skies were somewhat overcast. We were fishing standard Skagit setups with 15 foot sink tips and I would guess the fly would be within a foot or two of the bottom while on the swing. One of us would cast a fly to these fish and the other would watch from the high bank above. What we saw was quite amazing. These fish would not only move to a fly but would follow the fly while on the swing. Sometimes they would follow all the way to the end of the swing other times they would turn away quickly for no apparent reason. We could never get one to strike although at times it looked as if the fish actually had the fly in its mouth.

What we saw that day has changed what I believe a winter/spring fish will do considerably.
 

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peter-s-c said:
About follows, I used to fish the Credit a lot and it was maddening the number of times I had brief hookups in winter when lifting from the dangle. They'd follow the fly out of the deep water into the shallows and do nothing until I lifted then WHACK! Usually have them on long enough for a boil or a jump then bye, bye.
I've never steelhead fished so take this with a grain of salt...

This shows that you should probably make a couple short strips at the end of a swing. The fish that have followed the fly think it is trying to escape and grab it. Kind of like shoppers who buy because the sale is "today only". ;)

From what I've read in the newsletters you should probably strip in 6 feet or so of line before starting a lift anyways so why not try and entice a following fish to hit the fly?
 

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Skidrow Woolley Fly Club
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baldmountain said:
I've never steelhead fished so take this with a grain of salt...

This shows that you should probably make a couple short strips at the end of a swing. The fish that have followed the fly think it is trying to escape and grab it. Kind of like shoppers who buy because the sale is "today only". ;)

From what I've read in the newsletters you should probably strip in 6 feet or so of line before starting a lift anyways so why not try and entice a following fish to hit the fly?
As one who uses the Skagit syle lines I can strip in 50 feet of line or more at some locations. Sometimes this can translate to as many as 8 or 9 long strips for each cast. I have had fish hit the fly at the last of these strips. Did those fish follow the fly during swing and then also during the strip? I tend to think they did. That could mean that a steelhead could have followed my fly from as far out in the river as 80 feet then another 50 or so feet during the strip.
 

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Skidrow Woolley Fly Club
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Peter,

What I described of steelhead following the fly and hitting on the strip is far from the norm. I have only had this happen a handful of times over the years and only 2 times with winter fish. Most were summer runs. I do remember the times the winter fish hit on the strip very vividly because it was such a shock both times it happened.
 

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I tend to be one of the dreaded long-bellied group so I don't strip as much as the Skagit boys but I would agree with Kerry. The few times I have had a fish hit on the strip have been on summer fish. I can't remember a winter fish hitting in this manner.
 

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JD, thanks for posting this.

Subjects like this get us into where the fish really are and what terminal gear should be used with the appropriate fly line.

A lot of the really successful fly fishers are like one of my gene pools. Normally he is brutally honest. When it comes to fishing with friends or his dad, he gets as evasive as the old KGB agents did when asked direct questions. He really gets evasive when people try to discuss what terminal gear he uses and how he fishes that gear.

Now when we are the same boat striper fishing. I drag him throug a check list:

What is the grain weight of your shooting head?
What count will you do before stripping in your line?
When you strip in, is your strip fast and erratic or slow and measured?
At what water temps do you vary your strips?
Exactly what are you using for a leader, length, size of sections, and what knot are you using with your fly.
How big is your fly? Did you wrap it with lead if so how many wraps? What eye color is on your fly?

I have found that just one of the variables above can make the difference between a very good day and a poor day.

We start fishing with different flies and a different count and stripping routine.

Then, if he starts to catch fish while I'm casting and getting no strikes. I know what to go to. Armed with this data, I now approach his productivity. In fact in the last two trips together, on one trip I out fished him 6 to 1, and on the last trip we tied.

When fishing for trout or steelhead, if they are at the surface smacking flies on the water or in the film on the top, you can figure out what fly to use and probably get them to strike. Fishing intemediate activity is a little tougher.

When you don't see the fish and blind casting an area, it becomes a different game. Draggin your fly along the bottom doesn't work. Ed and George at the Sandy Clave this year shared with us how to get the fly into the fish's living room to catch fish not dredge the bottom.
 

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JD, don't worry about getting skunked .. you've a lot of

company.

Top to bottom of the rogue it's been this way for the past week. Last two times out .... zip, nadda, nothing, no how. I've been averaging 2-4 kings per day with the Ian Gordon sinking lines up in the hatchery area. This past Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings ... NO one was hooking diddly. :mad:
 

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It’s tough to make generalizations about Steelehead. It seems like every time you think that you have seen it all they will surprise you. From my experience usually (but not always) slowing the fly down is key with steelhead in cold water. I generally try and fish the fly as deep as I can without it hanging up on bottom in the dangle. In the water I most often fish this usually puts me near but not on the bottom in the meat of my swing. I like Peters list as a general guideline for the likelihood a fish will chase down your fly. Here are a couple of more that may be tougher to quantify.

--I know a couple of guy’s that swear by barometric pressure and moon phases. I never could draw any correlations but who knows?

--The bite...we have all seen it on occasion, especially with Chinooks but also with Steel. For hours fish are rolling out in the pool and no one is doing anything then all of the sudden bam, every one hooks up. Bait guys swingers, everyone. Then it stops no rhyme nor reason.


On the lining thing, I personally believe that very few Steelhead are lined when swinging a sinktip with a size 2 fly at the end of a 2-3 foot section of 12lb Maxima Green...whether you are down in the rocks or not. The bottom bouncers or the guys that are chucking and ducking 14 foot searching leaders that have 4lb tippet and a #16 Salmon Flea...yeah they are lining and fouling them.

Interesting on the stripping thing. Probably 30 % of all my takes take place at the hang down (or dangle) after my swing has completely stopped. I never ever remember drawing a strike however from twitching the fly during or stripping it in after my hang down.

Tight Lines
 

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I'd like to make one clarification. My observations on the post above are from experience fishing for in Steel in the eastern great lakes. Unfortunately, I have no west coast experience yet. Although I have a trip booked for Alaska this fall and a wild North Pacific Steelie is high on my list of priorities.
 
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