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Discussion Starter #1
I just put up a post on my blog on the subject of dropping the rod to give immediate slack on surface steelhead encounters:

http://toddhirano.blogspot.com/2014/11/dropping-rod.html

Since it's only taken me about 20 years to learn to apply this principle that Bill McMillan taught me through Dry Line Steelhead, I just wondered if there are others out there who apply the technique and have been quicker learners than me!

I think part of the reason for the delay in my learing curve on dropping the rod on the strike is because I was previously using long two handers like the Sage 9140 brownie so it's tough to hold a telephone pole vertically on the swing all day long. Also, the surface steelhead attack can be extremely rare so it can be tough being on "high alert" for hours/days/weeks...

Anyways, I just thought it would be fun to discuss folks's "take" on hooking up on steelhead surface takes.

Todd
 

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A few things to think about when Bill wrote that advice...

Fishing small creeks with single hand rods, often getting fish VERY close (which is a hoot) to come up to the waker.

Fishing KNOWN taking lies or structure that is just too good to not have a fish.

You can drop the rod and feed the fish your fly when at close distance as well as, if not better than dropping a loop.

OTOH...

Searching steelhead on bigger (to gigantic) water with much longer (to REALLY LONG) casts is a different game. If I am fishing my favorite big to giant summer rivers, my fly is often 100' to 150' from the reel. I fish with the rod tip in the water most of the time. The wind blows and dealing with running line being blown into a big belly, let alone holding the rod up against the moving air...it gets really old and you LOSE control of your swing. Often there is a lot of dead slow water between you and the seam where they stack like chord wood, where every inch of line dragging and pulling helps to get some swing speed (so it isn't being clocked with a sundial).

What is faster reaction time wise? Dropping a yard or two of lightly held line or moving the rod from vertical to horizontal?

Over the years I am not convinced dropping a loop does that much to help you hook fish at distance (even 60'). Even when fishing the surface. This year it has hindered my results as much as it helped them. Sometimes introducing slack is the worst thing you can do. And sometimes it is the best thing. Having fished with the rod tip being held up for the better part of a decade I no longer fish that way unless I am anticipating something close (point blank to about 40'). Loop or no loop...that is the question. Two weeks ago the fish were absolutely crushing the fly and my 'normal' loop for this particular river, the conditions and fishing distance is about 5'. It isn't that the loop helps you hook many of them, but it does seem to help you hold onto them more often. Ripped off 6 takes the first day and every fish had the fly. Hooked 4 and lost all of them. 3 of them were on for but a second or two. OK. Adjusted the loop for the remainder of the trip down to a foot. I like a bit of give when fishing the surface, if only so you stand less of a chance at slightly stinging them. No more coming up empty in the take dept. and managed to land 80% of them. Most of them were comeback fish, crushing the follow-up fly. I don't think this made any difference to the fish, but it made me pay more attention to my angling because I didn't have the long loop to offset zoning out.

Pay attention to how the fish are reacting to the fly. If what normally works is not getting the job done, don't be afraid to make a change to your protocol in how you are dealing with the rise. It may not be the fish but you and your perception/reaction to how things are taking place. That is often the biggest difference anyway. Sometimes the fish are being odd and a change helps. Sometimes that change makes you out to be a rock star, unable to do no wrong with the fish...even though your change probably had nothing to do with the new results. Then again it may have everything to do with your new results. Till tomorrow when the river is a new river yet again. Or the next hour. Never know.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
William:
You are right, fishing big water with with big rods, long casts, and long lines is definitely a different game. You are also right that wind can be a deterrent to the method as well.

I should have pointed out that my current game is using inexpensive Cabela's TLr 11' switch rods (sometimes old glass single handers) and casts probably in the 70' range (lately) in a run with known taking lies. However, I have been trying to expand using the method to the larger, less defined runs I fish as well - I just need more feedback from the steelhead!

You are also right, that being able to execute the rod drop with a shorter, lighter rod is a whole lot easier than with a full sized two hander. I sometimes forget that I what I do is not the norm for many folks, but just been having fun with a new "discovery".

Best,

Todd
 

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I have been a surface nerd for awhile now, and my stance on loops, slack, and other means to get a hook in a fish head has changed several times in that period.

I used to hold a big loop, only fish mono running lines for skaters (stretchier, more forgiving), and keep the rod tip up and "bow" to the fish...

I am currently in a phase wherein I fish the same coated spectra running line I fish for all of my other spey apps, I hold the rod as close to horizontal (or in the water if windy) as possible, and I carry about a fish length (25"-30") of slack in the form of a baby loop. This year I hooked up with more surface takes than I have in other years - about 70% as opposed to 45%-50% in the past - and although some of that is attributable to a diffferent hook on my favorite topwaters, the rest I feel is a function of a non-stretch running line with a loop about steelhead body length that lets the fish just about get turned all the way back to their lie before the hook stings them.

Not enough time to chew and spit it, not enough slack or stretch to let them change their mind, and just enough clicker resistance to put the hook in.

One of a couple dozen "test subjects" from this fall - this one was a "Night Ops" fish, hence the flash...
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I have been a surface nerd for awhile now, and my stance on loops, slack, and other means to get a hook in a fish head has changed several times in that period.

I used to hold a big loop, only fish mono running lines for skaters (stretchier, more forgiving), and keep the rod tip up and "bow" to the fish...

I am currently in a phase wherein I fish the same coated spectra running line I fish for all of my other spey apps, I hold the rod as close to horizontal (or in the water if windy) as possible, and I carry about a fish length (25"-30") of slack in the form of a baby loop. This year I hooked up with more surface takes than I have in other years - about 70% as opposed to 45%-50% in the past - and although some of that is attributable to a diffferent hook on my favorite topwaters, the rest I feel is a function of a non-stretch running line with a loop about steelhead body length that lets the fish just about get turned all the way back to their lie before the hook stings them.

Not enough time to chew and spit it, not enough slack or stretch to let them change their mind, and just enough clicker resistance to put the hook in.

One of a couple dozen "test subjects" from this fall - this one was a "Night Ops" fish, hence the flash...
So are you dropping the loop on the strike or letting the steelhead pull the loop out?
 

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So are you dropping the loop on the strike or letting the steelhead pull the loop out?
Mostly letting them pull it out of a very relaxed grip. A couple this year came on loop-drops that twanged up against the rod, but I also missed a few that I dropped on. The spectra that I use is super slick - if I hold it with minimal tension, most of the time the fish pulls the whole loop before I could even drop it.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Mostly letting them pull it out of a very relaxed grip. A couple this year came on loop-drops that twanged up against the rod, but I also missed a few that I dropped on. The spectra that I use is super slick - if I hold it with minimal tension, most of the time the fish pulls the whole loop before I could even drop it.
Cool, I may go back to holding a loop when I use my full grown two handers since holding the rod vertical/near vertical is out of the question for long periods of time with longer rods. As was mentioned, high winds would negate the feasiblity of the method as well. It's always fun trying to figure out the best way to hook into these incredible fish!

Todd
 

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However a fella gets it done, the surface take is a rush.

I think a lot of little things lead to the positive hookup, including how, when, and where the fly is fished - these (and many other) things have bearing on how the fish approach your fly (or your fly approaches the fish).
 

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Discussion Starter #9
However a fella gets it done, the surface take is a rush.

I think a lot of little things lead to the positive hookup, including how, when, and where the fly is fished - these (and many other) things have bearing on how the fish approach your fly (or your fly approaches the fish).
Totally agree on the surface rush which is why it's tough to get me to fish any other way throughout the summer/fall season.

What struck me this past season is that my buds Steve and Adrian noted while watching me, that I fish a skater through just about any kind of water, ranging from fast, choppy riffles and glides to glassy tailouts, with or without sun on the water. I never gave it much thought before as I just look at any piece of water and think of how to adapt my surface approach to fit. For some, conventional wisdom is to save the skater only for "ideal conditions" such as morning and evening in smooth tailouts.

Over time, I've noted riseforms from various water types are somewhat predictable. For example, soft, flat water tends to elicit a gulping kind of rise; faster, choppy water tends to elicit a quick, explosive rise; big, wide, soft runs produce some of those "shark attack" rises, etc. Of course there are always exceptions, such as the sudden explosion in a flat glide. Some of my most exciting rises came while my fly was speeding across currents at a speed that seemed too fast, only to have an aggressive steelie launch completely across the surface on the grab, usually with a dummy proof hookup to follow.

I actually learn something each season by, in essence, keeping the variable of the method being used as a constant. I learn how to adapt my chosen method to varied conditions to find out what works, or doesn't.

Any way you look at it, surface steelheading is a fun ride. Funny to think that not long ago, it was thought of as just a "novelty" approach but today, it has become a primary presentation for more and more folks.

As I head out to fish tomorrow, I'll be contemplating the dynamics of continuing to fish a skater in the fringe of the season - a time of year when we are between the summer and winter run, when the water is probably too cold for steelhead to rise, a time when most folks would just adapt and fish tips. For me, letting go of the "skater season" is never easy and the transition from summer steelheading to winter steelheading is always tough. It's a time of last ditch efforts, but those late season surface steelhead can be oh so satisfying when they do come.

Todd
 

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Nice thread

I have to admit my experiences in Ak while " mousing" have made me wonder the feasibility of raising other species including steelhead...my guess is you guys must have attempted chasing kings at some point.?
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I have to admit my experiences in Ak while " mousing" have made me wonder the feasibility of raising other species including steelhead...my guess is you guys must have attempted chasing kings at some point.?
I've never targeted Kings with the skater, however Adrian Cortes hooked into one with a skater last fall, while fishing for steel, it does happen.
 

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A buddy of mine took a chinook on a hitched muddler a couple years ago. So it can happen but I don't think it's a high percentage prospect.

To get back to Todds original question. Yes, I have caught fish by dropping the rod on the take. When I started fishing for steelhead about 12 years ago I did this way mostly because I didn't what I was doing. I pulled the fly away from more fish than I "bowed" to because I've got an "itchy trigger finger" and I'm always quick to set the hook. Conditioning driven into me as a child!

When I "bowed" to the fish ala McMillan I was mostly fishing SH rods. I do think a high rod tip gives you much more control over the flies swing at short range but I could just never get the hang of it.

I tried holding a loop for a while but that didn't work well either. Now I just let the fish take the right off the reel. I seem to get more positive hook ups when I'm relaxed and only half paying attention. I consider it a great success if I manage to do everything correct and don't pull the fly away from the fish. For me that's the challenge.

One more observation, I don't skate anywhere near as much as Todd and I fish heavily pressured waters but I have noticed that I bring a lot of fish to skaters and muddlers just under the surface at noon under full sun. Also, I'll fish the surface all winter.

Love fishing on top. Great thread. Keep the surface talk going guys.
 

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Topwater Kings are a dream of mine, but I have yet to make one come up in flowing water - it is a little difficult, as angling for King salmon is prohibited in nearly all the flowing fresh waters of SE AK. I have had them come up and eat bobbers in estuaries, and that alone is what has given me the inspiration to continue the quest. Unfortunately, most King estuaries around here are glacial...

As for other species besides steelhead, I have skated, popped, 'wogged, MOG'd, slider'd, and twitch-drifted all manner of topwaters with success for Rainbows, Bull Trout and Dolly Varden as well as Pink, Chum, and Coho salmon.

The spring smolt bust in AK is a great time to fish topwaters for big, fast rainbows. The violence of some takes is almost without equal.

One of my go-to tactics during the spring Dolly season is topwater smolt and topwater attractors - some days subsurface presentations are ignored, and swung or twitch-drifted topwaters are the money method.

During big pink salmon runs, almost all of my in-river guiding is throwing skaters and poppers...some days skating and popping (and twitch-drifting) outfishes all other presentations, much to the delight of guests that have never had the experience of being blown up 20 times by 5lb fish in a 4 hour period.

For my personal coho season, skaters/wogs/MOGs are pretty much all I use in both still and flowing water anymore.

IMO, The biggest key to topwater fishing is confidence. There are other critical elements, but confidence in the fly, the method, and the water fished are the biggest components of topwater success. I can't count the times that clients have expressed disbelief or uncertainty after only a few casts (sometimes just one cast) without fishing the fly as if there were a fish ready to pounce every cast or swing. Believe in it, fish every cast as if you are feeding a fish, fish every foot of every run, and you will be rewarded for your confidence.
 

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IMO, The biggest key to topwater fishing is confidence. There are other critical elements, but confidence in the fly, the method, and the water fished are the biggest components of topwater success. I can't count the times that clients have expressed disbelief or uncertainty after only a few casts (sometimes just one cast) without fishing the fly as if there were a fish ready to pounce every cast or swing. Believe in it, fish every cast as if you are feeding a fish, fish every foot of every run, and you will be rewarded for your confidence.
True dat. Every word.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Great discussion guys. Have to agree G Smolt, confidence is key. It's a catch 22, where it can be tough to fish skaters with confidence during periods when the fishing is slow or when you see others catching fish with other methods, but I've also found that one's odds of success on a skater is significantly reduced if one is not fishing a skater!

Joe, fishing a skater all winter.... now that's confidence!! I've only gotten one winter steelhead on a skater, but will try again this cominig season.

Alfred, stick with it with you surface attempts, good things will eventually happen. Hope to see you the river sometime. Have fun with your newest toy from Cabelas.

Todd
 

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Joe, fishing a skater all winter.... now that's confidence!! I've only gotten one winter steelhead on a skater, but will try again this cominig season.
Todd, as long as there is insect activity on the water I feel confident in fishing top water. Watch for BWO or midges hatching. If bugs are moving I believe it's warm enough and the steelheads metabolism is up as well his awareness and curiousity.

Down here there are several rivers where the bugs are active all winter and our steelhead tend to be more trouty anyway. They like to munch on bugs and smaller fish.
 

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It takes a good deal of "persistence" before you can apply the "confidence" factor l think. For me the high rod gives the angler the option for so much more control over the skater action than a low rod that just relies on a dead swing. Raising and lowering the rod to control the speed and direction of the fly can add an exciter factor to the whole process. Only way to fish steelhead for me. Sometimes l use a small loop and drop the rod for the hook set but if the fish is felt on the original take (before the drop) l just raise the rod and set the hook. TDF sea run browns get the same approach. my way fwiw.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Joe:
I'll keep what you are saying in mind about insect activity. There are times when a fair number of bugs are out, especially on mild days and into spring. Skating up winter steel would be awesome to experience again.

Bee:
I agree, the persistence factor is important. Persistence and confidence are somewhat intertwined where it's hard to have one without the other. I agree with you on rod angles and how it affects the swing and presentation. So many variables to consider. Thinking about all this stuff is what keeps surface fishing interesting for me.
 

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Totally agree on the surface rush which is why it's tough to get me to fish any other way throughout the summer/fall season.

Any way you look at it, surface steelheading is a fun ride. Funny to think that not long ago, it was thought of as just a "novelty" approach but today, it has become a primary presentation for more and more folks.

As I head out to fish tomorrow, I'll be contemplating the dynamics of continuing to fish a skater in the fringe of the season - a time of year when we are between the summer and winter run, when the water is probably too cold for steelhead to rise, a time when most folks would just adapt and fish tips. For me, letting go of the "skater season" is never easy and the transition from summer steelheading to winter steelheading is always tough. It's a time of last ditch efforts, but those late season surface steelhead can be oh so satisfying when they do come.

Todd

IMO, The biggest key to topwater fishing is confidence. There are other critical elements, but confidence in the fly, the method, and the water fished are the biggest components of topwater success. I can't count the times that clients have expressed disbelief or uncertainty after only a few casts (sometimes just one cast) without fishing the fly as if there were a fish ready to pounce every cast or swing. Believe in it, fish every cast as if you are feeding a fish, fish every foot of every run, and you will be rewarded for your confidence.
Todd, as long as there is insect activity on the water I feel confident in fishing top water. Watch for BWO or midges hatching. If bugs are moving I believe it's warm enough and the steelheads metabolism is up as well his awareness and curiousity.
Late to the party, here...but I have been reading up on this thread at work on the downtime. As far as surface steelheading, I've really just been riding the coattails of Todd while he's shared his experiences of surface grabs...his enthusiasm has provoked me to raise my expectations of steelhead coming up to grab my offerings and this year has been my most successful surface steelheading to date. So successful to the point that I feel more confident in the surface pattern than the wetfly. Of course, I am drawing on experiences from only this past season...gimme a whole year without a surface fish and I may recant this last paragraph.:hihi:

I also have to agree with G_smolt, confidence in the surface fly has been the key for me. While I knew that fish would come up and was even mildly successful surface steelheading in the past, I still had doubts that I could regularly raise fish. But after having experienced the multiple surface takes on wild and hatchery fish this season in different conditions (including bright sun and even cold temps), all doubts are erased and confidence is at an all time high.

Recently, the temps suddenly dropped to freezing here in the Portland area (this is after a mild Autumn) and I had to see if a steelhead would move up the water column to eat a skater in 33 degree F temps. Initially, I thought I was nuts but when I got to the water that "confidence" took over and a riffle-hitched muddler did the trick. I gently twitched that fly over a known "lie" and a nose poked up at it with a little snappity-snap....I dropped my rod tip and my muddler disappeared only to bob back up to the surface. I waited a few minutes and recast with the same amount of line out employing the gentlest of all twitches. As the muddler got in the zone that steelhead annihilated the fly (the rod tip was dropped) and the old reel went screaming. I'm still stoked on that singular event.

So I've learned a lot from others' experiences and being able to adapt their knowledge to my time on the water has bode extremely well for me. But it has been a slow weaning from the wetfly swing. Speysowa's comment about insect activity in cold temps and having confidence on fishing up top is a prime example of sharing this confidence. Years ago, I witnessed a steelhead come up to slurp midges while there was snow falling...so you can guess what I'm gonna try this winter.

While I don't hold a loop, I will drop the rod tip if I can remember to do so. Most of the time it works sometimes it don't. I need more sampling :lildevl:.

Awesome to share these experiences.

Cheers,
Adrian
 
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