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I often read how swinging flies is one of the least effective ways of catching steelhead. It seems most would agree that fishing gear or even beads/eggs under an indicator is much more effective and that guys who swing flies are giving up numbers of fish in order to feel that tight line grab with a fly rod. I am relatively new to steelhead fishing (2 seasons) and my only experience has been swinging flies with a two handed rod. That said, I have watched gear guys and nymph fisherman fish around me and I seem to have as much or more success than most of them. I do focus on fishing rivers that are known to have good swing water and most of my fishing has been for summer steelhead (I'm sure that makes a difference). The "start short and slowly work out line until your at a good distance, then step and repeat through a run" seems to me to be a good way to ensure you are covering all the water. I'm not doubting what I've heard about the effectiveness of other methods over swinging flies (you hear it enough it must be true), but is swinging flies really as ineffective as we're led to believe?

Jake
Other posts already covered the impact of temperature. I would add that swing covers more water easier. If you know the fish are stacked at certain spot, nymphing would be more efficient.
 

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I fished gear for 52 years, finally tried the Spey. I was always u dear the impression that it was difficult if not impossible to catch fish on the fly. Boy was I wrong, it's actually very effective, if you have good fishing abilities, know where the fish like to lie, know how to read the water, cover the water, bobs your uncle!
 

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in the context of being directly compared with gear, in overall catch numbers in a year, and specifically west coast salmonids. Imo Yes without out a doubt, its as they say.
When one can drift roe bags, **** shrimp,worms etc on a center pin, its just that deadly. A group of friends can have a ONE HUNDERED fish day with gear. I can post a bunch of video examples of this for the great lakes and at least one ''100 hook ups' for ocean going fish.
Here's my anecdote- I fished gear until 22, nymphed for a season then sold everything but 2 handed rods. During those years i cannot tell you how many times i caught over 10 fish in day. 30 fish or close to it being hit a couple of times, Im not trying to boost, in a way it saddens me. Being so hard on the fish and missing the chance to swing instead. This was probably the second biggest reason i quit gear. The first was seeing intruders in the fly bin ( i had so many questions and i wanted to fish it!).
In truth you don't have to take my word for it. I can point you the direction of some gear youtubers and you can see it for yourself. Another way, is to talk with people who guide for a living and do both. Even just nymphing and spey im sure they'll have a clear cut winner..

Now with all that said, spey fishing is a effective way to fish. There's a reason its stuck around for centuries. In certain situations it can even beat other methods. I just believe its weakest overall aspect is catching numbers. I think its strongest aspect is the quality of the encounter. Often getting massive tight line takes, on flies you made yourself. Taking a entire hour to make. With so much soul poured into that moment, its amazing
 

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There's been a lot of sound advice / comments already given by others, so I won't try to add to that. Here's my take from a somewhat different point of view:

If swinging flies sings to your soul, then it IS effective.

By that I mean - if you really enjoy swinging flies because of the process itself, then you'll continue to do it because there's a reward in each cast, and this is in addition to a potential steelhead hook up. For me the cast is the intrinsic reward which keeps me at it and helps me power through the cold feet and hands, low fish count discouragement, etc. I think that reading and fishing the best water as well as you can, and believing that with each cast you will score a fish, is more important than tackle type.
 

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I can only speak from my own experience. I fished a good 7-10 years with a centerpin drifting sacks, beads, jigs and even flies to steelhead, and without any doubt had WAY more success hooking into steelhead. Not bragging, but double digit days were not uncommon. Now, my disclaimer: I’ve only been at this swing game 2-3 yrs, and in my mind anyway, that’s a drop in the bucket. Hell, I’m still working on perfecting my cast, lol. I now swing my own tied flies for steelhead and trout and I am in my happy place . There’s no going back for me. 😊
 

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Yes, swinging flies is less effective than nymphing. If your point in fishing is to catch the largest number of steelhead, then fishing the traditional wet fly swing is the worst possible choice. Skilled nymphing can be as effective as bait fishing, at least under some conditions. I started out steelhead fishing by drift fishing. It was the most common method at the time, other than plunking. Drift fishing was and remains very effective. One thing I noticed is that regardless of method, most of the angling day is spent "not catching steelhead." Even on the best of days, catching steelhead only took a matter of minutes, while I might have fished for 8 to 10 hours.

When I discovered fly fishing for steelhead I found that I enjoyed all those hours of "not catching steelhead" a lot more while I was fly fishing than by drift fishing. And fly fishing meant using the wet fly swing, even if skating or waking dry flies. There were more steelhead around then then there are now, and I caught enough to keep me satisfied. So I stuck with fly fishing the swing because it was what I first learned, it was traditional, and it gives me more pleasure. I tried nymphing enough to learn to use the method, and is it ever effective, but it's less enjoyable for me. If I needed a steelhead to eat and couldn't catch one on the swing, I'd likely nymph one up rather than go hungry. But I'm not desparate. I've written and said often that anyone who really needs to catch a steelhead shouldn't take up fly fishing for them.
 

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Swinging is all we know to do....no indicators regardless of how effective it is.....we don’t go for numbers but the challenges as in fishing well and mainly just having a good time......we find that the “ take “ is the best and allowing the line to go slack in order for the fish to shake the fly loose....unfortunately not always the case......oh yeah my girlfriend only fishes dries with the hook cut off !
 
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