North Coast Fly Fishing Report – Late January 2016

I’ve had a week to swing flies in several locations around the North Coast this past week. Wow, this has been a classic winter steelhead experience, as in, a textbook situation.

It is no surprise that swinging flies for winter steelhead is a daunting proposition. Fishing beads or egg patterns under a strike inceptor is, on average, more likely to result is success than swinging flies.

Anyone who knows how averages are calculated will understand that these statements conceal the wide range of conditions that make up the average. Here is what I mean by this polite explanation.

So here is the real story. There are times when the dead drifted fly or lure is far more effective than the swing fly—but—there are times when winter steelhead respond really well to a swinging fly. This is one of the secrets of a relatively small proportion of anglers and fly fishing guides who specialize in swinging flies for winters. These folks know how to target optimum water conditions and locations where the probability of hooking a winter steelhead on a fly.

The anglers you see who are swinging flies throughout the winter know that they have a genuine chance of getting a grab. They are not crazy. It can and does happen on a regular basis. Sure, they could hook more fish by dead drifting flies and beads, but they have decided to dedicate themselves to the swung fly. Not crazy, just dedicated, persistent, and stubborn.

There are rare days when the swung fly is downright killer for winter steelhead, and I do mean rare. But these days do exist.

This report is not a about one of those days.

I swung flies several days last week, under very good conditions. I fished with friends, and for four rods we hooked one steelhead. One winter among four rods across four days. I also fished with friends drifting a river in a drift boat – bobber dogging a bead under a strike indicator. I fished this way for two half days, hooking and loosing one steelhead.

I’m hoping that this report will serve to communicate the fact that anglers can hook winter steelhead using a wide variety of flies and lures on a fly rod. I saw guided anglers fishing beads and egg patterns on fly rods when I was drifting the river. Upon questioning six anglers over two days I found that their collective catch amounted to two steelhead hooked on beads. None of the guided anglers were swinging flies.

On the other hand, first hand reports from three friends who have been swinging flies through the past week indicate that they have hooked two fish, loosing both.

Overall, these stories serve to illustrate a few points. First, winter steelhead can be tough to catch. Second, both swinging flies and beads will hook fish. Third, fishing beads is no guarantee that you will catch buckets of steelhead – swinging flies can also bring on the magnificent grab.

Overall, I’d have to say that steelhead fishing has been fairly slow on the North Coast in the reaches I have been fishing. Some folks fishing conventional gear have done better, some about the same, with a fish or so a day hooked.

The photos following are from this last week supplied by my friend Guy Allen. The anglers pictured are friends who cast far better than I do. The fellow throwing a great cast clear across the river to cover a far-side tailout is Tim from the Caddis Fly Shop. Nice cast Tim!

I’m headed upriver again today, with two Echo OHS rods strapped to my truck. Wish me luck, because I’ll be swinging some of my recent Tube Intruders with great anticipation. I’m due for a grab soon, whether today, next week, or next month – I’ll be ready.

Jay Nicholas  – Winter season 2016/17


PS:  I fished 9 AM – 4PM before heading home to my family. Great water, just a little lower than I prefer to swing — no grabs.  Next time. Next time.






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2 Responses to North Coast Fly Fishing Report – Late January 2016

  1. Sam says:

    Nice commentary Jay. In my neck of the woods it does seem that most folks are indicator fishing these days but some of us are still swinging flies. And we do hook fish from time to time. It also seems to me that on the small coastal waters we may swing flies that are somewhat oversized for the waters we fish.

  2. Dax Messett says:

    Superb piece. Pursuing something as special and rare such as a wild winter steelhead on a swung fly is about the entire journey, and the special encounters that come along every now and then. A creature as special as a wild winter steelhead can not, and should not be referee to and quantified merely as number. Moment based, not numbers based angling is what it should be about for all of us if we want to be able to continue our journey in the future.

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