This is part two of Jay’s winter steelhead technique primer.
Swing traditional and leech flies. Traditional steelhead patterns catch winter steelhead like they have for decades, so you don’t have to throw out your Green Butt Skunks, Polar Shrimps, or Thor flies and replace them all with Intruders or Leech-style flies.
That said, big nasty flies like Intruders, Pick-Yer-Pocket, MOAL Leeches, and big-ass marabou and rabbit-strip flies are the latest rage. These flies often present a profile that is 2x – 4x larger than a traditional #2 steelhead fly. These big flies are intended to trigger a grab in cold water from fish that might otherwise just ignore a fly passing several feet away.
Big Intruder and Leech style flies range from blacks and purples to pinks and oranges. Everyone seems to have his or her favorite color combination for high and low water; bright and cloudy days; cold water, and so on. These flies do catch winter steelhead and an arm-wrenching grab to one of these beauties will create a life-long memory.
Big steelhead leeches may or may not be weighted, and there’s a reason to carry both types of flies. Some of the winter steelhead fishing we do is in slow moving, 3-foot deep water. In this water, a sink-tip line alone will be sufficient to present the fly at optimum depth, but a heavily weighted fly would hit bottom and stay there. On the other hand, if we want to put a fly 6 feet deep in fast water at the head of a hole and swim it through a boulder patch, we probably need to fish a stoutly weighted leech on a fast-sinking tip. Link to poly leaders or T-14 here?
Can the swung fly be more effective than the dead-drifted fly? You bet. Consider the challenge of trying to cover gravel-bottomed runs that are fifty yards wide and two hundred yards long. Two or three steelhead could be laying anywhere out there. No obvious sweet spots to concentrate on. Big, open rivers and runs are best suited to prospecting with the swinging fly. You can cover a lot of water systematically. Cast, swing, two steps; cast, swing, step; repeat until you get a pull.
That’s it. That’s the short version of the primer I gave my friend on the joys of dead drifting and swinging flies for winter steelhead Soft takes. Savage grabs. Nine-inch Intruders and Leeches. Size #14 nymphs. Tube fly hooks. Marabou and Ostrich. Barred rabbit-strips. Blah, blah, blah. We’ll see if he gives it an honest try.