Don’t reel up just yet
By Bill Herzog
We of the swung fly club have to deal with quite a few of our brethren these days on the river, especially the more popular waters, sections and times. If we aren’t first through the run, then all we can hope for is a moving fish to come into swinging range or the rare one that was somehow spared multiple presentations. There is an adjustment in presentation and type of water we can target that just might make the difference between 1 and 0 on a steelheading trip.
The trick is to fish your fly right down into the lips of runs, the areas immediately above where riffles/rapids begin. Steelhead will often rest for brief periods in these shallows before moving up into the pool and better cover, especially after tackling a long series of fast water. These are the fish we spot after we have worked a run, got back in the raft/driftboat and watch swimming rapidly away, spooked by our floating device just before we enter the rapid.
Most, if not all, fly anglers will do the step cast routine down through the meat of the run, sweep through tailouts until the bottom starts to rise, current speeds up and current starts to really pull on your swing. Here is where 99% of us reel up and wade out of the run. Know that these shallow lips are just that, so lighten up your tips to a clear intermediate or if you are using a weighted fly, no sink tip at all. Fish your fly right through the shallows until it literally enters the rapid. You will be amazed how many steelhead you will encounter by doing this one trick that seemingly none of the rest of our fly swinging brethren practice.
You certainly won’t find steelhead every time doing this, but I guarantee if you do it enough it will pay off with a hot fish, often on the busiest days when there is seemingly no un-beaten water available.