Swinging for steelhead and other salmonids is often thought of as being a tad more complicated than learning the Finnish language or advanced calculus.  The poor fly angler who has started with a single-hand rod sees the two-handed aficionado bombing casts to the other side of the river while simultaneously twirling the line in the air, as if trying to confuse the mayflies buzzing overhead.  The flies have hooks sticking out the back.  The rods are huge and incorporate another hand, and there seems to be some sort of culture surrounding swinging flies.  Nothing makes sense, and nothing seems to invite an angler into the world of swinging flies.  As imaginary or real as some of these things are, you probably already have everything you need to get going with swinging for steelhead or other species.  In this longer podcast and article, you’ll be taken through the basics of swinging with Jeff Liskay.  You’ll learn everything you need to get yourself in the game from someone who really gets it and who wants to make your life as easy as possible.  Really listen to this podcast as there are many little tips that Jeff shares with his vast knowledge of swinging flies.  Below you’ll find info to help you through and to supplement Jeff’s thoughts from the podcast.  Enjoy, and make sure to see Jeff’s swinging the Great Lakes podcast as well! (Special thanks to Chris George for the photo and great guide trip).

WHY SWING FOR STEELHEAD AND OTHER FISH?

  • Swinging for steelhead and other fish is a direct link to adrenaline.  You go from direct contact with your fly to feeling the fish kill your fly.
  • When you swing flies, you can learn a new casting style, which will improve every aspect of your casting and make you a better caster in general.
  • You might as well swing flies because you don’t need to “take the plunge” since you can use any rod that you have to learn the casting techniques.  Nothing’s keeping you back.
  • Really rewarding challenge.

SWINGING AS A FLY FISHING TOOL

  • Swinging allows you to cover water quickly and thoroughly, and if you incorporate two-handed casting, you can accomplish this with less wear and tear to your casting arm.
  • Because you can cover a lot of water, you can discover new water that you might not get to otherwise.
  • You can fish your water a day or two before you could nymph fish it.  In other words, you can fish more often and be more versatile as a fly angler.
  • When fish are spread throughout a river system, you can locate aggressive fish as quickly as possible.

SWINGING FOR STEELHEAD AND OTHER FISH: THE GENERAL APPROACH

  • Swinging flies is separate from your casting style.  You can swing flies with any rod.  You do not need to purchase a two-handed rod to swing flies.
  • There are a set of casts that anglers have traditionally used with two-handed rods.  However, you can use singe-handed rods to complete these casts as well.
  • With these casting techniques, you can cast long distances with heavy cover in the background.
  • With two-handed rods, however, you use your off hand to relieve your casting hand.
  • To make a cast with a swing, you will cast out and maintain a tight-line throughout the swing.  The current will push against your line and deliver the fly down to the fish, which is looking upstream.  After, you have executed a cast, you will step downstream and repeat the process.
  • Start at the head of the run and cast close but then move out with your casting distance.

SURFACE SWINGING AND SUBSURFACE SWINGING: APPROACH AND TIPS

SURFACE SWINGING

  • Going for the most aggressive fish in the system.
  • When you swing a fly on the surface, you skate it across, normally producing a v-shape.
  • Many people fish a dry slowly and methodically over the surface, and this can produce fish sometimes.
  • However, a broadsided swing that moves quite fast will get a bigger commitment from the fish.
  • Landing your fly in the fish’s “awareness zone” can be good in some instances.
  • However, landing the fly outside of this zone and swinging it into this zone can be even better at times.

SUBSURFACE SWINGING

  • Present the fly near, not on the bottom.
  • Don’t constantly snag the bottom on your swing.

TYPES OF RODS

SINGLE-HANDED RODS

  • Can be very effective on smaller venues.
  • You most likely have one already.

SWITCH ROD

  • Next step and between 10 to 12 feet in length.
  • Use both your other hand or cast with only your dominant hand.

TRUE TWO-HANDER OR A “SPEY” ROD

  • Over 12 feet in length.
  • Larger venues.
  • More power and ability to deliver heavy tips.

BASICS OF THE LINE SETUP

  • Reel
  • Backing
  • Running line (mono filament or fly line)
  • Head (the taper and weight of the fly line)
  • Tip (with Skagit heads)
  • Weighted leader (optionally used with Scandi heads)
  • Leader and tippet combination (normally nylon or fluorocarbon)
  • Fly

THREE MAIN FLY LINE STYLES, PLUS SWITCH LINES, (FOR TWO-HANDED RODS)

TRADITIONAL

  • Long-belly fly lines not as common today.
  • Less stripping required to recast.
  • Good for larger venues and long casts.

SWITCH LINES

  • Used for both nymphing and swinging.
  • Can overhead cast.

SCANDINAVIAN (SCANDI)

  • Head system with a long front taper.
  • Mainly used with touch-and-go type casts.
  • Less disturbance in the water, so better for finesse fishing.
  • Can overhead cast.
  • Doesn’t use tips like the Skagit, but can have a lighter leader system.
  • Normally, replace the whole head to switch sink rates.
  • Some newer lines have removable tips or “Versi tips” for Scandi heads.  You would interchange the tips instead of changing out full heads.  The biggest plus is that you can carry the tips around in a small pouch.  They are smaller than a full head.

SKAGIT

  • Most aggressive tapers and best payload delivery system.
  • Uses weighted tips almost always.
  • Creates the most disturbance in the water.
  • No overhead casting.
  • If the Scandi is a Ferrari, this is a beer truck.

UNDERSTANDING TIPS AND LEADERS

LEADER INFORMATION IN GENERAL

  • All heads require a nylon/fluorocarbon leader tied directly to the fly.
  • Good rule of thumb with tips is if you have a switch rod, use 10 foot tips, and if you have a true two-handed rod, use 12 foot tips.
  • With simple nylon/fluorocarbon leaders, use 14″-24” of leader in cold and murky water, but use 4′-5’ in clear and/or warm water.

SCANDI LEADERS (NOT TIPS)

  • You can sometimes use weighted leaders with Scandi lines.
  • Sinking leaders have “IPS”, which stands for “inches per second”.  This is the sink rate per second.
  • With a floating Scandi head without a weighted leader, the total monofilament leader and tippet combination must be at least as long as the rod’s length.

SKAGIT TIPS

  • With tips, the weighted line most often has a T on it.  This stands for “tungsten”.  The line is referred to as either T8, T14, T22 etc.  The number refers to grain weight per foot.
  • Skagit heads require a tip, which is almost always a sinking tip.
  • You can buy premade tips or you can cut tip material to create your own.
  • Tips are normally level, but you can also find some specialized tapered tips.
  • Level tips will get down evenly and quickest.
  • If you’re in a large evenly flowing area, a tapered tip may be best.  This is particularly so when the faster sinking line is towards the back and thickest part and the the front section does not sink as quickly.  This keeps your fly from dragging on the bottom.

FLY TYPES AND BASIC SELECTION FOR SWINGING FLIES

FLY TYPES

  • Tube flies and hanger-style/shank flies.
  • Hanger/shank flies give you a little more weight with the short shank hook option.
  • Advantages of tube flies: stacking, don’t lose your hook, little weight.
  • When rigging a hook, you get better hooking percentage when rigging the hook down, but don’t do this when there is wild fish present since you might tongue hook them.

BASIC APPROACH TO CHOOSING FLIES

  • Get multiple sizes of flies before getting lots of different flies.
  • Smaller flies (2-3 inches) can be very productive.
  • Black is extremely versatile for all conditions.
  • Get a florescent fly in either pink or orange.
  • Have a natural fly in olive, tan, or white.
  • You can tie in flash and rip it out if you need to on the water.

MORE DETAILED SWINGING APPROACHES

  • When you’re fishing new water, Jeff recommends fishing at a sharper angle to avoid snags and make things a bit easier (your fly will not get as deep the sharper the angle).
  • The sharper the angle, the faster and shallower your fly will swim.
  • With a sharper downstream angle, the fish sees less profile and mostly just tail.
  • With a 90 degree broadside view, the fish sees much more of the fly.
  • These are called “tail-first” and “broadside”.
  • If fish see a lot of sunlight or the water is dirty, the broadside may be the best option.
  • You might try tail-first in the opposite conditions.
  • Give fish multiple angles: from one spot, give fish the broadside and the tail-first to see what they want.

HOOK SET

  • Don’t do anything.  Let the fish hook itself.
  • You can also sweep toward the near bank.
  • Do not set the hook like a professional bass fisherman.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Avoid casting too far.  Don’t miss the fish that are under your rod tip.
  • Don’t “Auto-mend”.  Think about what you need to fish to on every drift.
  • Don’t get discouraged.  If nothing’s happening and you are tired of swinging, then switch to something you’re more comfortable with.
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