When it comes to swinging, the Great Lakes historically have been, and even still are at times, considered by many as mainly a nymphing affair.  This is a mistake.  It’s true that nymphing for steelhead, browns, and salmon is incredibly effective and is more effective than swinging in the majority of situations.  However, in the last 10 to 15 years, swinging Great Lakes steelhead, browns, and salmon has become extremely popular, and many opportunities exist in the Great Lakes for any swinging enthusiast.  Steelhead are the most common swinging target, but within the rivers of the Great Lakes, there are some diverse opportunities to pursue different fish species, such as Atlantic salmon and lake run browns.  The Great Lakes swinging experience offers some unique challenges and a lot of targets, so if you’re a transplant to the Great Lakes region or just getting started with swinging, Jeff Liskay shortens the learning curve for us in this podcast.




  • The diversity of the swinging experience is surpassed by nowhere else in the world and offers different venues and flavors of fishing through Canada and the U.S.
  • The different challenges of swinging the Great Lakes keep you coming back and improving.
  • Two main types of rivers in the Great Lakes:
    • Run-off rivers: any precipitation blows these rivers out or at least affects their levels, color etc.
    • Ground-fed rivers: stay very clear
  • A constant struggle is to find the right water clarity since a rivers water clarity has positives and negatives with respect to swinging.
  • You need to pay close attention to the water conditions before you fish anywhere in the Great Lakes.
  • Consult the U.S. geological survey site to get real time flows.
  • Swinging allows you to fish water that is murkier than normal, so it keeps you in the game longer.
  • Also, take very detailed notes and learn from the days on which you are skunked.
  • Run-off rivers will actually allow fish to have a resting period when it is blown out and fly anglers can’t fish them, while ground-fed rivers have a tendency to receive constant pressure but are almost always fishable.
  • Don’t be afraid to drive to rivers that have the right water conditions.
  • Many of the rivers in the Great Lakes aren’t the traditional West Coast style rivers, where it’s a bank-to-bank swing.  Many rivers have much smaller drop-offs and “buckets” that require you to manipulate your line to get the right swing.
  • You will often concentrate on hot spots, and the challenge is figuring out how to get your fly into these places.
  • In Michigan and sometimes on the Niagara River, watercraft are critical to getting the right presentation.
  • You can also use a boat to fish the lower stretches of the river, where it is more or less impossible to wade.  In this technique, you will swing baitfish patterns, and it’s extremely effective.
    • To do this swing, use a light tip or floating line, a weighted fly, and a fairly fast swing.
  • Jeff likes to fish the in-between water that people don’t fish a lot, particularly in Michigan.  The water isn’t as productive as some of the traditional pools etc., but the fish are less disturbed.
  • The swinging learning curve is greatly lessened because of the nearly year-round opportunities and abundance of fish on the Great Lakes.
  • Fall fishing is best in New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  Both New York and Wisconsin offer brown trout as well as steelhead.
  • Winter and early season fishing is great in Ohio and Michigan.
  • Spring fishing is pretty good in most Great Lakes states including Ontario, Canada.
  • You can extend your swinging season on the Niagara and the St. Marys River since they hold steelhead much later than other venues.
  • You also have the option to fish summer-run steelhead on very small venues in Indiana and Illinois.
  • You can swing for migrating fish more or less 12 months a year.  The St. Marys gets an Atlantic Salmon run in the middle of summer (June to July), and king salmon start up in August on many venues.
  • To catch a steelhead on a dry fly, the fish must be able to see your fly from where it is, and this means fly fishing with clear water conditions.
  • The other good time is fishing in warmer water temps, which means fishing in the early fall and late spring.
  • Early season means September when salmon and steelhead first start to enter the river system.
  • Late season is late spring, say May, when the steelhead return to the Great Lakes.
  • The traditional Great Lakes season is fall-winter-spring.
  • Downsizing your subsurface fly can be extremely effective, particularly when you are fishing behind people, in smaller venues, or in really clear-water venues.
  • For flies, he recommends something with rabbit, tube marabou flies for versatility with stacking, a good weighted Scandi fly, a black wet fly with accents, a caddis fly pattern, and a large foam skater, like a Scopper fly pattern.
  • Mixing in some rubber legs etc. can be very effective on the right day.
  • Contrast is incredibly important on your flies, and an Ice Dub head is supper effective.
  • General flies for particular venues are as follows:
    • St. Marys: #10 Muddler Minnow with Orange thread
    • Michigan and Ohio: Ice Dub swinging pattern and a marabou type fly as well
    • Pennsylvania and New York: smaller patterns do better in most cases
    • Niagara River: white baitfish flies
  • Four main rod choices:
    • 5 to 6 weight switch rod for smaller venues and flies
    • 7 weight two-hander as an all-round rod (this is probably the most versatile rod)
    • 8 to 9 weight for heavy flies and tips
    • Single hand rod for dry flies



Great Lakes Fly Fishing: Jeff’s Website

Intro to swinging podcast

Real time flows

Fly fishing for Great Lakes steelhead and brown trout


If you find yourself in the Great Lakes region, don’t hesitate to look into the rewarding swinging opportunities available to you.  For those who are interested in swinging, multiple different strains of steelhead, monster browns, Atlantic salmon, king salmon, and other salmon species are available to you.  The Great Lakes are not the Pacific Northwest.  The Great Lakes have their own challenges and a diversity that is both enjoyable and ideal in many instances.  The nature of the Great Lakes swinging experience is characterized by adaptation.  This nature breeds versatility and an openness to the approaches used in other parts of the U.S. and beyond.  Feel free to use this podcast to increase your knowledge of the Great Lakes swinging experience, and feel free to bring your own techniques and ideas to this wonderfully diverse fishing environment.



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