Fall Steelhead fishing on our local river, the Rogue, has been good thus far. We’ve had the most luck swinging flies in front of our drift boat.
This is unusual since we normally do much better nymph fishing. However, I’ve yet to catch a steelie drifting nymphs through the standard holes this year.
This made me realize, there’s a big difference between nymph fishing and swinging flies. Here are the major advantages and disadvantages to both.
Swinging flies means you’re putting the steelhead fly about 20 or 30 feet out in front of the boat. You can have either floating or sinking tip line depending on the water you’re fishing.
The oarsman is the one really fishing in this scenario. He’s the one putting the flies into the water holding the fish.
The oarsman holds the boat, (ideally a drift boat) in the current and rows from side to side, pulling the flies through the water, swinging them. The fisherman simply holds the rod and gives it an occasional twitch, waiting for the takedown.
Since the flies are streaming they’re usually pretty close to the surface. Sometimes this is a disadvantage because steelhead in cold water don’t always like to come up from the bottom to eat the fly.
If you’re fishing deep slow water, you’ll want to use a sinking tip line to get it down a few more feet.
The advantages to swinging flies is that it’s really easy for the guy holding the rod. Anyone can sit in front of a boat and hold a fly rod, all they have to be able to do is reel up and strip line as needed. This makes it perfect for kids.
Another advantage is the way a steelhead hits a swinging fly. For some reason they hit it like they’re a deranged locomotive. They slam it hard and usually burst through the water and start tail dancing. It ads to the excitement and really sets the hook.
Nymph fishing is a different deal. It’s much more skill oriented. You need someone who can cast well and read water.
My kids are excellent casters but it’s hard casting because steelhead flies and lines are heavy and take some strength to do well.
The advantages to nymph fishing make it worth it, though. Typically you’ll catch more fish because the dead drifting bug will be on the bottom passing through where the steelhead live.
However, the fish won’t hit the fly like they do a streaming, swinging fly. They tend to eat it rather than slam it.
The fisherman has to watch his indicator and wait for it to stop drifting. When that happens, pulling back on the rod will hopefully end with a strong pull from a surprised steelhead. More often than not, though the fly stopping will be because the fly hit the bottom and got stopped by something other than a fish.
Having to stay vigilant makes it more like dry fly fishing. Nymphing is a great way to catch steelhead, but it takes an accomplished caster to do it well.
Like I said, this year i’ve had more luck swinging flies. We’ve gotten into some big steelhead and most have been hatchery fish, which means we can keep and eat them…yum.