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Steelhead Fishing: Swinging Flies


hatchery steelhead
Steelhead caught on a swinging fly

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:

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.

Klamath Duck Hunt: Final Days of the Season

Before work the other day I went duck hunting with my brother. We had a great hunt, ducks were everywhere and we limited out within 2 hours. If we’d been shooting better we could have limited in under an hour. The ducks were low and decoying like crazy.

It was a beautiful day with clear skies and storms in the surrounding mountains. This may have been the final hunt of the season since the weather is starting to get cold, and the open water will start freezing hard.

Here are some pictures and a youtube video of the hunt. Pay close attention to the  youtube video, watch the duck on the far left get shot out of the sky.

Last duck of the day  (youtube video)

Here are some random pics from this awesome day of duck hunting.

Early morning duck hunting
Golds and Blues of the Marsh


A full limit of ducks


A full day of Retrieving ducks makes for a dirty dog

Hopefully we’ll get another hunt in this year, but with the weather turning colder, the marsh will probably freeze up in the next couple of days. Then it’ll be time to Chukar hunt!

Duck Hunting in Klamath Marsh

last weekend I went duck hunting with my brother and nephew. This is the 4th time hunting this year and it’s been pretty good. We’ve been shooting limits of ducks mostly consisting of Widgeon, Mallards, Pintail, and Gadwall.

Normally I take my two boys, but it was supposed to be really cold and possibly rainy. I thought it would be a good idea for them to stay home this time out. My youngest was pretty bummed, but my oldest convinced him how nice it would be to sleep in for a change.

We went to our normal spot, rode our bikes the 2 miles in the dark, and made our way across the marsh.

crossing the marsh

It’s always a bit brutal, no matter how cold it is you end up sweating profusely. Of course once you stop moving the sweat turns to ice and you shiver.

Walking through weeds, tules and ankle-deep water while carrying a heavy decoy bag wearing neoprene chest waders and carrying guns, shells, food, water and everything else you need out there makes for sweaty grueling work. This kind of thing is the reason I work out.

Once we got about a half mile into the marsh we came to a canal. This is the same canal we used to be able to cross, but now there’s so much water, we would fill our waders with the attempt (I learned this from experience). So this time we brought a blow up dingy. It’s not the normal duck hunting gear, you won’t find it in a Cabela’s magazine, but hey it worked…barely.

My brother and I were able to lay on the thing and kick our feet to cross, but my nephew is too little and had to use his hands. Dipping your hands into icy water at daybreak isn’t something that’s fun or wise, but that’s what he had to do.

It was a foggy day and the hunting was actually slow. Erik and I shot 8 ducks, each of us killing 4, but that was only because we hit most everything that came in. We missed a few, but for the most part we shot well.

Duck hunting in early morning fog

We hunt on this great little pond with light tule cover. In past years you could stand on solid ground, but this year there’s so much water we have to stand in shin deep water. This isn’t too bad for us humans in waders, but the dogs suffer a bit. We were careful to walk them around  to keep their circulation going.

Poor dog has to stand in water all day

I had been hunting only two days prior and had limited out. There had been a lot of ducks around, the only difference was the fog, but that cleared up around 9am. It seemed like the ducks I’d seen had packed up and headed south. Damn.

As we were packing up and preparing to re-cross misery canal, we happened to look to the north and saw clouds upon clouds of ducks getting up. Something had spooked them. So that’s where all the ducks were…north of us about 3 miles.

Shit, oh well I guess next time we’ll bike further north.

biking back to the rig...loaded



The Big Wood River Fishing Report for First Week in October

Just spent 6 glorious days in Ketchum Idaho  trout fishing the Big Wood River. The river was low, around 235 CFS and gin clear.

Rainbow fishscape
Creative Commons License photo credit: El Frito

I arrived in the evening, went straight to Lost River Outfitters, bought an out-of-state license and asked the helpful staff what the hot fly was.

They suggested some number 14-18 parachute adams type flies and a small bead headed zebra nymph as a dropper fly.

I don’t usually fish a dropper fly on the Big Wood because I love it as a dry fly fishery, however, I hadn’t fished here in a long time and bought of few of the dropper flies.

I walked the 50 steps from my parents’ time share and casted a number 12 elk hair caddis into the Big Wood. That’s right, I completely ignored the fly advice and stuck with what I know works, or thought I did.

After 25 casts I finally got a nice rainbow to rise and take a look at the caddis. He flashed at it, smacked it with his tail…a refusal.

I noticed a small hatch of something grayish coming off the water. I realized it was some kind of baetis fly so I took the proffered advice and tied on a small parachute adams. Things changed quickly. I got more rises and even managed to hook one or two nice rainbows. But one or two rainbows? I was used to catching far more in the 2 hours I’d fished.

I was reluctant to try the dropper, I’d just come from fishing Steelhead on the Rogue river with a nymph setup. I wanted to dry fly fish dammit.

Oh well, the next day I tied on the zebra dropper about 10 inches from the bigger, purple haze fly, (a purple parachute adams) and immediately I went from fishing to catching.

The nice thing about the zebra’s is they don’t sink too far down, in fact they’re just under the surface and pretty close to the dry fly. So, when a fish hit the dropper I could see them rise, which is what I love about dry fly fishing. I was loath to use the dropper for fear of not seeing the take on the surface. I was pleasantly surprised.

By the fourth day on the Big Wood I was consistently catching 30 to 50 fish a day. Most weren’t much bigger than 8 inches but many were over 12 and a few were in the high teens.

On the 6th day, however the rain started coming down. I have never dry fly fished in a rain storm and was unsure of the outcome. In short the dropper fly saved the day.

Since there were no hatches I put on a number 10 stimulator as my dry fly and continued with the black zebra as the dropper. I caught more fish in a shorter amount of time than any previous day. Every single fish was caught on the dropper.

Unfortunately the rain continued all night and didn’t stop or even let up the next day. Within a few hours of daybreak the Big Wood River was chocolate-brown and rising steadily. My fishing was over. It was okay though, I’d gotten 5 really excellent fishing days, I can’t complain.


Volkl AC50s… My New Babies

I’m an old school kind of guy. I tend to hang onto my old gear years and years after it’s technology has been made obsolete, however this year I’ve done some serious upgrades. I’ve traded in my 1992 vintage mountain bike for a 2010 full suspension Giant, and most recently (days ago) dropped some serious cash on a new pair of downhill skis.

The last time I bought new skis was in High School when I begged my parents for a new pair of Slalom race skis. The night I got those I pulled them into bed with me and caressed them until sleep came.

I had those skis all through college and beyond. I finally upgraded when my brother-in-law passed along his Salomon X-screams. This was my first venture into the new shaped ski craze and I loved them. They were old when I got them, but I skied on them for another 8 seasons.

Last week I was in Tahoe (see previous post) and noticed that not a single skier was on a pair of skis more than 2 or 3 years old. My old X-Screams stuck out like a sore thumb.

That doesn’t really bother me, I love having old gear and still being able to out ski most of em, but it got me thinking that maybe there was something to the new technology.

I decided it was time to check the new shit out. As luck would have it my local ski shop, Rogue ski shop, was having an end of the year sale. I talked for hours about the new technology with their knowledgeable staff and finally decided to buy the 2011 Volkl AC50s.

volkl ac50
My new skis- Volkl AC50

I originally wanted to get into the new twin tip reverse camber stuff, but they convinced me that those weren’t conducive to my racing style of skiing and doubted I’d enjoy them.

My first venture onto the slopes with my new skis was amazing. It was a blue bird day with warm temperatures. The snow was soft in the sun and hard in the shade. These skis absolutely shredded everything I asked them to do. The stability was phenomenal even in unexpected ice.

The AC50s are touted as more of a giant slalom ski so I was a little concerned about the amount of pop they’d have in quick turn situations. I had nothing to fear, the skis popped from edge to edge with lightning speed, initiating before I even thought about it.

I haven’t had the chance to take them onto cut up powder or crud yet, but I’m confident they’ll eat that up with ease. They’re wider than any ski I’ve ever been on which will add some serious float, more than I’ve ever experienced, so I’m not worried. These skis simply ROCK!

Tahoe Skiing in a Huge Storm

I was skiiing in the Tahoe area from March 24th through the 27th. While I was there the various mountains were inundated with some 100 inches of new snow. To say it was an epic ski adventure is to put it mildly. It was epic on a grand scale.

I arrived on Wednesday night after picking up some buddies in the Sacramento airport. We drove over highway 50 through a constant blizzard. The next morning we headed to Homewood ski area, but we had to take the long way around the lake due to highway 89 being closed just South of south lake Tahoe.

We finally arrived at Homewood and started skiing its 30 plus new inches of light cold snow. I have never skied Tahoe and it was quickly apparent I was in for a treat.

Homewood wasn’t actually steep enough for the amount of snow they had, but we were able to maximize our fun by sticking to the steepest runs we could find. It was a good kickoff to the Tahoe trip.

Many beers later and many lost funds at the casinos led us to Squaw Valley ski resort the following day. Squaw had received a paltry 45 inches of new snow over 24 hours! 45 inches? That’s taller than my 8-year-old son!

We got there bright and early. It was still snowing constantly and the wind was whipping around. The sounds of bombs going off for avalanche control made it seem like we were skiing in a combat zone.

Only about one-third of the mountain was open due to the avalanche danger, but it was such incredible snow it didn’t matter. I was very impressed with the terrain that was open. Steep chutes, perfectly spaced trees, awesome cliffs, this place has it all and I didn’t even see the most extreme stuff.

We mostly skied the Red Dog side of the mountain but we also got some nice turns off of KT22. It was simply an awesome day of powder skiing, a day I’ll never forget. I can’t wait to return to Squaw Valley and explore the rest of the mountain, it looks amazing.

The next day we skied Kirkwood, which had received another 20 inches overnight. Once again only about half the mountain was open but once again it didn’t matter. We skied fresh tracks all day long. It was snowing and blowing so hard that our tracks from the previous run would be gone by the time we returned.

We skied our brains out at Kirkwood. We launched off cliffs with abandon, what was gonna happen? It was all soft landing with that much new snow.

This was our third day of skiing and my legs were feeling it. I love the fatigue that comes over a person after a bunch of great ski days. The body feels worked but happy.

Our final day was at Alpine Meadows. Most of the mountain wasn’t open and the day was actually pretty gnarly. It was extremely windy, and getting warmer. By noon the falling snow was taking on a decidedly wet form. The visibility was crap, we were wet and tired.

We ended up leaving around 1pm. I’ll have to ski Alpine again someday because I really didn’t get to this time. The snow was good, but the conditions were miserable.

My first adventure at Tahoe was an awesome one, but I’d like to come back here when the weather isn’t raging just so I can see the whole mountain.

Believe it or not I only got one glimpse of the lake from the mountains. The classic views you see in photos of the Tahoe area, I never saw.

The ‘keep Tahoe blue’ posters you see? As far as I could tell the lake was slate black and covered with fog and blowing snow.

I love Tahoe and can’t wait to return. All in all an awesome trip during an awesome storm.

Mt. Ashland: Opening Day of Ski season

On Friday December 3rd Mt. Ashland opened the slopes and cranked up the lifts for the earliest opening since 2002. As luck would have it, I had that day off, so me and my wife headed to the mountain.

The upper chairlift, Ariel, wasn’t open so the lines at Windsor chair lift got kind of long, but since it was Friday they never got horrendous.

The skiing was terrific. We weren’t there until about an hour after opening so there wasn’t much untracked powder to be had, but there are always stashes here and there if you know where to find it. Were locals, we know all the spots.

We skied hard and my legs are still feeling the abuse days later. The snow was light all day with the temperature never rising above 28 degrees. The powder was about a foot deep with a nice solid base beneath. The turns were effortless, truly “hero snow” conditions.

The best run of the day was traversing over towards Ariel and skiing the untracked swaths of powder on Dream. There were many 30 to 40 foot sections of untracked powder; Melyssa and I ate em up.

Once all that was skied out we started staying closer to the Windsor chair lift. Chair-line of Windsor was very good. Darting in and out of the trees on the left made for some spectacular face shots as I’d burst back onto the main run through the trees. It also ended in one epic crash. My ski released and was only a couple of feet above me, but the snow was so deep, it took a lot of effort to travel the short distance.

I ended the day by skiing over to the south side and skiing, “the void”, aka, “the worm hole.” I don’t usually venture into this area this early in the season because there’s a lot of fallen timber and it takes a lot of snow to fully cover the wood. I took it slow, though and stayed out of the deepest parts of the trees and was pleasantly surprised at how much coverage there is. It was deep and very light, a great run to end the day on.

This is the first year in 3 years that my family actually bought season passes to Mt. Ashland. The early season and the great conditions make me happy we did. If things keep going the way they’ve been going, we’ll definitely get our moneys worth.

The upper chairlift, Ariel opened for the weekend, but we didn’t ski. Hopefully we’ll get up there sometime in the next few days and hit the stuff off the upper chair.

Yeeha! ski season is upon us and I’m stoked for a great upcoming year. Mt Ashland Lives!!

Duck Hunting: Working for It

When I was a kid duck hunting was pretty easy. I didn’t think so then, (waking up super early and missing Saturday morning cartoons sucked) but in retrospect I had it easy.

There was plenty of water in the Klamath marsh and all we had to do was get in the boat, navigate some water, throw out some decoys and sit in the boat drinking hot cocoa waiting for shooting hours. The hardest thing about the whole hunt was picking up the duck decoys at the end of the hunt.

As the years passed the duck hunting opportunities dropped off as the water levels continually dropped. Eventually we could no longer hunt the upper reaches of the Klamath marsh, they’d turned into pasture land. We were pushed onto the main lake, forced to hunt in spots we were unfamiliar with. No longer were we shooting decoying mallards and pintail, now we were lucky to get a flight of Scaup to come into the decoys. We became pass shooters.

More recently the lake in early season became too low to navigate. We were forced to look elsewhere altogether or give up hunting on the disappearing Klamath marsh.

Luckily we were tipped off to a spot that still holds lots of ducks and has decent water conditions the entire season. Weve been hunting this spot for the past 4 years and we’ve got it pretty well dialed. I’m not going to tell you where it is or how to hunt it…we worked too hard to give away our secrets…sorry.

I will tell you that duck hunting is no longer easy. Instead of a cushy boat ride, we now have to ride our mountain bikes along a dirt trail with all our gear strapped to our backs. That means: decoys, gun, ammo, food, water, waders, coats, and whatever else you may need in the field. It’s a lot of weight and I’ve yet to find a decent decoy bag/backpack that rides well on my back. Continue reading Duck Hunting: Working for It

Steelhead Outing on the Rogue River

I took Thursday of last week off and headed out early with my brother and dad to the Rogue for a full day of steelhead fishing.

I was excited because I hadn’t put a full day in on the river in a long time. I’ve been fishing all season, but mostly from the bank for an hour or two. I haven’t put in a whole day of hard fishing for quite a while. I was stoked and excited at the proposition of getting into some steelies.

The fishing reports from the previous week were all positive, with many anglers seeing 7 and 8 fish days.

We met up at Touvelle park and headed upstream to Dodge bridge. There were a few other trailers at the put-in but the pressure looked  fairly light. It was cold and the river seemed a little off-color, but we were confident.

My brother has a drift boat that has a casting station behind the rower and in front. It’s a sweet setup, perfect for two fly fisherman to cover a lot of water. Cover a lot of water we did, but by midday we still hadn’t touched a steelhead. The water looked perfect, and we skillfully plied the waters but we found no fish.

My brother introduced me to a new indicator, the thingamabobber. It’s an air-filled ball that you attach to your leader. I really like this thing, it is much lighter and easier to cast than the indicators I was used to. The indicators are brightly colored so seeing them is a breeze as well. The bright colored balls brought up some funny conversations though, (ie. Pulp fiction, red ball in Bruce willis’ mouth). Continue reading Steelhead Outing on the Rogue River

Nymph Fishing for Steelhead on the Rogue River

The Rogue river is famous for Steelhead fishing. It has good-sized runs of both summer and winter steelhead.

The best months to steelhead fish on the Rogue are September, October and November. During these months there are both late summer steelhead and early winter steelhead.

During the month of October, most of the Rogue is fly fishing only. This means steelhead can only be fished with artificial lures, this means no bait, and no weights.

The most productive method for catching steelhead is to nymph fish. Dragging streamer flies on the surface can also be effective, but I have much more success nymphing; particularly when the Salmon are spawning and working the redds.

Here’s how it’s done: use a nine foot leader made up of 6 pound test. Tie on a heavy “ugly bug”, or something dark and fairly large. Then tie about 18 inches of 6 pound tippet onto the shank of the fly and attach another, smaller fly pattern to that. I like to use a number 8 or 10 Prince nymph. I’ve heard of fisherman tying the second fly from the eye of the first fly, but I’ve never tried it. It seems like it would get tangled easily.

Now you’ll need to attach the strike indicator. Decide what the approximate depth of water you’ll be fishing is, and put the indicator about a foot higher up the leader than that depth. For instance if you think the water is 4 feet deep put the indicator 5 feet up from the highest fly.

My new favorite indicators are thingamabobber indicators. These are air-filled balls which are extremely easy to cast and easy to attach to the leader. Yes, they resemble a bobber in every regard, but since were steelhead fly fishing were calling them indicators.

Continue reading Nymph Fishing for Steelhead on the Rogue River