A Reason to Swing

It appears we are having a legit winter again.  I am sure you all have been following the heavy storms smacking north state sending us tremendous amounts of water.  Our rivers are swollen, muddy, and unfishable for the moment. Give mother a nature a chance to catch her breath and calm down a bit.  The rivers may be fishable in a few weeks.  When they drop and clear you’ll be dying to get back out there and when you do, I hope it is with a two-handed rod.  

The two-handed game has blown up in Northern California and I could not be happier about it.  We all know how heavily the indicator is fished in our state, and we all know how productive it can be, but now  is the time to give a chance to a new tactic, (actually a far older tactic than an indicator).

Stop staring at the bobber!  Ask any trout or steelhead guide worth a damn how much they enjoy staring at an indicator.  Their response, I am sure, will not surprise you.  I spend so much time staring at floats, that any opportunity I get to fish a different tactic I jump on it.  Fishing the indicator is a very involved method.  It requires constant concentration and frequent adjustments.  It becomes more of a chore than an enjoyment.  Swinging flies simplifies the method.  You cast (and that is the essence of fly fishing)  maybe add a mend, stick one hand in your pocket and watch the line flutter across the run.  You end up looking around more at the setting you're in, you become more connected to the art of fly fishing rather than just the production value.  My message to anglers getting into swinging flies is that you have to be in love with the idea of fly fishing to get the enjoyment the technique.  

My favorite part of swinging flies is the not knowing where or when the grab is going to come.  Anglers who are experienced in swinging flies identify with good swing runs just because they swing well rather than their catch totals.  I like to swing certain runs just because of the shape of water.  Sure, there may be areas that have higher concentration of fish but if it doesn’t swing well I am not that interested in fishing it.  I guarantee you will start to look at river in much different way.   

The myth that spey casting is hard if completely false: Spey casting is not hard, it is hard to be an expert at it.  Realistically a beginner angler has a better chance getting grabbed swinging a fly then the getting a fish under an indicator on some of our technical streams.  With the advances in fly lines designs a roll cast at 50 ft. is very obtainable.  Casting at the right angle and swinging through a run confidently is an easier task than roll casting a big thing-a-ma-bobber with split shot and two flies mended 5 times to get a perfect dead drift.  Easier that is if you can make the cast in the first place.    

The numbers is an interesting topic when it comes to fly fishing.  Take the Trinity for an example.  An accomplished guide friend of mine up on the Trinity said on average each angler is going to get 3 attempts on steelhead out of the drift boat fishing an indicator.  That's still a pretty low number.  I would say that if you swing a fly on the Trinity you will average at least 1 good grab a day.  I’ll take 1 good swinging grab versus three take downs nymphing on any stream.  I have never qualified a good day of fishing based on how many fish were caught but how many were caught artfully.  If for you fly fishing is a numbers game then the swinging art may not be for you.  Hell, maybe this sport isn’t for you either.   

You will remember every fish that you connect with on the swing.  This perfect Trinity River steelhead chased down a "Brother In Law."

You will remember every fish that you connect with on the swing.  This perfect Trinity River steelhead chased down a "Brother In Law."

The Yuba and Feather are great Valley rivers to swing.  You just have to know what to look for in a swing run.  The Yuba River rainbows are a lot more agressive than you may think.  Ask guide Chuck Ragan, who absolutely loves the streamer fishing out there.  Sure those fish eat aquatic insects but there is a ton of bait in that river.  With the size of the salmon runs out there, and the amount of eggs that eventually hatch, those fish look for the fry.  January through March, swinging an alevin pattern gets grabbed often.  There are a lot of sculpins and little leeches out there too.  I’ve had good results swinging flesh flies, it's a no brainer that with all the dead salmon out there that the fish will eat flesh floating down the river.  A swung soft hackle will get eaten too.  When the bugs start working the fish will chase down emergers in the middle to top water column, giving you an excellent opportunity to hook an eater.

Morgan Thalken ties mean flies for swinging.  A mixed box of sizes and colors.  Potential options for trout or steelhead. 

Morgan Thalken ties mean flies for swinging.  A mixed box of sizes and colors.  Potential options for trout or steelhead. 

The tools you’ll need are very simple: rod, reel, shooting head, tips, tippet, and some flies.  For the single hand rods, Rio’s Single Hand Spey line solves all issues.  This is a beautifully constructed line that I wish more anglers were using.  It is very easy to cast, and is a great distance line.  Swinging on a single hand rod will improve your line control.  The-two hander is a different ball game.  It can improve your distances and with the right line give you options on size and weight of a fly to try.  At the fly shop, see customers in a state of confusion over all the options for swinging.  It really is a lot of info to juggle, the best way to figuring it out what is the right gear for you is to talk with someone at the shop and tell them what you are looking to do, what rivers you want to swing, and what species you’re targeting.  The new wave of Trout Spey has offered a really nice tool for trout lovers.

Email us if you are interested in our swinging flies class this spring.  jordanromney@gmail.com