Sep 27, 2012

Steelhead Tips - Turning Grabs into Fish

Photo: Mike Duffy

Sometimes you’re expecting the grab, sometimes not… But it is always such a sharp moment, when a steelhead takes your fly. If you are fortunate it sticks and the battle ensues but often, that pressure leaves the line just as quickly as it came and you are left scratching your head and cursing about what might have been and how fate can be so cruel. Fish or no fish, it sure wakes you up and reminds you that there really is an underlying goal to your excessive casting display.

But before you keep on with that addictive forward momentum and keep storming down the river, slow down—or better yet- stop - because you have actually just found what you are looking for. That is, a fish that wants to eat your fly. You have worked all day long to reach this point. The grab is not always a lost opportunity, but rather opportunity found. It’s not the end, but rather just the beginning of an exhilarating pursuit. The hunt just became seriously focused. Like throwing a fly to a rising trout, you now have the zip code to one of these mysterious fish. People would pay good money for this knowledge. So, embrace the grab and use this knowledge to seal the deal. You can bring him back.

People use different methods here, but I have been successful with the following sequence. Next time out, give these steps a try and fool him twice and it’s so sweet when it happens…

1. Stop. Do not move. Relax.

2. Recast the same exact amount of line. You should be thinking about feeding the fish. If he takes, let him chew on the fly. I usually get a picture of steak in my mind and think about how you got to let him chew the steak. I know, that’s weird. But think about how you want to give him the fly, not take it away. Let him chew before setting up on him. I fish a small loop (about 10 inches) and let loop slip gradually between my finger and the butt before it turns my spool. Or sometimes a very slight drag and I let him pull line from the reel before sending the hook home… Some folks say God Save the Queen before setting. I say Chew the Steak. Anyways, say what you will, but really concentrate on giving to the fish…

3. If that does not work. Mark the exact spot where you are standing. Look down into the river bottom and look behind you on the bank. Lock in the zip code.

4. Take 3 steps straight upstream. Switch your fly. One trusted school of thought is to go smaller, sparser with your next fly selection. I agree that this works, but I think that as long as your fly is different from what you just offered, that is what matters most. If you were fishing a small natural pattern, then go bigger and flashier or vice versa. The presence of flash or no flash seems to be a big factor but really just make sure it is different in size and color/flash.

5. If you haven’t done so already, take note of exactly how much line you are casting. Count your line strips. Recast from the new position. Here is where I have a tendency to change up my swing speed. Typically, I will fish the fly faster as I work back down on him, by encouraging a slightly larger downstream belly in the line. However, just like fly selection I would tend towards just changing your presentation slightly. If you were already fishing a lively swing, then try slowing it down.

6. Step down to where you initially had the grab. Recast utilizing the different fly pattern and presentation.

7. Step down and repeat

8. Step down and repeat

9. Switch back to your initial pattern and swing speed…

Hopefully, somewhere in there, you felt the jaws again and this time it stuck and you had the ride of your life. However, if not - fish out the run and then switch your fly and then return to the exact spot that you initially got grabbed. I like to start 6 steps above with the same amount of line and work down on him once again. If you have again arrived 6 steps below the spot, try repeating again from above but this time with yet another fly and a sink tip or a heavier tip than that which you have been using.

Fish all these casts with utmost confidence. These are often the most anticipatory presentations that you will make all day. And if it doesn’t happen, well then at least you tried and directed your efforts in a very complete, practical way. And another thing… Don’t ever forget that spot in the river. That place where you got grabbed.

Have a good time,

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