Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mystery of the Swing

As dawn started to break this morning the river showed itself to be in perfect condition for drifting nymphs and eggs for the steelhead that were likely holding in the tail of the big pool. Yet the 10-foot, 7-weight stayed propped against a tree on the bank and I stuck with the spey rod and the large intruder fly tied to the end of the short 15-pound test leader. With only an hour of fishing time available it was not a wise choice if hooking fish was the prime goal. But I'm easily hooked by a good mystery, and lately I've been trying to crack the mystery of the swing.

Fishing always involves some mystery -- what exactly lurks under the water's surface? Who knows, some day I just may catch the mermaid John Voelker/Robert Traver so desired.

Swinging flies involves much more mystery than nymphing. Nymphing for steelhead involves short casts and quick drifts. The angler needs to get the fly down deep quickly and maintain in contact with the fly to sense the subtle steelhead take.

Swinging flies with a two handed rod and a sinking head is much more of a long-distance affair. The fly starts its drift across the river, swings across the current and then dangles downstream at the end of the drift, often more than 15 yards downstream. Throughout the drift and swing the river bottom may shift in depth by a few feet and the fly will swing through multiple current speeds and encounter boulders and shelves before ending its journey. Figuring out where the fly is in its journey and how it looks to the steelhead hiding below the surface is just one of the mysteries I'm trying to solve. A lesson last fall from Jeff Liskay helped decipher some of the clues. He showed how that by manipulating the long spey rod the angler can feel the sinking leader tick across the bottom during the swing. The ticks -- when they come -- create a connection to the fly that is reassuring. But they don't come often enough, and I'm still learning what needs to be done to keep the ticks from turning into a snag.

In late December I made some progress in solving the mystery of the swing. In the heavy current the T-14 head sank quickly and brought the fly into the zone and four steelies eagerly crushed the pink and white marabou spey fly. Shorter swings were more easily managed and didn't require complex casts. The aggressive fish certainly didn't hurt. But three outings since then (including this morning) generated few new clues, no fish and plenty of new riddles. In short, the mystery is building. I'm hooked. And the 10-footer will spend even more time leaning up against the tree.

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