in the Great Lakes, the players are scarce and many of them don’t play fair.
“Player” is a term steelhead swami and swing guru Jeff Liskay, aka Great Lakes Dude, uses to
describe the minority of steelhead that are eager to chase down a swung fly.
And players are the target of those anglers seduced by the
allure of using a highly ineffective, yet adrenaline-rush-inducing method to
hook the freshwater version of the migratory rainbow trout that swim up the
Great Lakes tributaries in the fall and winter.
December means cold north winds and short days. They combine to drop the water temperatures into Walter Payton (#34) territory. Trout, like all fish, are cold blooded and cold water slows their metabolism to something less than a bear’s in hibernation. Shivering fish prefer to hang in slow, soft water where they expend as little energy as possible while waiting for warmer days. For reasons that maybe only a fish biologist can understand, there’s usually at least one fish in the pool that’s willing to hop off the couch and pursue a fly. This is the player.
Every once and awhile the winter player will act like a Red Bull-fueled teenager and crush the fly with enough aggression that they hook themselves and the angler is just a bystander happy to go along for the ride. More often, the player will test the angler with something less than an enthusiastic grab; in other words, they don’t play fair.
While we imagine fish inhaling flies, sometimes it seems that they are more interested in inspecting than eating. It is impossible to say exactly what a fish is doing during its inspection but sometimes it feel as if they’re plucking at the feather or fur hanging off the end of the fly. Often, the pluck occurs at the end of the swing, when the fly is dangling directly below the angler. A fish striking a fly from the rear doesn’t provide much of a hooking angle. Also, an angler may ease up at the end of the swing or even fall into a bit of a trance. A pluck at the end of the swing sends a jolt up the tight line and the angler is prone to respond by raising the rod tip. Unfortunately that just pulls the fly away from the reluctant suitor. After making that mistake recently, I quickly hung my head in shame, bent over in disgust and put my hands on my knees. The fish plucked again. I was double plucked. I over-reacted, again.
The “pluck and duck” occurs when the fish pulls at the fly briefly and then quickly ducks back to the couch. The fish may be enticed off the couch again by a slightly different swing angle or a smaller (or brighter or larger or duller) fly. But more than likely, the fish is on the couch for the duration.
If the “pluck and duck” gets the imagination racing, the “pull and drop” just gets the angler muttering and wondering why bother at all. The pull and drop is like a half-hearted handshake. The fish grabs the fly, makes the classic turn and the angler responds with a proper hook set, but there’s nothing there. No weight. No fish. Nothing. Was the pull real? Maybe the sink tip was simply dragging across the bottom? No, it was definitely a pull. But where did the fish go? Maybe the drag was too tight and the fish felt the tension of the line too soon? Maybe the hookset came too soon? Or maybe the fish just decided the feather and fur isn’t protein? All fishermen overthink the fish’s decision-making. Swing fishermen excel at over thinking.
And sometimes we think wrong. We think that the swing is slower than normal because the