I like fishing downstream. Swinging flies for Steelhead is a welcome seasonal transition following months of facing and casting upstream for trout. It’s an entirely different tempo, two-stepping your way down a run. The casting and presentation is different, not to mention that some days the fly rod is even totally different. Two hands holding cork now. Cool! I took a day recently for just myself, the river, and two hands on cork. It seems like it’s been years since I’ve had a full day for just myself and the river. No photos or video to worry about, nobody else along to divvy up runs with and no boat in the river to dictate the order of things throughout the day. There wasn’t any pressure to land fish, just a day to cast, swing, strip, step, and repeat. Very cool.
There are many aspects that make a day of fly fishing great. The conditions can be first and foremost. Not only the weather general but also specifics like what the wind is doing and from what direction, how overcast the sky is and of course the amount of sun on the water and the angle it falls into the river. Then there is the temp, flow, and color of the water as well. The presence of catchable numbers of fish certainly helps too!
For me spey casting seems to follow rhythms throughout the day. Often in sets that sputter and struggle, then a ‘groove’ is found and they feel so effortless and crisp as the fly line forms tight loops that extend over the river. After a dozen or so strips of running line are back in hand, anchor points are placed and D-loop is formed, a push-pull motion ensues and line fires back out the guides. If it’s all done right there comes the rewarding sound and feeling of the shooting line halting tight to the reel with a smack. The loop unfolds out over the river as the fly turns over and plops into the water.
After swinging flies for steelhead for many years now, I’ve come to find enough reward in those things that they alone can and do make many days perfect. But then there are days that are extra special. It starts when the fly drips into the water on the far side of a run that is brimming with possibility. The presentation is set up with a large mend as the fly begins its swing. The colorful materials of the fly comb through the river’s current like a kids fingers out the car window on a summer day. Cast after cast the fly is presented, it’s a repeating scenario of numbers and odds for the fly to find itself dangling in front of an irritable steelhead. In retrospect I think an angler can almost convince himself that he felt that moment coming. Even though you’ve never actually been able to predict it in real time, it always seems like you could have. Memory always paints that moment with such color. Seems like you can hear the cold water swirling around your legs, and feel the pulse of the river tugging on the rod in your hand just like you are standing there now. The line in your finger pulls with a steady pressure as your rod tip follows the flyline’s arching swing. Each cast you anticipate the startling weight of a fish climbing onto your fly, but your offering returns to you time after time alone and unscathed. You repeat the motions and find cautious footing for a few more steps down the run. Your thoughts begin to wander around the canyon walls above. It’s a gentle tug-o-war between you and the current as you lean against the swing…
Best of luck to you this season,