September 29, 2011
By John Larison
When swinging a run for steelhead, the first bloke through has the best shot of finding a grabby fish. If there's a player out there, odds are good it will strike the first fly it sees.
But steelheaders, like most fly anglers, love to share a run with a good friend. Here are some tips for finding a fish that your buddy missed.
1) Focus your presentations on the prime water. Your buddy is likely casting to cover as much of the run as he can; you, on the other hand, will cast to fish the prime water perfectly. To heck with the rest of the run. Maybe there is a cluster of boulders at 60 feet out, so you make a series of perfect presentations to these boulders. The first might be to hang the fly over the boulders: make a cast to 70 feet with a big pull back mend to slow the fly. The second might be to present your fly broadside to those same boulders: take a few steps downstream and make a cast that drops the fly right on the boulders, a cast that allows the fly to swim broadside through the rocks. In both cases, you'll be presenting your fly differently than your friend, and probably giving the fish a better chance to see it.
2) Twitch your fly. Your friend is probably swinging his fly in the conventional manner, namely letting it simply swing through the run. When you come through, try adding that same wet fly twitch you used as a kid to catch stream trout. You know the one. Often this twitch will entice a fish that sat dourly as your friend's fly cruised by.
3) Go radical. If your buddy fished a size 6 Green Butt, try a three inch black Intruder. Or a size ten Burlap. Personally, I go big if the water is fast or the light low or--surprisingly--when the sun is overhead. I go small in slower water or in those first moments of afternoon shade. The idea here is to conclude your buddy found any fish interested in the standard offerings; you're now hunting those territorial fish (big fly) or those shy fish (small fly).
Just yesterday I found myself following a gear fisherman through a run (not a friend, just another guy with a steelhead jones). He was fishing a pink corky and slinky, so I went olive and, given the slow water, small. Two fish that refused his corky grabbed my olive.
Which suggests something interesting about fall: a lot of the fish have been in the river a while now, and they've seen the conventional presentations. Changing it up, even when you're fishing alone, can sometimes convince an otherwise dour fish.