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A Tip on Tips, and a Line on Lines

A fresh chrome winter steelhead taken on a full floating Skagit and light tip, directly behind someone fishing a multi-density Skagit line

Well my winter steelhead season is not done but we are well past the half way mark. I watched a lot of fishing for winter steelhead over the past 4 months. Saw some thing and made notes about the things I saw. On top of that I always keep a running tally of the fish and some stats the surround that’s the fish hooked. I would like to share my finding with you.

Meaty buck taken in shallow water on a light tip and floating skagit

Let start with what I see as a full time steelhead guide. I see that most anglers try to show up with and be the most prepared they can, this is very appreciated. Most of them have rods less than 2 years old and the news years model of lines, I would say 80% of them almost make it a point. I also see a wider selection in most anglers sink tip wallets. A range of T-11 to T-17 and sprinkle in a T-8 or old type 3. All good things to have.

Now here is where I see people either uneducated or not fully understanding what they are trying to accomplish. The new wave of Skagit lines seems to be multi-density lines where the front portion of the actual Skagit head sinks and then gets progressively lighter and at some point as you go back down the line reverts into a floating line. The sinking portion of these lines is anywhere from 8-15’. Now I have zero problems with these lines, I have more problems with how they are applied.

Knowing more about the rivers you fish in regards to flow and fishable pieces of water.

Now this is where I want to help you as anglers. I want to help you to understand the need and use of these types of lines. The thought process in using and purchasing theses types of lines is to either get deeper or slow the fly down by getting more sinking material below the quick surface current. Now on the river I guide deep is a relatively term. But if you want depth on the urban rivers of the greater PDX area then in my opinion you need be very selective of the runs you fish with very heavy tips and flies. On the other hand if your goal is to get the fly speed as slow as possible. Here is where is have seen the anglers gone a bit off. If your a guy who is after a slower fly then you can’t fish the same tip as if you are trying to get the fly deep. So if you want deep have a tip for that, if you want slow have a tip for that. It you want deep and slow…. have a piece of water for that!! With a line that sinks the tip below the surface current if you use the same tip you would on your floating Skagit line your most likely going to be too deep. For the sake of your next line purchase… have a plan for what your trying to accomplish with the equipment your buy.

Now the stats… 7 steelhead landed on floating Skagit lines behind their fishing partner using multi-density lines. On average the heavier setup lots 3 more flies a day… and I believe these lines can be an effective part of an anglers arsenal. But use them with a purpose!! Have fun and get on the water!!!

The importance of the first time

A wonderful time for a first time steelhead angler on his first steelhead trip

Well the title says it all. The first time at anything can and is often times the most valued experience that can make or break a view or passion from an activity.

Looking back at a handful of my own firsts in life, I can say some have been amazing, Others very trying, Some regrettable, while a very few have been absolutely amazing.

My brother with a Redfish on his first saltwater trip!!

I think fly fishing in general and even more so Spey casting for steelhead. The act of steelhead fishing alone is never a 100% thing. Coupled with most first timers fear of a new rod with a casting motions that seem to have more moves than a hip hop dancer. Positive affirmations is this game are so hard to come by. Needless to say Spey casting can look and seem overwhelming.

A group of angler taking their first steps into Spey casting

This is why I give so much attention to the beginnings of a new Spey caster. They need the positives reinforcement that they are making steps in the right direction. Even if they are small and seem unimportant. Affirmation is the key to building good techniques and toughening the skin of steelhead for the work to come. The road in out beloved sport is met with as many hardships and loses as it is meant with victories. The casting is one of the only parts about this wonderful event known as angling.

Now as we all take our second and third attempts and new things we learn more about how these things can fit in our lives and how we can grow into them. But getting through that first go, is a crucial part of any new activity.

Even the first steelhead of the year is an amazing event and I have caught a fair amount of steelhead!!!

I have recently been told, “Learning is SOOO hard!”. Never have these words been more true than on the brow of a great teacher. Find the instructor that compliments you and than stay open minded, you never know what you can learn or even teach in the end.

This season has been the best down year I can remember. I won’t soon forget some of the small and large victories as well and the wonderful people I have guided along the way. It is not quite done but I can say I am already looking forward to the next step in my journey as a guide and outfitter. Hope everyone is getting out fishing and kicking lots of fish ass!!

Making friends with your Spey line steering system.

Notice the top hand position and height in the top of this key position.

As a group, the contemporary ideals of spey casting have their ups and downs. Some of them I can get behind and others i just don’t have time for.  The main thing is our group tends not to look at thing objectively, we go with the flow. I think this is for a couple reasons, number one we don’t get to casts enough to have a few of our own truths and keys, and number 2 is just seems easy to go with the instruction and points that are out there. What ever the real reason for the difficult of the changing of fundamentals and ideas in the Spey casting microcosm one point seems to stick out further then the others. The facts of disproof hanging all around but still most casters fall back to the old belief and never get to make sense of the fundamentals of the casts.

The ugly and over emphasized idea of a bottom hand centric wold in spey casting just does not fit as the upper hand typically more dominate has some of the most important jobs as well. I have witnessed  first hand over the past 15 years the clumsy and narrow in view of  what a bottom hand dominated casting world can become. I am not sure what most of us our thinking placing our top hand only on the rod as a convenience of looking like the guy next to us but not really understanding to true picture of the uses of the most coordinated hand we have. enough of the ranting. let us speak easier and fuller to broadcast an new/old idea that even if it only helps on or two caster was worth typing this out.

Now mid way through the forward stroke the top hand is headed in a straight path toward the target. It has dropped very little in height if at all.

From the moment the hand reaches out to pick a spey rod up the upper cork is grasped. I often watch what hand casters pick their rod up with as a clue to what their dominate hand is. Once again as an instructor I watch as to how a caster handle the rod even doing the smallest of things. when we look at a properly gripped spey rod or even better once we pick up the rod and properly place in our hands we can start to notice a few things. If you have one handy grab the handle section of a double handed rod and lets see what happens. Now with the rod placed in both hand move one hand and the the other. Note the reactions of the terminal end of the rod. Lets make the note that the terminal end of the rod mirrors the top hand, (this is very important). On the other hand the terminal end of the rod does exactly the opposite of what the bottom hand does. With a bit of time spent with rod in hand, not even casting an angler can gain a high level of proprioception about how he can handle the rod in a variety of manners. Again this type of feel and information can be very useful on the water taking the guess work out of your positions and let your mind worry more about the two steps down stream during the steelhead migration.

So we have covered the differences in  how the rod reacts in both and and in some respect how it moves in retro spect to each hand. As it is with a single handed rod the top hand or only hand is our engine, guide, plane, and delivery system. With a doubled handed rod the jobs can be split between the hands. Especially the job of steering or guiding the rod, this job is best performed by the top hand with a nice lose grip. The ability to maintain a straight line with the top hand is undeniable, even more so off dominate side casts. Where the top hand can be watched in eye line go toward the target. The reason that the bottom hand is so overstated is that at first new caster to spey casting tend to push but worse they tend to drop the top hand down as the top hand arm becomes extended. This action not only opens the loop up dramatically but does not allow for the rod path to stay going toward the target line nor does it give a sufficient stop to transfer the energy stored in the D-loop to be directed properly.

The forward stroke complete in this photo, we see that from frame to frame the top hand helped the line and rod path stay on plane throughout the forward stroke. It is also noted that the deviation in top hand height is nominal from frame to frame. clue to straighter flying spey casts.

We also need to remember that the art of Spey casting is 3 dimensional, It has height, depth and length. As single handed casting can be easily diagramed 2 dimensionally, Spey casting can not. The best analogy I can give for a nice top hand path is like tossing a piece of smashed up paper into a near by trash can. Not really a basket ball style shot, but not a baseball thrown either. To do this the hand almost never goes behind the head but stays in front of the tosser to ensure accuracy and look better in front of the co-workers. The paper is lightly tossed and with most of us the hand goes in a straight line toward the trash can with minimal effort. No crazy force is applied at any given point but a gentle follow through of the hand as the paper is made air born. The power used here is almost same same amount used at the highest levels of distance spey casting. Timing and tempo becoming more the secret of power and line speed not how hard and fast either of the hands can move. So next time your out fishing give the top hand a bit more credit and awareness, be surprised how straight those casts can get going, with how little effort.