To be a better steelhead fisherman you need to find an approach to fish the less than ideal pieces of water. Any novice can walk up to a run called “Gett’n Em 9000” and put on a show but elite anglers fish more water, better.
Soooo the frog water… steelhead typically don’t mind being around it but MAN steelheaders do. Some people just flat out refuse to fish near it and others just make their guide suffer through never-ending puzzled looks, spastic mending and embellished sighs. As much as it might seem like your guides time killing measure, the fact that you might think that has crossed his mind and yet you're still there. There's a reason.
The Water Beyond...
So a pretty decent percentage of the water we fish doesn’t swing bank to bank- I mean most of it really. So what do we do? We take a few steps in the river and get past that edge that doesn’t fish. It would be silly of us as fly anglers looking for that perfect swing to pass on every piece that didn’t move perfectly from five feet back on the bank. The lesson here is that beyond the shallows is steelhead water and lots of it!
So a question. How much of that boring water on edge of a lie is acceptable for you as angler before you decide it’s no good? If you have to wade past your knees, no good? Waist? Up to your chest? Is casting over soft water and lifting your running line too much? I think we can all agree that limiting ourselves this way means we pass up a lot of good water.
A Super-Mega-Professional Artists Rendition
Below are some simple illustrations that I think puts this scenario in context.
a) Too much slack. I’m going home!
Above- there is an angler standing near shore of run ready to fish. Here he is thinking about skipping this spot because its frog water. But there is great water out there.
b) Walking on water.
Above- the angler imagines standing on the seam and swinging through a perfect piece of steelhead water without slack water. He then catches hundreds of steelhead.
c) Learning to love the hinge!
Above- the angler then fishes it and realizes that although his line hinges on the moving edge he is fishing important water as if he was out there standing in the middle. Minimize mends, keep that line tight and watch the belly swing through money water. That opens up a lot!
A Couple of Important Tips
- Get Out There A Ways- If you can reduce the slack water you need to contend with, great. I’m saying fish past the soft water out of necessity, not choice!
- Quarter Down- This brings your swing under immediate tension and helps swing through the edges until you get your entire head into the current.
- Running Line Off the Water- If you can lift you running line in the air and out of the frog water you will have a good tight swing. Mono running lines like OPST lazer line or slick shooter work especially well for lifting easily.
- Avoid the Downstream Mends- this tendency just throws your line back in the slack water and will have you continually searching for tension on the line. If there is current on any part of your belly, it will swing. No amount of downstream mending will create current. Oh and you won’t be handcuffed by slack on that grab.... trust me it happens.
- Easy on the Upstream Mends- there are times it’s important but quartered and under tension is a pretty sweet situation so let it ride.
Now A Story
Those people that fish the mighty Thompson deal with this situation a lot. “Wade deep and cast far” is the rallying cry for people in the famous runs around Spences Bridge. This is especially important because some runs on the “T” have a hundred feet or more of unfishable water out to the current and passing on these would be a big mistake. You tackle them through combination of serious thermal socks, a Patagucci Onesie and the rules above.
One cold November day in 2011, like a lot of cold November days on the Thompson, the morning started with coffee and Bailey’s and a keen eye on the thermometer. At the crack of noon the wind laid down, the sun came out and the temp peaked at -7. If there was going to be a time to fish during the cold snap that week, this was it.
I went walking down to the Y run to get in behind a few other guys just moving through the corner but as I approached they reeled in and left. In the late season low water, the middle of the Y was a daunting 300m stretch of tanky water that the gear guys frequented and often did well way out there in no mans land. I had success here before and it was there rested and waiting for me.
Armed with rubber gloves, a long line that I could throw way out there and would require minimal stripping (and subsequent freezing guides) and a large POM skater, I waded out until my life felt in danger and started my way down the run.
Fishing out past the slack I managed to boil two fish and land a beauty pictured below. Even though this wasn't that perfect sexy swing it opened up important water. Most rivers have spots like this and giving them a chance can yield serious results.