On any given guided day you are most likely going to find yourself in a run where you really don’t like the water. Too fast, too slow, or too whatever, its a piece that if given the chance you would pass on. Unfortunately for those of us that love to swing flies, sometimes we have to target steelhead in some water that is not an ideal swing. That means once in a while you will have to fight your way through a head of a run that undulates your line like a heart beat monitor. Or you will have to yawn your way through a pool where the swings go slower than dial up internet.
Although we all have our favorite water to fish, steelhead will stop in spots that suit their mood. They are greatly affected by water level and temperature, but also predatory instinct to a great degree. In a seal or otter infested river the fish will pull up in shallow fast water where these creatures tend to avoid.
From a fishing standpoint you need to thoroughly cover the water to feel like you gave it your best effort on any given day. By definition this will include working out some swings that don’t come easy.
On Haida Gwaii our fish tend to love mid river seams. Unless the water is extremely high the fish tend not to hold on inside bars where they would be easily accessible to a fly. Instead they tuck under logs, and ride edge currents behind large boulders or debris. Usually this is very difficult water to swing a fly through. The lines belly until the fly comes shooting through. Its exactly what happens when throwing a cast directly behind a big boulder. Its tempting to start throwing mends into the line to try and get it to straighten up and slow down. However the best thing to is one mend and let it go. I know it can be tough to watch. Its like letting a baby cry it out, its tough at first but its the right thing to do.
When casting to seams the strike usually comes at two moments. The first is shortly after the fly lands, a strike instinct is induced and you will see the line sharply tighten. Watch closely for a strike as you will not feel this one and raise the rod to set. The second is after the line has worked itself out and is straight swinging in the back end of the seam in a classic manner. However once in a while it happens right at the moment when your line looks the worst.
To truly work a river with a swung fly an angler needs to put his time in on all kinds of water. Although in any given run the fly may not swing with perfection one must avoid the inclination to over mend. Particularly with winter steelhead where depth is everything, one or two well timed mends is all you have time for. After that let the line work itself out. We often see fish caught when the line isn’t in an ideal swing. The key is to swing that fly in as many likely holding spots as you can over a given day. Grin and bear a run you don’t necessarily love, it makes those special swings where your heart skips a beat all the better.