Flylines Are What Catch Fish
I originally wrote this piece some ten years ago. Here is the update.
So there we are, huddled around the happy angler on a misty morning. He is about to release a wild Skagit River steelhead. Everyone is admiring the fish, closest anglers trying to get a peek at the secret fly, and some old grizzled angler, almost oblivious to the happy commotion, his holding the flyboys rod.
At first I thought it was simply a nice gesture, so somebody doesnít step on it, I thought. He did not seem to care about the Classic fly reel or the guys elegant rod. He was staring at the flyline. How odd? I was just a young lad at the time. It took me years to realize " flylines are what catch fish". A few years later I was fishing with a buddy on the gin clear North Fork Stilly. We happened upon a school of brand new summer steelhead, and boy were we excited! We drew straws and I won so I got to fish the pool first. I tell you, I was expecting a grab on every swing of the fly. Nothing! Not to be discouraged, Terry waded out and started his fishing. When he too was finishing up the pool without a touch, we both were feeling a little rejected. Out of frustration, I asked him to fish the pool again, I was going to climb up on the high bank and watch.
Let me tell you something. I learned more in that half hour watching his fly and those fish than the last five years of what I was told, "and this is how you do it." "Right on the top and right on the bottom": One of the first things I realized was Terry was not getting his fly down to the fish. The steelhead acted as if it was not even there. He ended up putting on a weighted woolly worm and the first time the fly came in at face level, a steelhead nailed it. So of course, we were convinced that the answer was weighted woolly worms. It took while for us to realize steelhead hit lots of things, itís bringing into the Zone thatís important.
Several years past before I started experimenting with surface flies. I found this style fun and relaxing I was getting where catching steelhead was a pretty regular thing on a sinktip, so I was off to the next frontier. I had been reading where Grande Ronde and Deschutes steelhead come well to surface flies and I decided my Stilly fish would too. I managed to get lucky here because the Cisero pool was only a short distance from my house and this is where I caught the majority of my fish. (64 one summer) Anyway, I decided to fish my own version of the October Caddis, which was nothing more than a # 6 muddler with an orange wing. I remember it was an August evening and the shadows were over the pool. I know this sounds like a story, but as I waded out, a good fish rolled. I tried to pretend he wasn't there and carefully fish my way down the pool, but on the very first cast above the rock where it rolled, he came up like a ten inch trout and simply engulfed the muddler. Minutes later at my feet, lay a little 5 pound Deer Creek native male steelhead.
A few weeks later I had a day of days and landed six of these wild summer runs, all in the surface, all in one pool. To this day, I am convinced, the Deer Creek native steelhead, un-harassed, will take a surface fly better than a streamer. Nymphs are another story. Sinktip flylines for many years were not much for sink. Savvy anglers were realizing they weren't getting down to the fish and they would do crude things like attach lead core trolling lines. They caught fish on these lines too, but these lines were like casting bicycle chains. Wear you right out. Teeny (Jim) was the first lines that I remember in a commercial flyline that could really sink. My buddy Jackson and I took to them in a New York second, and started catching steelhead in pools that had hither to had been "Untouchable". We used to fish these lines full length but since started cutting them back to better balance to our rods and our waters. For all the scuttlebutt about Jim Teeny and his lines I am amazed how many of the other line companies have now come out with nearly identical lines. They say "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".
Anyway, there are some really nice lines out now, those with good casting ability and good sink rate too. "Density is what gets you down and sinking line length is what keeps you there" The tips we have gone to are the T-series from Rio. We use primarily the T-11 & T-14 for our heads. Imagine looking at a cross section of a steelhead pool. There are lots of configurations but lets say for the sake of discussion, you are standing along a gravel bar waded up to your knees and the water slopes off into deeper water. The steelhead are lying around some structure somewhere in this contour. Ideally, the flyline would pull your fly down to the depth of the fish and as the currents pivot your line from the depths, your flyline would slowly rise with the contour of the bottom, until your line and fly are hanging directly below your position. This never happens exactly but you get the idea. A full sinking line gets down to the level the currents and depth will allow, it will rise little if any. You will probably lose flies every time the fly swims into the shallows where you are standing. That same density line in a sinktip will start deep, but as the river current starts pulling the line, pivoting across stream, the floating portion of the line will start raising the sinking section back towards the surface. The shorter the sinktip, the lighter the sinktip, the faster the currents pulling, the faster this happens. The Bottom Line: (pun) Long, high density sinktips are for fishing fast deep pools Teeny 300 , 400 24' sinktips 8 - 10 wt. rods Shorter, high-density sinktips; for fishing moderate pools moderate speed. Cut back Teeny 200, 300 / type 1V and type V 13 - 15' sinktips 7- 9 wt. rods Shorter, low density sinktips; for fishing very soft water lies The Yancy Multi-tip. A few years ago we realized there simply wasn't one sinktip for all waters. Just as you wouldn't dream of playing a round of golf with a seven iron and a putter, the ability to match the pool with a line that would bring your fly to the stones, without, crashing trough them is a huge key to the success of the angler.
The Yancy line is named after a close fishing friend, Yancy Salenjus. He and Mark Wittingham, came up with the weight forward section of this line. Another angler showed me the running line, and I guess Mike and I developed the sinking tips, and put the line together. Our standard line set-up comes with a type 3 sinktip for soft and or shallow lies, a type 4 and a type 6 for faster heavier waters. We have optional lines such as our type 2 intermediate for fishing flats, and a type 8, for when the 6 just isn't quite enough. The versatility of this line is incredible. We will commonly ask a student to come demonstrate a popular commercial line such as the Rio or Airflo. We then have the same angler demo casting ours....and everyone ends up buying one. Bottom line: Picking the right line for the right waters, is the key. Now, just because you are losing flies, it doesn't mean you are fishing effectively. But that is "Fly Presentation" and thatís another story.