Working a Steelhead

I had the opportunity to watch my friend Jeff Hickman work a shy Steelhead the other day and his effort was exemplary.

Swinging flies for winter steelhead is a game of numbers, very small numbers. It’s a given when chasing winter fish that there may be limited numbers of fish present in the river. Even fewer of them will be willing to eat a swung fly. You can not afford to miss putting your fly in front of every fish. These fish are on the move so you never know where they will be. You have to be methodical and know that it could happen at any time.

When you really think about it, the mathematics of the system are remarkable. For those not familiar, the idea is pretty simple. You cast across the current far enough to cover any possible holding water and swing the fly down and across until it hangs directly below you. Strip in your line, make the same cast with exactly the same amount of line, step down stream the length of a fish and repeat. Granted, this is a gross oversimplification of a very nuanced technique but that’s the general idea. If you take the time to draw a picture, using a drafting compass you will see that the concentric circles your swinging fly makes cover the water with amazing efficiency. It’s a bit like Tai Chi. You are always striving for perfection.

After hours, or days, covering water in this way it can be heartbreaking when you find a fish who’s interested but won’t commit. Often a single tug is the only evidence that you have found a player. I had the opportunity to watch my friend Jeff Hickman work just such a shy player the other day and his effort was exemplary. Here’s how it went down.

Jeff was fishing through a run and got a timid pull on a purple and black fly. He immediately changed flies rather than show the fish the fly he had rejected a second time. A good call in any type of fishing. He went to a pink fly. The water had some