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Fishing Flies from Spinning Gear

by George Douglas

Reproduced with permission from
Fishing Flies on the Salmon River
by George Douglas

Traditionally speaking, flies should be fished with fly rods. However, fishing flies from a spinning system is deadly technique for both salmon and steelhead. Spinning flies can provide more opportunities as an angler can fish any type of water.

The average fly fisherman will have trouble fishing deep pools with a fly rod. When the angler drifts through a deep pool, the fly line will start to bend from the different underwater currents. These loops create a large disadvantage to the angler due to the amount of slack in the line, making it very difficult to detect a strike and to allow a strong hook set.

More difficulties can occur when a fly fisherman chooses to fish an outer slot. For example, the river contains a fast shoot down the center of the river, and a slower slot on the outer edge toward the far bank. The average fly fisherman will experience drag when targeting the outer slot. What happens is the fly line is casted and when the fly line lays on the river's surface, the center shoot's faster currents will take the line and drag your presentation out of the slower water and create a completely unnatural drift.

A fly fisherman can raise the rod tip in an attempt to keep the fly line up and over the faster water, but this can be difficult to achieve when the center shoot isn't directly in front of you. Also, by raising the rod tip too much the fly fisherman will experience a slight drag as the fly line that is in the air will cause the drift to consistently pull toward the angler, causing yet another unnatural drift.

Fly fishermen also experiencing difficulty fishing to distant destinations. Long casts are often impractical and provide a poor drift. This factor will sometimes result in fly fishermen wading out to their armpits in an attempt to get closer to the target. This practice is unsafe and is frowned upon by many river anglers.

These negative aspects do not happen to the experienced fly fishermen. For those who do have difficulty with these situations, they can be practiced and worked on until mastered. However, all these situations can be avoided by fishing flies from a spinning system.

Spinning flies will eliminate all of the three examples given due to the fact that the monofilament can cut through currents, not allowing the river to affect the drift. This fact, plus the ability to cast long distances, is the deadly combination that allows anglers to get their flies into all water types.

Another contributing factor is that spinning flies requires the use of weight at least two feet above the fly. The weight will hold the fly in a natural drift not allowing currents or the high rod tip to drag the fly.

In order to spin flies effectively, the angler must have the right equipment. For both salmon and steelhead a long limber rod is best. The length and flexibility of the rod allows for lighter line which contributes to more strikes. Steelhead, Coho, Browns and Atlantics will require a 9.5 to 11.5 foot noodle rod with ultra-light to light action. For Kings, a beefier rod is needed to provide enough strength to battle these bruisers.

Reels with excellent drag systems will last a long time fighting these dynamic fish. Use a reel that balances with the rod you're using and one that feel comfortable to you.

When fishing Great Lake rivers for steelhead I will use 4 to 6 pound test leader and an eight pound main line. For Kings, I'll run a twelve pound main line with an eight to ten pound leader. On the West coast I will use stronger equipment to accommodate the bigger volume of water, bigger fish and more explosive fish due to their salt water composition.

The rig is simple. Use a barrel swivel between the main line and leader. The leader should be between two and five feet in length depending on conditions. The clearer the water is, the longer the leader should be. Apply your split shot above swivel. If you do prefer using slinkies, use a three way swivel instead of the barrel swivel. Connect the slinky to its own loop on the three way swivel by attaching it with a snap or from a drop leader.

The key to this technique is being able to detect a strike, especially with steelhead that will hit flies very lightly. Steelhead will eat small aquatic insects and eggs without moving an inch. The pickup will often be a quick breath in, almost like a sucking effect. If the angler doesn't feel this, the fish will spit the fly out and will probably become spooked.

Always have a finger on the line to feel every little nook and cranny. I use the pointer finger on the hand that holds the rod. If you're not used to this, after much practice, it will become second nature and will allow you to distinguish rocks from fish. Many times the hit will be a slight tap...tap...tap or even just the fact that your line has stopped drifting.

Detecting the pick-up immediately is imperative to insure a good hook set. With these longer rods, the hook set must be accelerated, to bury the hook and to beat the spit. Your hand should move from the position of being out and extended, to back behind your ear. A very slight whipping sound should be heard. The rod must come back into a "C" position, to account for the flexible rod.

Casting out 5 to 10 yards up-river from where you're standing, the weights should hit the bottom directly in front of you, or slightly upriver. This is ideal, as casting too far up river will result in many snags and hang-ups. During your key casts, you want the weight to graze the bottom of the river. This is very similar to the way I fish eggs, the only difference is the level of the rod tip. Fishing flies, the rod tip is pointed straight out, level with the water. The rod is practically pointing directly at the fly throughout the entire drift. The fact is that you need a direct line from your finger (on the line) to the end of your line, to feel those barely perceptible hits.

Move the rod down with the drift, but as the rod moves in a down river direction, gradually direct the point of the rod down closer to the water. At the end of the drift, the rod tip should be pointing down-river and about two feet from the river surface.

Fishing with flies with spin gear is not allowed on the Fly Stretches [of the Salmon River], however can be greatly utilized from the Rt. 52 Bridge and down. For those of you who have never tried it ... give it a chance and I'm confident that you'll make this technique part of your arsenal.

George Douglas has authored a number of quality books on Salmon and Steelhead fishing and the Salmon River in New York. His books include The Complete Guide to the Salmon River 2, Steelhead Archives, Beneath the Surface of the Salmon River, and Fishing Flies on the Salmon River. He can be reached by email at Streamside@home.com. His books are available online at FishUSA.com.

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