Often, when you think of swinging for steelhead you think of heavy sink tips, big leeches, and intruder style patterns. When the water is right, that is definitely the deal, but during the times when you’re faced with low river levels many of the people will give up on the swing and grab the indicators and egg patterns and take to the rivers looking for seams to dead drift flies. This can be a very productive way to go, however, you will probably run into a lot of other like minded people in these areas. If you’re into getting away from the crowds and finding far less pressured and more aggressive fish, then grab your double hander and get out there. Fish will tend to hold up tight to structure when the rivers drop so look for log jams, boulders, long deep runs, and tailouts. These are the areas I like to swing smaller, sparse patterns on shorter switch rods. Swinging flies allows you to cover a lot of water searching for aggressive fish, some of which have never seen a fly before and the takes can be incredibly savage. It also lets you get away from people and enjoy the beauty and solitude of the river. Some of the patterns I tie for these situations are…
A small and sparse, leechy spey fly that has been productive for myself and a few guide buddies during gin clear water conditions. Here’s a bright winter fish on the black/blue, “Dream Leech,” fresh off the tide, one of three that day!
This is a small egg stealing smolt streamer that has proven itself to always have a space in the box. Tied in either this olive color or a black version, both have fished very well for steelhead and cutthroat. Fished on the strip or twitched while being swung, both ways have worked great! Here’s a beautiful sea-run cutthroat swung up on a black version of the S.T.!
Below is a low water steelie on the Alaskan peninsula that just couldn’t stand that little olive devil swimming around under that log jam! It came out of that pool and chased this fly for 20 feet before she hammered it! Sight fishing is fun!
The String Thing is a small string leech pattern that has been very productive for steelheaad and kings in low water. I mainly tie them in olive/copper, black/blue, black/purple and sometimes orange/white. When fished deep, this fly is almost hard to beat and sometimes gets it done when nothing else is getting any love. Here’s a nice fall run Klamath fish that just couldn’t resist the olive/copper leech…
Here’s a bright chrome Chinook that took the Black/Blue version in clear water on a cloudy fall morning. Swung along a cut-bank and under a downed tree, this fish grabbed on three back to back casts before I stuck him. It was crazy! I’m so glad the line finally came tight and the fun began!
These three patterns, in a variety of colors, will set you up perfectly for low, clear water. The rod and reel I would use for fishing these conditions would be a Redington Dually switch in weights from 4-7, depending on the situation. I personally pair my rod with a Cheeky Ambush for the smaller rods, and Mojo for the larger. For salmon fishing I use the 11’3” 7 wt switch with a Mojo, armed with a 525 Rio Skagit max short. I can throw a heavy tip and get down where those fish like to hang out. Swinging for kings is all about keeping your fly deep for as long as possible. Get yourself a set of medium and heavy I-MOW tips and you’ll be in business. Rio Skagit max short heads from 225-525 grains are going handle the heavy tips quite nicely. The Rio switch chucker line is a good choice for the lighter tip and light rods. Here’s the 11’3” dually 7 weight and the Cheeky Mojo, Rio switch chucker line doing work on this solid coastal buck. This fish took the Black/Blue “Dream Leech” in a slow cut-bank run with a bunch of nuggets on the bottom.
Even low water situations still produce on the swing, it’s just a matter of scaling it down and most importantly, having confidence. So the next time the rivers are low and clear, get out there and get after it. Just enjoy what you’re doing, the fish are merely a bonus that make up for the time spent not catching them!
By Mike Ball
If your interested in getting any of these patterns email me at email@example.com. Thanks and tight lines!