Swing Fishing for Steelhead

February 27, 2017

Swing Fishing for Steelhead

Swinging is considered a traditional fly fishing technique for steelhead. Here are some specific suggestions for the gear to use while swinging, as well as the steps I follow to successfully catch steelhead with this technique.

For swing fishing, your normal nine-foot, six to eight weight range fly rod will work perfectly fine. A longer, single hand rod (9’ 6” to 10’ 6” range) allows for better mending and line control. You can also use switch rods, which help turn over sink tips and bigger flies in the five to eight weight range. If you’re fishing bigger water in Ohio or New York, full blown spey rods are the typical choice, in the 12-foot, six to eight weight range. Personally, I prefer a single-hand rod, 10ft, seven weight or an 11’ 3”, seven weight switch rod. I have found that these are the most versatile for swinging streamers.

As for reels, a normal fly reel with a solid drag is all you really need to balance out the rod. The drag is important since takes can be vicious when swinging. Of course, you want to use a larger reel on a longer rod. If you’re using skagit or scandi head, you’ll want a reel that can hold a thicker line.

When swinging for steelhead, a normal steelhead fly line will work. Using a shooting head set up, however, will turn sink tips over easier, allowing you to get to a predetermined depth. Using scandi or skagit heads can also help you achieve the same outcome. Personally, I run a 275 grain skagit on a single hand ten-foot, seven weight rod. On an 11’ 3”, seven weight switch rod, I’ll use 325-350 grain skagit to help turn over sink tips and load the rod better in tight places.

The flies used when swinging for steelhead are primarily baitfish patterns, leeches and zonkers. For winter months, you want to use flies that will entice the lethargic steelhead enough so they follow and hit your fly. Bright, gaudy flies are the best attractors in the colder months. Patterns from Kevin Feenstra and Greg Senyo are great for winter. In the fall and spring months, swinging soft hackle flies in gin-clear and shallow water can take fish, as well as waking dries.

How To Swing/Grease Line

Traditional swinging is primarily used in the winter, when steelhead are less likely to go after a fast moving fly. The following are the steps for the most traditional form of swing fishing.

  1. Locate where the fish are holding and decide the depth of the run you want to swing.
  2. Get above the fish and strip off enough line to get your fly to the fish.
  3. Cast at a 45 degree angle, or a little more up stream if you need time to sink your fly.
  4. Kick a mend in your line to give your fly time to sink.
  5. Once your fly starts to go past 45 degrees, it will come into tension. Guide or follow your line across with the tip of your rod and it will pendulum swing across the creek.
  6. Be ready for a thump or hit that could rip the rod right out of your hand.
  7. Take three or four steps down stream and repeat. Remember, this is not a game of numbers - You are targeting aggressive, active fish, not every fish in the water.

Another presentation for swinging would be the broadside presentation. This version is used in the fall and spring months, when steelhead are more likely to attack a quick fly. The only difference between the two presentations is the angle at which you cast your fly. For broadside, you want to cast at a 90 degree angle, as opposed to 45 degrees in traditional swinging. This causes the fly to travel faster through the swing.

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