Deeper isn’t always better, but with winter steelhead it’s probably a good idea.
Three Ways to Get to Depth
When steelhead fishing, especially for winter fish, it’s important to get your fly to the right depth. Now that might not be the bottom of the river, it just means the depth at which the fish are. Typically the colder the water temperature the more lethargic steelhead are so we need to get that fly closer to the fish. A steelhead can be in shallow water on the inside or tail out of a run, we don’t need to get super deep there, but if the fish is in faster water in the middle or deep structure we might need to find ways to get our fly to the proper depth.
Here are a few notes before we get this started.
-If your constantly snagging your fly through the run you’re probably to deep.
-If your not feeling the bottom that doesn’t mean your not deep enough, you could be perfect.
-Even when you are swinging deep you should only touch bottom every once in a while
Let’s start with the fly, this one makes a ton of sense. If you have a heavily weighted fly it’s going to get deeper than a non-weighted fly. Easy right? Well there is a little more to it then that. If the fly has a larger/thicker profile it will take longer to sink. If the fly is slim or dense it will sink faster, this helps it cut through the water column. So that means the heavier thinner fly will get down the quickest and the bulky light fly the slowest. Lets say the fish are in the inside seam hanging in the shallower water, I would use a lighter, unweighted fly so that it would swing all the way into the bank without snagging. Now if I was fishing a deep slot in a faster run I would want a heavy fly to get down quickly so the fly was in the zone almost immediately.
There are a lot of different kinds of sink tips out there and most of them kind of do the same thing, so instead of comparing all the different kinds and bands we’re going to keep it simple and talk about one of the more popular ones The MOW Tips or Tungsten series tips. These are made out of level tungsten material, usually labeled T-8, T-11, or T-14 where the T stands for the tungsten and the number stands for how many grains per foot. How these tips work is that the longer the length of sink tip the deeper you will get. Example, A 12.5 foot tip gets deeper then a 10 foot tip and the 7.5 foot tip gets even less. On average these tips sink at about a 30 degree angle so a 10 foot tip never really gets 10 feet deep, unless your fishing stagnant water and not moving. The recommended size T-Series line depends on the grain Skagit line you are throwing. Rio recommendations on this is, (T-8 475 grains or less) (T-11 475-575 grains) (T-14 575-675 grains) (T-18 675 grains or more) this is for best load on the line and ease of casting. This doesn’t mean that its a rule you can only throw T-8 on a 450 grain skagit, but its a good place to start.
The important thing to remember is the longer the piece of sink the deeper you will get.
This skill just takes a little bit of practice but it is definitely the most helpful. The mend can help you slow the fly down or give it some more free fall time to allow the fly to get deeper. The key is typically not to move the fly when mending. If the fly moves you’ve just brought it back up in the water column not down. The more across river we cast with a mend, instead of down stream angels, the deeper the fly will swing. This happens because the fly has a longer time to sink before it comes under tension. If you want to give the fly even more time to sink try taking a step down river after you make your mend, this will give it even more free fall time. The slower the swing the deeper the fly. Sometimes the swing is too slow, so we may mend down river or lead the fly to speed it up so we don’t snag on the bottom. This can be used when maybe the fly is a little too heavy or the sink tip is just a bit too long. Instead of changing your fly or sink tip out on every run that is different try changing your mend, it can help you get to the depth you need without switching everything.
The mend is a steelheaders best friend, the better you get at this the more fish you will bring to hand. Guaranteed