Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blue On Steel - A Swinging Fly For Spring Steelhead

I love to fish in a number of different styles.  That said, my top two favorites are the pure swing and dry fly casting for Atlantic Salmon.  The very next would be the two hand swing for steelhead.  

In many ways, steelhead angling is quite a bit harder than some other form of swinging flies.  Except for a few locations out west, we are having to throw large flies and getting them deep.  We must work hard in colder weather and understand the nature of the fish far more intimately.  Let's take some time and look at the features that make a steelhead swinging fly effective.  Here is the recipe for the fly pictured above.  More items like rubber legs and body hackles could be added but not necessary.

Hook-Gamakatsu Light Wire Stainless Long Shank 
Outer Tube-Eumer Large Chartreuse
Inner Tube-Eumer Small Blue
Butt-Chartreuse Short Eztaz
Butt Cover-Blue Charm Blue Arctic Fox wrapped 360
Body-Bill's Bodi-Braid Pearly Blue
Under Collar-Blue Eared Pheasant Long Dyed Black
Wing-Black Arctic Fox Layered With Blue Mirror Crinkle Flash
Collar-Spey Plume Kingfisher Blue
Eyes-Jungle Cock Nails
Head-Black 70 Denier Thread With 4 Coats Head Cement

If we start to analyze each ingredient I think a few things that should remain constant in many steelhead swinging flies will be understood.  Ed Ward's Intruder should also be looked at as a model.

The hook has a longer shank for a reason.  We need to get the hook as far back into the wing as possible and at the same time not create such a heavy back weight that the hook will bend down and  away from the wing when swimming.  Heavy gauge hooks are not desired in these flies and should be avoided.  Gamakatsu makes wonderful lighter wire hooks that are as strong as needed.  I have never broken or bent one.

The tube that I use offers a wide bulbous look from both top and bottom.  After all, the fish don't look at a fly like we do from the side.  They most likely will see it from the back and underneath    I have found that this wide look is by far more effective than building narrow when looking down no matter what the profile.  In order to do this you must have a wide platform.  There are two problems when using the standard way to build a tube.  Most of the time a larger size tube will be used to tie the fly and then a larger junction tube will be placed over the back to hold the hook.  My way is to use the large size tube to tie the fly and insert and glue in a shorter piece of the smaller diameter tubing leaving room in the back for the hook to slide into the larger tying tube.  I find this system is perfect and works very well because the lighter wire hooks are still held firmley..

The use of Eztaz and then the Fox over has the purpose of making sure the wing and collars keep a wide flow.  The larger the butt the larger the effect.  Again because the fishes view of the fly is from behind the Eztax stares them right in the face.  Steelhead love Extaz.

The body on these flies is almout not needed.  I use very sparkly braided or holographic materials so that if the body were to show it has some flash.  You can dub with a palmer style hackle if you like.  For this fly I used the braid and then a collar of Blue Eared Pheasant.  Any material put in as a hackle or under collar has the effect to lift the wing.  It will also have the effect of under flow to the wing as well as acting as the throat.  It will mix in later with the wing and outer collar and is an opening to introduce contrast.  Colors like chartreuse or blue are greatly enhanced by using black under or over.

For the wing I used long Arctic Fox in black.  Temple Dog, Finn Raccoon, Arctic Runner and Icelandic Sheep are some other good materials.   Getting really long hair fox is not that easy and when you see it with four inch hair buy it all.  The best way to get the look is to take a clump of hair and with your thumb and index finger push the top hairs longer and the bottom hairs of the clump shorter.  A simple sliding of the fingers.  You still have the length in the hairs on top and make the trim for the head when the shape is what you want.  First you trim, then place on the top of the tube and then spread out the hairs over the top side to side of the tube to form that wide body look.  As you build the wing you can put in the flash of your choice.  This flash works best if put in the second layer and can be seen from behind and below.

Spey Plumes make wonderful movement in the front of the fly.  Water will flow by the plumes and have the wing dancing.  This movement is one of the most important aspects to a steelhead fly.  The fish are very attracted to the action and is the reason I don't weight my flies.  I will put a baffle on the front at times for added movement but never a cone head.  I use my tips to gain depth and keep the action in the fly.

With this style we are able to keep the hook toward the back of the wing, the width of the body and have a tight hook placement.  Now just create a color group and you have a simple and complete fly for a two hand steelhead swing.


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