Fly Fishing with Streamers for Steelhead

Want to Catch More Steelhead? Try Swinging (Spring and Fall)

Spring – My Favorite Time

Spring is the perfect time to get out on the water and fish for steelhead, and swinging flies is one of the most effective techniques to use. While fall tends to get all the hype for swinging, some of the best fishing for steelhead is actually in the spring.

Swinging Streamers for Steelhead
Swinging Streamers for Steelhead

Early Spring: Small Waters are the Key

The early spring, specifically March, is prime time for small waters. These smaller waters tend to warm up faster than larger river systems, which makes them a great place to find more aggressive fish that are willing to take a swung fly. Once the water temperatures hit 40 degrees and above, it’s game on and you should take advantage of the opportunity. These small waters continue to fish well into the month of April.

Larger Rivers in Spring: Timing is Everything

As we move into April, the larger rivers start to hit the 40-degree mark as well. The fish are active, but boat traffic can make swinging a fly more difficult due to a lack of space. Fishing these waters is often more effective during the later spring, specifically late April through early May, due to fewer people on the water.

While the numbers of fish have decreased, the water temperatures are on the rise and the fish that remain are looking for an easy meal. This late-season fishing can be excellent, with good shots at steelhead and some of the larger trout of the season.

Guide Pro Tip: Read about how to fly fish small streams for steelhead 👉 How to Fly Fish for Steelhead in Small Streams

The Right Equipment for Spring Swinging

When heading to the water, using switch rods or full two-handed rods will enhance your experience swinging flies. Switch rods in the 11-foot range or short two-handers work well for the smaller waters and most of our larger rivers.

The Skagit-style lines will work well for both types of water, just bring an assortment of tips to adjust to river conditions.

Experiment with Flies and Be Flexible: Different Rivers, Different Results

The flies you use can range from large and flashy to small and drab, it’s important to experiment and change it up until you find the magic fly.

lady gaga fly for steelhead
lady gaga fly for steelhead
pick yer pocket fly for steelhead
pick yer pocket fly for steelhead
guide intruder fly for steelhead
guide intruder fly for steelhead

Spring Swing Time: Take Advantage of the Longer Days and Warmer Weather.

The opportunities for swinging a fly to steelhead in the spring are excellent. The key is to remain flexible and take advantage of different rivers. Fishing the different types of water will make you a better angler and increase your odds of having a productive fishing day. With the days getting longer and warmer, now is the time to get out there and start swinging!

Fly Fishing Steelhead Flies
Checkout my article 👉 Fly Fishing Steelhead Flies

Fall – Great for Less Crowds

As we head into November, the rivers start to change and so do the fish. The salmon have finished their run and the eggs in the rivers are starting to decrease. This means that the steelhead will start to move into different areas and look for different types of food. But don’t worry, this also opens up a great opportunity for us to use one of the most exciting techniques for catching steelhead – swinging!

Favorite Fall Flies for Swinging: Large and Flashy

One surprising aspect of this technique is the type and size of flies that are used. The most popular flies tend to be quite large and flashy, such as leeches and sculpin/baitfish patterns. Classic patterns can work, but the most effective flies usually incorporate a generous amount of flash.

Any easy tie steelhead fly - bright and flashy
Any easy tie steelhead fly – bright and flashy

November is one of the Best Times for Swinging: Get Help from Guides and Fly Shops

If you’re interested in trying your hand at swinging for steelhead, November is the perfect time to give it a go. If you have any questions about techniques or rigging, don’t hesitate to call the fly shop. They have guides available for a first-hand experience using this technique, as well as switch rod schools where swinging will be covered in depth.

Presentation: The Key to Successful Swinging

Swinging is becoming more and more popular in the Great Lakes region for catching steelhead. It involves casting a fly across the current to the fish. You can use a single-handed rod, but using a switch or full spey rod makes it a lot easier.

If you’re using a single-handed rod, a multi-tip sink line is best for the different depths and currents in the river. With a switch or spey rod, the possibilities are endless. The two most popular setups are using Skagit or Scandinavian shooting heads. With these setups, you can add different amounts of sink tip to get the right depth. It’s an exciting technique to try!

Swinging is an exciting and effective technique for catching steelhead, but it’s important to understand the key principles of presentation. Once the cast is made, it’s crucial to mend the line in the first part of the swing in order to achieve the correct depth and speed. While the fly is swinging through the run, avoid mending the line as any additional mends will disrupt the natural movement of the fly.

The fly should be moving at a steady and moderate pace, not whipping around at lightning speed. In the early fall, it’s not necessary to dredge the bottom of the river as fish are more active and willing to move for the fly. However, as the water temperature cools below 40 degrees, getting the fly to the bottom becomes more important as the fish become more lethargic.

Strikes can come at any point during the swing, so be ready as they are often violent. A majority of the takes will come at the hang-down, when the fly is directly downstream at the end of the swing.

Streamer Casting Across Current to Structure
Streamer Casting Across Current to Structure

Ideal Spots for Swinging: Deep Water with a Moderate Current

Not all spots in the river are suitable for swinging. Look for water that is between 4 to 6 feet deep and has a moderate current. Runs with a sandy bottom are particularly effective, as food is scarce in sand and fish tend to be more opportunistic in these areas.

Another key area to target is those with bottoms congested with wood, as the fly can often be swung over the top of snags that bottom bouncing rigs can get hung up on.

Overcoming Misconceptions: Swinging is a Productive Method

One common misconception about swinging flies is that it is not a very productive method. While it’s true that nymphing can be more productive on most days, swinging can still be a highly effective technique.  It is not intended to target every fish in a run, but rather only the aggressive or “player” fish.

After making a swing, take a few steps down the river before recasting. If you feel a small tap or two during the swing, stay with that fish for several more casts before moving on. The key is to cover more water until you find an aggressive fish that tries to rip the rod right out of your hand. When you hook one of these acrobatic chrome fish, be prepared for a fight.

Fly Fishing for Steelhead
Fly Fishing for Steelhead

Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below

One More Cast to Find Chrome

Swinging is a thrilling and effective technique for catching steelhead, but proper presentation, fly selection, and location are crucial. The ideal spots are 4-6 feet deep with a moderate current and sandy or woody bottom. The best flies are large, flashy leeches and sculpin/baitfish patterns. Swinging targets only the aggressive fish, so cover more water and recast after feeling a small peck. November is the best time for swinging and guides and switch rod schools are available at the fly shop for help.

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

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