If you want to fish for migratory species like salmon and steelhead with a fly rod, adding chuck-and-duck tactics to your tool bag can help you succeed when more traditional fly fishing methods fail.
In “Nymph Styles Explained,” we went over the basics of why chuck-and-duck works so well in high, dirty water. We also talked about the important distinctions that define chuck-and-duck nymphing monofilament running line is used instead of floating fly line; a heavy weight is added to the leader to cast the rig and get the flies deep quickly.
Now, to help you get up and running with this highly effective nymphing technique, let’s walk through how to set up a basic chuck-and-duck rig and which flies work best.
Setting Up the Basic Chuck-and-Duck Rig
Before you begin, make sure your reel is spooled with plenty of backing at least 200 yards. This extra dose of line serves two functions: it ensures you have enough line in case a big steelhead takes you for a run and it increases the retrieval rate of your line.
For your running line, there are many options available. Amnesia Memory Free Monofilament Line (Link to very competitively priced on Amazon), a low-memory monofilament, has long been the standard for chuck-and-duck. But if you want a line that feels more like a normal fly line, a shooting line such as Rio SlickShooter (Link to Amazon)might be a better option. The running line can be attached to the backing with several different knots, but an Albright knot is a safe choice.
Once you have your running line on the reel, it’s time to start building your chuck-and-duck leader. Unlike other fly fishing leaders, a chuck-and-duck leader is extremely simple, and since weight is used to cast the rig, a tapered leader isn’t needed. In fact, using a level leader helps the entire rig sink faster, which is the whole point of fishing chuck-and-duck.
Monofilament line in the 12 to 15-pound test range is used to form the butt section of the leader and should be anywhere from 10 to 12 feet long. Make sure to consult your local fishing regulations as some states put restrictions on the length of leader you can use when fishing for certain species. Tie the leader to the running line with a blood knot, triple surgeon’s knot, or your favorite line-to-line connection.
Now here’s where the chuck-and-duck setup really strays from traditional fly fishing…
Take a #10 snap swivel and slide it onto the butt section of the leader, followed by a small plastic bead. Then, tie on a #10 barrel swivel to the end of the butt section.
The snap swivel, which can slide freely up and down the butt section, is used to attach weight to the rig. Different varieties of weights can be used here, but the most common and effective are known as slinky weights. Slinky weights are flexible weights made of paracord filled with lead shot. You can buy pre-made slinky weights at most tackle shops or make your own. Either way, secure the slinky weight to the snap end of the snap swivel.? I found a pretty good deal on 1/2 ounce Slinky Weights from Amazon check the price here – >
Next comes the fly-end of the leader, what we’d call the tippet if we were setting up a more conventional fly rig. For the tippet section, you can use the same 12 to 15-pound test monofilament used for the butt section or use something slightly lighter.
The length of tippet used depends on whether you want to fish one fly or two. For a single-fly setup, tie a 4-foot length of tippet to the free end of the barrel swivel then tie on your fly. For two or more flies, tie on a 3-foot length of tippet to the barrel swivel then tie on a second 3-foot length of tippet using a blood knot, leaving a long tag end to which you’ll tie the first fly. Tie your second fly to the end of the tippet and you’re ready to go.
Fly Selection for Chuck-and-Duck Nymphing
Since you’ll be fishing on the bottom, nymph flies are the obvious choice for chuck-and-ducking. But which ones?
Of course, specific fly patterns will work best in certain rivers, but your selection will boil down to two primary offerings:
Dark nymphs and egg flies.
Good dark nymphs for chuck-and-duck include black stoneflies in size 8 or 10, small hex nymphs, and green caddis nymphs. These should be tied to the point end of your rig.
Egg flies are simple patterns that imitate fish eggs that get dislodged and drift downstream. All kinds of fish species love eating fish eggs, and steelhead and salmon are no exception even if the eggs they’re eating happen to be their own. Stick with egg flies in natural egg colors such as orange, peach, golden, and cream, and be sure to tie your egg flies to the upper tag on your rig.
How to Cast a Chuck-and-Duck Rig
With your chuck-and-duck rig tied up and ready to go, it’s time to lob that sucker into the river to turn up some fish. And when we say lob, we mean it forget everything you know about casting a fly rod and don’t even think about making a false cast.
Instead, start with your leader just outside the last guide of your rod tip. Pinching the line with the finger of your rod hand, strip off as much line as you’ll need for the cast. Then, slowly, carefully, bring your fly rod back behind you and launch it forward, letting go of the line as you do so. The weight of the rig will carry your line through the air and hopefully land in the water where you were aiming.
As soon as your flies and weight hit the water, they’ll quickly sink to the bottom. Raise your rod tip to remove any slack from your line and come tight to your flies. Ideally, you’ll feel your rig bouncing along the bottom. When you feel a nice big tug, set the hook!
At the end of your drift, reel in your line and make another cast. Work each run thoroughly, presenting your flies to every likely fish holding area. Be persistent, keep casting, and watch your head!
Learn More Fly Fishing Techniques in the Below Articles
If your fishing deep and want to try swinging streamer flies try using a sinking tip on your fly line. This Article explains how. How to Make a Sink Tip Leader for your Fly Line.
Learn all about NYMPH fly fishing in this article. Setting up a Traditional Nymphing Rig
Want to DOUBLE your chances of catching something? Try using a dropper off you dry fly learn how in this article. How to Tie a Dropper onto a Dry Fly