Fishing The Fly Really Deep;


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[ I wrote this just to answer one specific question I received. I realized that I had never openly described this method so I had a go at it. I know it may seem unbelievable but people actually ask me for advise at times. The rest of you are simply victims of these lengthy writings :cool:
Some questions have been raised regarding how one can attain significant depth when employing my rather unique approach to sinking flies. One specific question regarded fishing for King Salmon in the Columbia River in deep water. While you may not be fishing the Columbia River this spring, the technique I am about to describe will work for deep water conditions from Maine to Washington State. That's a pretty confident thing to say but I'll leave it to you.

If you are already experimenting with the ‘weighted leader system’ then you don’t need any reminder of the theory behind it. If you have never heard a word about it then I would offer these links for both written and video versions explaining the technique.

Text: Getting It Down
Text: Controlling The Submerged Fly
Video: The Streamer Video

It could be said that I’ve put some effort into sharing the way I fish. I would like to point out that although I do make and sell components which allow anglers to adapt this technique to both single hand and 2 hand rod fishing I am far from being a tackle manufacturer. The whole exercise has been simply to demonstrate a different approach to streamer – salmon and steelhead fly fishing than is conventionally accepted. It is worth mentioning that allowing for differences in head length and sink tip lengths between what I use and a typical Skagit outfit these same principles may be found to be true.

Now on to this matter of depth; I was contacted and a question posed regarding fishing in water approximately 12’ deep with a current speed of perhaps 6 mph.
This fishing condition may very well prove challenging even to those using spinning rod & reel with a heavy lure let alone the fly angler. However if you are game for it I’ll lay out how I approach deep conditions. As explained in the text versions I linked above there is a bit of trigonometry involved here. That may seem strange but when attempting to fish with a fly at a significant depth I see a definite relationship to when I had to solve problems of angular velocity back in school.

We sometimes take the situations we face when fishing at the visual values we are seeing and fail to account for the unseen and often ignored factors also at hand. When faced with depth while salmon or steelhead / trout fishing it helps if we can make a fairly accurate estimate of the depth we wish to reach with the fly. I will now break this into short paragraphs so that each specific point I’d like to make is contained as a single thought or topic.

Having some idea of the location of a King is always desirable over fishing blind so I’ll submit a scenario in which you have seen fish rolling or porpoise like breaches on the surface. I have been fortunate to have observed salmon behavior and so have deduced that often the fish will not be located directly below (straight down) where it showed on the surface. Most often they will roll and then submerge to swim slightly up-current from the spot where we witnessed them at the surface. This does not mean that a particular fish will not drop downstream from where it showed or be directly beneath where it showed either.

Something else to consider is that surface displays often occur in moving water so the splash quickly has drifted downstream from where we think we say the disturbance. I like to make quick landmark relations between where I see a surface display and some immobile thing on either shore for reference.

Why is the reference for location so important? I’m not the busiest guide in Alaska but have had the opportunity to fish with many people during which time I was essentially an observer offering my suggestions. One of the primary causes I’ve witnessed for failing to get action even when we knew there were fish present has been that the fly was passing below / behind the fish. If anything ws being seen during these situations by the fish that thing was the sink tip or fly line.

What I have been able to reason from this observation is that it can be quite difficult for an angler standing in a river to effectively estimate the distance and depth between their selves and a submerged target. Difficult but not impossible is a better way to put that. This is where the on sight thinking comes into the equation.

Your position related to your target is very important. Understanding the probable depth of your target is likewise important. The best way I know of to determine correct length of line cast in order to have that fly end its drift and swing upstream of your target is as follows. If you have any way to realize the distance down current where you think they are, make a cast straight down stream. Look at where your fly splashed down and compare that point to any landmark you may have indicating where you believe some fish are at.

Now shorten that length of line dangling below you by 6 feet. Your next move is not fancy but you may realize the value when put it into practice. With the rod tip low, just above the surface of the water, turn your upper body to face basically upstream and at the same time using one smooth but powerful movement throw / cast your line directly upstream.

Why did you shorten the line before casting upstream? Remember that the goal is to have the fly upstream of the submerged fish not hitting it in the side or passing behind the fish. You can allow a little more length into the fishing after you have efficiently worked the length you have in the beginning. Make sense?

When done correctly your line – tip and fly should be landing above your position and should be angled slightly toward mid-stream. At this point you want the whole works to dead drift downstream allowing the line to pass your position drag free and continue downstream toward your established target area.
You will find yourself instinctively following the drifting line with the rod tip because we want a drag free drift. Based on the distance outward toward the center of the river or toward shore you stop the rod tip and allow the line to begin to unfurl.

Regardless of the type tip used, short or long, both it and your fly will have reached their maximum depth during this drift. I used the term ‘unfurl’ above referring to what is happening underwater that you cannot see. The tip and fly will be drifting along in a disorganized fashion and tumbling through the current as close to the bottom is it can get.

Because you stopped the rod tip it has anchored that portion of your line from the moment you stopped following the lines drift. The line is now unfurling in a similar fashion to what we see in overhead casting when the rod is stopped.

I know that you are waiting for the word ‘swing’ and its coming but what we have is a very tight loop forming between the length of the fly lines body and the very tip. Because of this the swing will be a very tight button hook as the line grows tight against the current. Assuming that you picked the right position based on either visual knowledge of where there are some fish or a best guess your fly is at its deepest possible drift and should be above / upstream of the fish be it real or imagined.

This part I have witnessed many times while acting as a guide for others. When the line is pulled tight from your rod tip to the fly itself the fly has made a quick whip-like change of posture from a piece of colored matter drifting near the bottom to one where it flashed briefly sideways and then with the hooks eye pointed straight upstream toward the stationary rod tip.

Without you doing anything at all the next thing happening is that the fly begins an assent toward the surface. The speed of assent will be correlated to the speed of the current where you are fishing. When the line and fly have been dragged to the surface by the current it’s time to recast by again throwing your entire length of line back upstream.

To change the spot downstream where the button hook swing takes place you simply change the attitude of where the rod tip is stopped. Make sense? If you are using a 13 foot Spey rod you have the ability to stop the tip perpendicular to the current and in doing so the flip and rise of the fly will occur as much as 12 feet outward from where your feet are planted. The angle of the stationary rod tip is what determines where the flip and rise of the fly will occur. Technically this allows you to do the button hook and rise presentation in deep conditions over as wide as a 20 foot arc downstream from where you are standing.

I said that I have witnessed this flip and rise presentation while guiding. I fish this way myself and because of that I know it will work when the traditional mainstream cast and swing is producing zero in results. In clear water conditions with my AK. Assassin tubes tied to clients tippets I have walked them through the object of this method of presentation and then had them executing everything I have written here. I was able to gain high ground and with the aid of clear water – bright sunshine and bright flies I was able to observe the results on several occasions. There have been other success stories but water was colored and I could not watch the fly to fish interactions.
In essence what you are trying to do here is to find a needle in the proverbial haystack. The haystack being deep water, the needle is the fish you can’t see.

The presentation is an attempt to elicit a reaction from that deep fish that is comfortably holding at or near the bottom. Your goal is to effectively work each area below your position before moving down another couple feet or yards.

The presentation and the intent of this is for the fly to stop abruptly just upstream of the fish and then begin an assent. If you have a fish that is inclined to be active you may be able to break that fish from its holding spot and get it to pursue and grab hold of the fly. Like any other form of presentation of a streamer fly this will take patience, practice and a desire to learn a new style of presenting the fly. Once you feel that first solid grab followed by the weight on your rod you will understand that I don’t write these dissertations because I ‘m wondering if they will work. I write in an effort to share something with those willing to try something new and perhaps to learn.

If any or all of what you just read makes sense then I would encourage you to bookmark this online version or print it out in hard copy because I realize it’s a lot to try taking in at one sitting.

Now see if you can get deeper,



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Many thanks. The streamer vid is excellent.
Having seen it mentioned in another's post I'd already adopted your set up for the leader...but will now employ the immediate u/s mend and 'mothering' of the sink & swing.
Hitherto most salmon have been taken in fast , broken water where , I guess, the fly be it small or large was swimming hard. So the stream and line were doing the work & I was not really in control!:doh:
Thank you . I look forward to doing it differently this season.


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Sounds excellent, thanks.
Right in their faces and fluttering a bit there too.
A bit like trotting/controlling a floating devon.
Good to try.


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So today I can show how this method works.
In this clip I'm fishing from a fairly high bank and the pool I'm fishing is around 15ft deep maybe even deeper.

My set up here is a single handed rod 7# with 4ft 30lbs mono 5ft fast poly leader and 4ft tippet....and a small 15mm plastic tube.

You can't see how deep this fly is fishing in the clip but I could see from my viewpoint and it digs in really much it disappeared out of view when fishing the near side of the pool.

I love this set up on single handed rods but even more so on a switch fishes and casts so much better on the latter.

I also would have posted this in the returning fish thread but I'm damned if I can find it !

I'm pleased I had my net otherwise I'd never have got that fish out without walking back up the treacherous bank some 30 yards upstream.