Spey Nuggets - Why to Fish a Lightweight Fly

October 31, 2016

Ok anglers, here we go.  The inaugural "Spey Nuggets" blog entry.  Soon to be followed by "Trout Nuggets".  We'll alternate every other installment and these will be short blurbs on how you can improve your angling game one small skill at a time.  Maybe we'll even do a "Trout Spey Nugget" from time to time and mix it up haha.  Since many anglers are in Spey mode right now we'll start here. 

There are lots of reasons to fish a lightweight fly in spey fishing, but coming from a "chuck 'n duck" single hand casting background where heavy fly = more fish it has taken me some time come around.  I guess I am stubborn!  It took a while though.  Like many of you, I learned the hard way through lots of trial and error.  The more I study the anglers of which I am fortunate enough to guide however... the more I learn.  But you must do just that. Study what works.  Don't nag, don't critique all the time. Just watch. Study.  You must have no emotional connection to the cast, presentation, or process. Just watch for what works. What's smooth, what's not. The last few years I have been doing some fishing on the Snake River below Hell's Canyon. Its big water.  Big big water.  On a stream this size you have no hopes of digging fish out of the buckets.  The buckets are 30' deep!  You have to catch the fish on the edges and sitting on suspended rocks.  The best way is using light flies and keep that fly above the rocks and swinging smooth.

Here is a shot of a great Snake River steelhead that I caught above a rock pile on a a fly about 6 inches under the surface. 

Today's nugget is fishing a lightweight fly in unfamiliar water.  I don't get a lot of days to fish the Snake/Grande Ronde so much of my fishing is like yours. In runs that I have never fished.  As mentioned, my job at its heart is primarily filled with observation.  I am watcher. Not by my biological nature, because I frankly have hard time sitting still.  I can't even sit through an entire Seahawks game.  I know right?  Anyway, as I guide and watch thousands upon thousands of swings and casts a few things stand out.  So when I get a chance to fish I get to put my study into practice. On the Snake, fishing a lightweight fly/floating line is not only productive but it keeps me efficient. I can fish any depth or speed, fast or slow, boulders or open space.

A paramount philosophy is that efficiency is the key.  It is the primary advantage of spey casting. Its not just distance, mending, or control. Its getting your fly in the zone again, again, and again.  Flawlessly and routinely presenting to the fish in a very organized and strategic fashion.  Fishing days are measured in minutes, not distance cast.  What this means is the angler has to keep his fly swinging and his feet moving!  In order to this, he can't be snagged on the bottom. Boom. That's it. End of article.  Ok, maybe there is a bit more but that is the #1 piece of advice that I can give neophyte spey fisherman.  Don't snag or have any break downs.  

What too often happens is an angler approaches a piece of water with a sink tip, and a lightly weighted fly. While this setup often works well in water that you are familiar with, its very inefficient in water you are not familiar with OR when you are developing your cast.  Sink tips and flies sinking flies will cause you to snag in all sorts of situations. This might be another topic altogether, so I'll focus primarily on the subject of flies.  Think about this.  If your fly is sitting below the "boulder horizon" it is hidden from the fish. Its like trying to spot a bird or a plane that is below the horizon vs. above it.  Its much easier to see.  While they won't always take the fly up top, at least they will see it.  

If I am fishing water that I am uncertain of the depth I will favor my slowest sinking flies, excluding dry flies typically unless its low light in a near ideal circumstance.  I really like Muddlers or traditional spey flies.  This allows the fly to slither over obstacles and stay up in the column and minimizes my snagging.  Naturally your sink tip has a lot to do with this, we'll talk "tips" in another article.  

Here are just a few considerations to make in regards to fly choice.
  • Light flies will slither over many boulders even if your leader makes contact with the rocks or bottom.
  • MANY Steelhead are caught on the "hang down" at the very end of the swing.  Count to 5 after your shooting head comes tight to be sure that you fished it all. A light fly will resist snagging.
  • Steelhead don't always sit on the bottom. Trout typically live in the bottom half of the water column but Steelhead will often sit suspended if they are travelling.  This is especially true in low light.
  • Easier to cast.  This means cleaner presentations.
  • Less snagging. I can't even begin to tell you how critical this is.
  • Silhouette in low light.  Flies are tough for fish to see unless they are above their heads in low light.  Higher in the column is better.
  • Fish the run twice.  Go through light, back through heavy.  You'll learn the depth, speed, and where the boulders are.  

A Few Lightweight Steelhead Flies

There are LOTS of flies out there, and we sell many more in the fly shop. You can always call us, let us know where you are headed and as a team we'll put together an assortment for you!  

Steelhead Muddler

Steelhead Caddis - Fished wet or dry. 

Foxee Dawg

GP Spey

  1. Awesome Joe,any word on how the yakima is fishing??? Thanks Max
  2. Its perfect, the flow is super steady. I'll post a "late fall" report in the next day or two with a ton of detail. I am posting pictures of the water conditions pretty much every day on our Facebook Page because I can do that right from my phone. The dry fly fishing is limited to the cloudy afternoons, other than that focus on nymph fishing the heads of the runs just below the riffle. Water temps are still high enough the fish haven't backed down into the deep tanks yet.
  3. Joe, So smaller flies as in #6/8 size? Thanks, John
  4. John, regarding Steelhead yes.
  5. Good question from above. So what size flies are considered light weight? Please reply. Tom