Making turns and swinging flies for steelhead — a recollection of a holiday well spent.

Pinnacle: the most successful point; the culmination — highest level, peak, height, high point, top, capstone, apex, zenith, apogee — all phrases that I would use to describe how I felt after I FINALLY brought my first steelhead to hand swinging a fly on a two handed rod.


A beautifully Colored Buck

When I took my first swing it was an intuitive roll cast, just a casual flip towards a stump leaning over the water, a beautiful, slick, foam-line, seam trailing behind the place where the stump dove into the cold current. I swept the rod back up to my left shoulder and gave it another stiff flip again just in front of the stump. TUG! My line was swimming, fish-on, boom, second cast of the day, a COLORED up 4lb Buck. Granted, it’s NOT a Babine 40 pound freight train, I get that, but it IS success, none the less.

It was a crisp 20 degrees with out an ounce of breeze in the air. Northern Michigan was coated with a 17″ blanket of fresh snow, the first big dump of the year. I’d spent the last four days making turns on Crystal Mountain and teaching my seven year old how to make those turns just like his old man. We had an excellent christmas dinner, lamb roast at the Thislte Pub and Grille. We did a little snow shoeing as a family. But, the highlight of my trip at that point, was the color on this small buck that took my second flip of a two hander. A good start, but not the fight or the take I was expecting.

I was fishing with Steve Martinez of and I fished with Steve on Beaver Island this summer, a story covered by Jason Tucker on Midcurrent. Steve is one of the fishiest guys I know. I know some fishy people. I mean this in the best way possible, he puts you on the fish in the fishiest way possible.

Having never fished a two handed rod before I was little worried about my ability to present the fly in such a way that produces fish, but right there in the first 90 seconds, I had hooked up and landed my first steelie. I’d been chasing steelhead now for two years in Steelhead Alley and always come back empty. Two years sounds like a long time, but I hadn’t really put in THAT much time. The Alley is just far enough away to make it difficult for a day trip, which we do, but close enough that I’d been there plenty of times. I should have hooked up on one of those you’d think.

My most recent run up there can be found here — a good time, but was fishless for me. Dues paid I suppose.

Relieved by initial success on the Pere Marquette and grateful to just get the skunk off, I was worried that the rest of the day would be empty, and it was, for the most part.

We swung the fly through tons of likely looking water. We rowed through great looking holes but Steve assured me that fish didn’t hold there, and I believed him. I made cast after cast, twitch after twitch. Wiggle, wiggle wiggle, flip. flip, mend, drift, swing, wiggle, wiggle wiggle, hold, hold,hold, twitch.  Repeat.

We had an awesome lunch of grilled t-bones and risotto — seriously, in the drift boat grilling t-bones, that’s pretty awesome.

Then, while I was immersed in a moment of complete banality, running my mouth in the front of the boat about some bullshit and finishing a swing through a good looking dark seam, an eight pound hen came out of the depths like a rocket sled and totally CRUSHED my fly.

Absolute destruction. She wanted it badly.

The fight was great. She had plenty of good runs in her and couple good breaches of the surface but no huge jumps or any sight of my backing. It was quick, heart pounding and as good as anything I’ve ever had on the rod.

She was perfect.


A perfect Pere Marquette Steelhead Hen

We fished out a few more likely runs and I landed a few more incidental resident brown teee-routs, but no more steel.

But really, who needs another one on a day like that. She was my first, and will live in my memory forever.

The lore built into swinging flies for steelhead is is thick and replete with what, until that point, I thought was slight hyperbole. But now I know first hand, the lore of a swung fly take, is NOT bullshit. It’s worth every minute even if it takes two years and $1000 dollars of gas — Fuckin-A — IT’s WORTH IT.

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4 thoughts on “Making turns and swinging flies for steelhead — a recollection of a holiday well spent.

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