Angle of the Dangle (Adjusting for Tight Line Contact)

Going hard at them at 2:00-Matt Leon delivering in Hansel-Gretel Land.

Going hard at them at 2:00-Matt Leon delivering in Hansel-Gretel Land.

River and weather conditions were perfect and during the heat of your session a major surge of transitioning fresh runs raced by, fueling the juices and stoke. Yet after eyeing every colored/style fly in your box and presented in various depths they strangely move through without a touch? Why; poor casting and presentations, limited angling abilities, shitty flies, funky equipment, dark side of the moon, all the above or simply flat out unlucky? Nobody said steelheading would be easy.

Dave Lougee

Trinity River Veteran, Dave Lougee, obviously adjusting the angles correctly.

Denied, refused or skunked call it what you will. Adding a goose egg to the nest, when you thought conditions were perfect and you were on your game, can be a tough pill for anyone to swallow; especially Youngblood’s eager to score their first. It happens to everyone accepting the steelheading challenge. Anyone who says it hasn’t is lying through their teeth, if they are their teeth. To help ease any fishless pain, keep in mind, there are brief windows of opportunity on which you can capitalize— a very positive set of factors that induce steelhead to strike. And, feeding or not, it is the angler’s responsibility to fish carefully, thoroughly and totally believe in EVERY CAST. So anyone feel’n dejected stop licking your wounds and consider fishless sessions as a learning curve that helps advance you to future steelheading success.

What to do, how to keep success odds in your favor. Buy more flies of all sizes and colors, fly lines and tips to hopefully cast further and get down to magic never-never waters, purchase new waders-vest-other fly fishing paraphernalia for style points. It’s all good, but before running off and dropping some serious coin, anglers should try something as easy and simple as adjusting fly fishing angels. What? Yeah, it sounds too elementary yet adjusting the angle of the dangle, to compliment waters and broadcast varied fly appearances can, more often than not, result in sweet rewards. Here are a few simple adjustment tips that might save you from unnecessarily burning some bucks and ultimately help you score.

Down & Across & In Their Face

Undoubtedly the most popular traditional swing approach that effectively compliments a broad spectrum water compositions (riffles, glides, tailouts) throughout the entire NW. River flowing left to right, facing straight across the river registers 12:o’clock, anglers generally quarter casts down to the 1:o’clock position, incorporate appropriate mends, to compliment speed and depths desired; essentially a fourfold presentation, the drop, dead drift, lifting-swing and final (3: o’clock) hang down, that can be accepted at any time. Of course fly selection, water compositions, and current fish behavior (staging-transitioning) dictate point of acceptance. Hanging around a few years has taught me transitioning fish can be very sensitive, oftentimes the toughest. However I have experienced success by targeting specific waters that support a definite vortex (narrow slots and tailouts) and strong definition for fish passage as well as slightly modifying the cast angle down to the 2:o’clock position. Casting further downstream, incorporating a series of upstream mends, tightens the swing and helps to sustain the fly in primary waters; give’n em extended looks. While this approach has proved effective on transitioning fish, anglers may be haunted by the short grab; fish receptive, showing interest yet not feeling the iron because of fly position. To help alleviate any shortcomings, try dropping ythe rod tip, and or fish with a small amount of additional payout line, held under rod grip that is released when a fish takes; giving any nibblers some slack to turn and drive the iron home.

Greased Line

Landed steelhead

Iceland Atlantic Salmon guide, Arnar Jonagnarsson, Greased Lining his first Steelhead

A very popular and effective old Atlantic salmon down and across approach that also yields impressive steelheading success where the fly is presented broadside to fish. River flowing left to right, facing straight across the river registers 12:o’clock, anglers quarter their cast across to the 12:o’clock position, or (depending upon primary target waters and velocities) slightly upstream at the 11:o’clock position, allowing currents to accept the belly of the fly line to initiate the swing. The angler then follows through with a series of downstream mends to sustain the arc of the swing while maintaining a broadside fly presentation across primary waters. Seldom to never, there are any nibbles or short takes and there is no doubt when a fish accepts a Greased Line fly; each are firmly hooked in the maxillary. I first read about Greased Line fishing 1978. An article by Bill McMillan revealed how he scored a couple stubborn fish, snubbing previous fishing methods, in a tailout, which he later name “the Greased Line Pool,” fishing the Greased Line approach in his home waters, the Washougal River. However, it wasn’t until 1983 that I first saw this method in action. My good friend and TR veteran, the late Chuck Vongeldern, fished his “Miller’s Grey Body” attractor Greased Line style through the legendary “Graveyard” run. I marveled at Chucks’ powerful stroke and was intrigued at the angle of approach and how he managed to keep the fly presented broadside throughout the entire run by incorporating a continuous series of small downstream mends while leading the fly with his rod tip. Transfixed I witness a surging grab, his reel sounded. I scored a new and effective approach while Chuck cleaned up with a beautiful 6 lb. hatchery buck he had promised his wife for dinner. The Greased Line approach is much more than a simple alternative, it can be deadly when all else fails, and is also very effective when fished in sensitive staging waters with sink-tips and intermediate clear camo sinking lines; fish love to chew’em broadside. Two great reads, sure to broaden the Greased Line learning curve and every steelheader should not be without are: Greased Line Fishing by Jock Scott and Dry Line Steelhead by Bill McMillan. Unfortunately they both are out of print however pop up every now and then and are a royal catch for those watching for their emergence.

Dead Drift Wet Flies

Steelhead Flies

Effective dead-drifting flies and trailer trinkets: (Dinky trailers: Steelhead Jon-Cop. Jon-Kiddy-Robo Nymph-Micro-Stone–Primary Flies: Olive Breadcrust-Copper-tone Golden Stone-Blk. Rubberleg-Chappie-Steelhead Robo)

There are times steelhead are reluctant to accept flies on the swing, especially during the winter when water temperatures are cold, insect life is sparse, fish become lethargic and winter stocks are the primary targets. Without a doubt dead drifting flies is most effective and, by far, the most popular and preferred method used by indicator/straight line nymphers. However many have been taught or led to believe successfully dead drifting flies can only be achieved by using an indicator, therefore, have never tried. OK, I’m not going to begin splitting hairs, what technique is most effective and may or may not catch more; during the winter months everyone already knows the obvious. However effective dead drifting can be achieved with both floating and sinking lines and without the use of an indicator by carefully selecting waters, weighted flies/lines and adjusting the angle of your cast to compliment and fish targeted primary lays. River flowing left to right, facing straight across the river registers 12:o’clock, anglers generally quarter their casts upstream to the 10-11:o’clock position (deep or fast water lays the 10:o’clock angle is generally favored for greater depth—shallow or slower waters usually warrant the 11:o’clock angle) followed through with a series of upstream and or stack mends (paying out additional line) allowing the fly to sink to desired depth and compliment river velocities and drift speed. Dead drifted primary waters are generally the 12-1 and 2:o’clock positions, even though the dangle (3:o’clock) is open for the rare blind dog looking for meat. Fish have the option of accepting the drop of the fly and dead-drift so it is imperative to adjust your angle and quickly set up drifts so you are focused throughout primary take zones. Line management and control, is of major importance, to achieve preferred angle, drift speed and depth and most importantly detect the “pluck” or “rubber-band” hesitation soft takes. If your line is hinging, drifting too slow, or hanging on the bottom you have obviously used too much upstream angle or payout line and are out of contact; possibly also missing strikes. Keep in mind, steelhead are not suckers and although it is imperative to get the fly down when cold weather/water exists, dredging the bottom is seldom necessary. Cold water dead drifting for steelhead is not easy nor appeals to just anyone. And sure there are other methods that have proved to be more effective, however none more exciting or satisfying than feeling and setting hard on the pluck or hesitation of a fresh winter slab that flattens the throttle and rocks your world.

Next time you find yourself disconnected with steelheading success, try adjusting the angle of the dangle. It’s easy, cost effective and besides what have you got to lose? And for some reason if adjusting the angle of the dangle does not help you score, simply add it to the steelhead “Blame” list: weather, flows, barometric pressure, lighting change, bad attitude, cheap beer etc…Try something New and Enjoy the Opportunity—SOLID GRABS!!!

Grease Line

Mouthful of Muddler- sometimes you just got to show them something in a different way