Many anglers who have had the opportunity to fish Atlantic salmon or steelhead will speak well about the effectiveness of swinging flies for these challenging adversaries. Swinging flies is a technique that entices vicious strikes from aggressive fish looking for high protein meals. When fish are taken on the swing, it’s a rush that fly anglers crave and covet. It’s believed that this is where the cliché phrase “the tug is the drug” was born – anglers swinging flies for fish. And though, it’s common amongst anglers fishing for chrome, it’s also a very effective technique for other species that inhabit moving water – including brook trout.
Catching brook trout on the swing can be an interesting venture. With respect to the behavior of brookies, they are often an all-or-not species, meaning they will readily hit a fly, or you have to work like the dickens to entice a bite. Depending on your fishing style, and how you like to approach brook trout, often swinging for them can save your day.
Upon approaching a pool; personally, I like to take a few minutes and observe what’s happening. Always looking for signals and signs. Bugs, terrestrials, flashing of fish and the like. The mecca for many anglers, is taking big brook trout on dry fly such as caddis, mayflies, grasshoppers, and even mice; however, sometimes the fish aren’t looking up and won’t flinch on these dry fly offerings.
That’s when I’ll switch to the swing. With a little bit of equipment tweaking you can be rigged and ready to target brook trout on the swing. Assuming you are fishing floating weight forward fly lines you can either add an intermediate sink tip extension or simply add some shot to your leader to present your fly in the strike zone of the fish. Conversely, you can swing a wet fly on the surface of the water using a riffle hitch, which allows the fly to skate across the surface.
When you begin swinging a pool or a run, don’t negate the water right at the end of your rod tip. Often, brook trout will nose up to the drop-off of the pool in an attempt to ambush prey drifting with the current. As the offering comes over the edge of the pool they will often attack. Note here that you might want to increase your weight when fishing close quarters to ensure your offering falls and sinks adequately and quickly over the edge of the pool.
When fishing the swing, it pays to look at it as a grid. You want to make sure your fly swings through every inch of the pool. It’s methodic and can often be quite Zen. Once you’ve swung the water closest to you and the drop, literally pull a couple of inches out off your reel and swing it a couple of times, add a few inches and do it again – repeat until the entire pool has been covered. The reason for adding just a few inches at a time is this: If you add as much as 6 inches or a foot to your swing, you risk literally passing the fly over the back of a fish that may not be as aggressive as you’d like. By adding a couple of inches at a time, you ensure you’re covering all the water and offering the fly right to the strike zone of the fish. A semi-negative brook trout is much more likely to strike a fly an inch away from its nose than one that is a foot or more in front or behind.
So what about flies? Good question – in reality you can swing most fly patterns such as clousers and other minnow patterns, wooly buggers, bunny leeches, muddler minnows, and even some terrestrials including mice and frogs. Cast your line 45 degrees to the flow and on a tight line, let the fly swing across the current until it is exactly below you. Don’t be afraid to let the fly hang in that end position for a bit (hang it in the dangle) and get ready for battle. It’s really that simple.
Swinging flies for brook trout is one of the more exciting ways to entice a brook trout bite. It’s fun to experiment as well with different patterns, depths and undulations. Get out there – go swing.