After seeing the reaction from those fish, the decision was made to avoid spinning tackle for the remainder of the day. The water was too small and too clear for what I had set up on my rod.
So what do you turn to when spinning tackle is too heavy? I believe the best tool is the fly rod.
We made our way up-stream, fishing a couple of promising holes with no luck, and then it happened. Barrett pitched his 1/32 oz, shell pink and white, jig into a small green slot, no larger than six feet wide by ten feet long. His indicator hit the water and immediately disappeared. The fight was on! By the time the fish was done with Barrett, it had taken him down-stream through three other fishing holes, through two log jams, jumping clear out of the water at least a half dozen times. This was undoubtedly the most epic steelhead battle I have ever seen! The end result was a nickel bright, native hen of about seven to eight pounds. We wanted a native Oregon steelhead fresh from the salt, and we got it, thanks to a fly rod and a jig.
Why Fly Fish?
Many people believe fly fishing for steelhead, especially for lazy winter fish, is a waste of time. In my opinion this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, I do agree that much of the time there are more effective tactics, however, when water is low and clear, or the drainage being fished is very small, the fly rod will out-fish all other applications. This is mainly due to the light presentation the fly rod offers and the control it provides within the confines of these smaller streams.
The steelhead jig is primarily designed to be dead drifted with the current, and suspended above the bottom, using a float or strike indicator. Along with being a light presentation, the fly rod allows you to present jigs in a different fashion than most anglers may be used to. Because of the floating line, the strike indicator can be removed and the jig can be swung across the current, covering a good portion of the hole. This technique can entice a grab when it seems like nothing else will—so we’ll get back to this later.
Equipment & Rigging
Of course, there are many different options when choosing a fly rod to fish jigs, but for our purposes, I’ll try to keep it simple. A nine to ten foot, 7 or 8 weight, moderate to fast action rod will do the trick for this application. The floating fly line should match the rod weight.
Off of your floating fly line you will need a leader approximately the length of your rod, tapering down to a tippet size of 8-15 lbs. Base your tippet size on clarity of the water, size of the fish, and how leader-shy they appear to be. Next, you attach a strike indicator six to nine feet above the end of your leader, depending on the depth of the water. The indicator needs to be just large enough to hold up the jig size of your choice. I do not recommend fishing jigs larger than 1/16 oz. on a fly rod, as they become very difficult to cast safely. After your set-up is complete, tie on your jig and you’re ready to fish.
Fly Fishing Jigs
Before you start fly fishing with jigs, it’s best to determine if, in fact, this style of fishing is appropriate for the water you’re approaching.
I like to fly fish jigs in small to moderate size drainage that is low, clear, and has well defined pocket water. Adjust the depth of your strike indicator to suspend the jig slightly above the bottom. Then, pitch your jig to the head of the pocket, mending the fly line above the indicator in the process. Allow the jig to drift freely with the current and watch your strike indicator for any signs of a grab. If the indicator goes down, be sure to set the hook at a down-stream angle. If you come tight to a fish, allow your line to clear and enjoy the ride.
To swing a jig on your fly rod, as described in the previous section, first remove the strike indicator from the leader, then stand at the head of the spot you wish to fish, casting your jig across the hole at a 45 degree angle down-stream. Allow the line to come tight and to swing slowly across the current. If you get a bite using this technique, wait until the fish starts to pull line, then set the hook at a down-stream angle.
This information and the techniques provided in this article, are sure to bring success in fly fishing with jigs. Although all fisheries are different and these specs may need slight adjustments, this concept has and will continue to take fish consistently in the described water conditions.
Store this technique under your fishing cap and look for an opportunity to give it a try.