Confessions of a Swinger

The swing game for steelhead was admittedly always a bit intimidating for me to jump into with both feet, as I have become very accustomed to staring at an indicator roll down the current of the river. I was unsure of what line, head, tip combo to use in particular conditions and flows. The flies were somewhat foreign to me, and resembled something closer to a mangled Muppet than the small nymphs and eggs I typically tie. And then there is the casting – I hadn’t a clue where to even begin without doing major harm to myself or those around me as I tried to sling around a giant heavy bug.

I literally laid awake in bed nights before trips not envisioning perfect D-loops or slinging 80 feet of line – I was awake due to the nervousness of burying a 1/0 hook into the back of my head or the head of an innocent bystander (disclaimer: if you know the crew I role with – none of them are really ever innocent, they are all guilty of something all the
time).

Alas with the encouragement and prodding of others I decided to commit to the swing this fall and throw all caution to the wind. Here’s 10 of the biggest things I learned:
1. As it was explained to me by an experienced swing guy – Swinging is really nothing more than getting a giant fly out across the current and hanging on. Surely it can’t be that simple is it?
2. He was for the most part right – By hook or by crook, it doesn’t have to have the style and grace that you see proficient spey casters perform with, just get the damn bug out there and hang on.
3. Line choice is simple – Figure out what the grain window is for the rod that you are casting, skagit heads make life simpler when managing the heavy T material heads (t-14, t-11, t-8, etc)
4. Keep it simple - I’ve literally used 2 different tips connected to my skagit head all year (a poly leader for lower/smaller flows and 10′ of T-14 for larger more significant flows)
5. You cannot go wrong when you tie swing bugs – You can hide tying in-adequateness just by adding a bit more flash or schlappen or marabou.
6. Casting is not as nearly as intimidating as a beginner may think – YouTube is a beautiful resource. Biggest thing that I’ve learned is to slow down and let the rod do the work. Spey casting probably comes easier to women, unlike men they don’t try and channel their primal caveman like instinct and feel the need to over power everything. Just calm the hell down and be smooth.
7. The feeling that is experienced can only be described as 100% pure elation – And that does not even come close to being accurate. I’m convinced that the English language does not contain words that adequately describe the feeling when a fish decides to latch on.
8. Steelhead are the dumbest smart creatures that God has placed on this earth – ¬†There are days they have you figured out, and then there are days that you can’t do anything wrong. Stick with it – truly I don’t believe it has anything to do with you and has more to due with their nature.
9. Stick with it – You are going to have fishless days. I promise you that you will have fishless days. But there is still a ton of work to be done on the fishless days – work on casting, work on reading water, drinking bourbon, experimenting with how casting at varying degrees effects the speed of the swing, etc.
10. Don’t play the whole tug, grab, pluck, pull numbers game ¬†- I still don’t understand why people add this column to their “numbers” like some sort of stat. You want to compare it to a sports stat? I compare it to hitting a baseball to the warning track and it being caught by the center fielder. Who gives a rip if you hit it to the warning track? It doesn’t count for anything in my book.

There you have it – 10 of the top lessons that I’ve learned in my first full ditched effort in the swing game.

Tight Lines,

Bob Barber

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