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Author: Nick Conklin

Two-handed Techniques for Fall Salmon, Steelhead

While swinging flies with two-handed rods the typical approach is a consistent, level swing through a long run. Repetitively sweeping the fly across the nose of a salmon or steelhead and pushing them farther back into the tail-out of the pool is usually the best chance to elicit an anger strike.

However, there are times that taking a more active approach, similar to that of stripping streamers, can bring success.

Never more is this the case when fishing around the Great Lakes, where steelhead, salmon and brown trout can tend to hunker down in shorter runs. Due to smaller, deeper pools, which drop off and rise in more dramatic distances than the broader rivers in the West, anglers in the Great Lakes, need to be a bit more creative with their swung-fly approach.

Here are a few methods worth a try next time a traditional slow-and-steady swing doesn’t garner attention, (or you have already worked through the run with a traditional cast, step, and swing pattern).

The Pop

After a downstream cast, subtly pop, (or jig down) the tip of a rod, forcing the fly to sink and pop up again.

This can mimic an injured or disoriented baitfish. This can also help keep the fly from snagging on downed trees common during this time of your on GL rivers.

This technique can be fished at varying depths, (more reason to buy extra sink-tips!) and also various sections of the run. Similar to a nymphing approach, start close and shallow, and work it farther out as you make your way down river. This can also be productive in slower portions of the river where you can’t rely upon the current to make the fly move.

The Drop In

As mentioned above, early fall storms can cause some log jams great for holding big fish. This can make it tricky to work a fly through in a straight-line swing.

Make an upstream cast, when the fly lands, throw an upstream mend to give the fly time to sink under the jam. Due to the different current speeds in the water column, you can really play around with different fly speeds and may be the key to hooking a fish in a ‘logged’ up run. This will take some practice in more congested water, but likely will be something most anglers avoid because they are scared to lose flies.

Rip and Runs

When all else fails when working through a run, I like to walk down to the end of the pool, line-up almost 180 degrees from the head of it and make a cast straight ahead. Traditionalists may cry blasphemy, but making a straight-line cast forward and stripping a fly right through the middle of the run can present a view of the fly fish rarely see. This also presents a very active, aggressive fly that would be hard for a fish not to attack. Imagine sitting in your living room and someone drags a 20-ounce rib-eye right through the middle of it? Would be hard to not have a reaction. right?

Ideally best to save this approach till the end of your time in the pool, and “run,” on to the next one as if nothing strikes from the above techniques, there are probably no interested players. Time to move on to the next section of the river.

Looking for a quality two-handed rod? One of the top two-handers on the market is the Axiom II Switch, TFO’s award-winning stick that has drawn rave reviews from Deneki.

Thoughts on our two-handed techniques for fall steelhead and salmon? Do you have other suggestions? Let us known on one of our social media pages.

How to Pick the Right Line for Your Two-handed Rod

Confused by the multitude of two-handed/spey lines on the market?

Don’t know what line you need for your TFO rod?

We totally get it.

Well, as manufacturing processes continue to advance, and the divide between line designers and rod designers grows, it is becoming more and more difficult to find the right two-handed line for your rod.

When trying to find the right line for your two-hander, a few things have to be taken into consideration. (You didn’t think it would be that simple did you?)

Before getting too deep into lines, heads and grains, it is important to mention the physical make up of spey lines and which lines are appropriate for your fishing situation.

Skagit Heads

Some of the most popular lines used on Spey rods today are Skagit style heads. Skagit heads tend to be thicker, with a short often times indiscernible front taper. They offer more water resistance to get a better load on the two-handed fly rod with the sustained anchor style of Skagit casting. These lines are shorter, typically two-and-a-half times the length of the rod, (and now with the increasingly popular micro-skagit heads). They are ideal for throwing heavy flies, heavy sink-tips and fishing deep, fast moving water.

Scandinavian (Scandi) Lines

Scandi Lines, on the other hand, are designed to throw smaller flies. They are designed for “airborne anchor” casts – casts such as the single spey and snake roll. Scandi lines are thinner in diameter, (particularly at the front end) and have a long front taper that allows the energy to unroll easily while presenting a fly, ideal for smaller flies, often times light tapered Polyleaders and tapered monofilament leaders.

Traditional, mid and or Long-Belly Spey Lines

Traditional, mid and long belly spey lines are often double or triple the length of Scandi lines. They are designed for long, delicate presentations on longer two-handed rods. Unlike Skagit heads, these lines typically, (but not always) have an integrated or connected running line. Again, think very small flies, at long distances.

Loading the Rod

With any style of fly rod, it is important to feel the rod load, (bend).

Meaning, the amount of weight, (or grainage) of the fly line you need to really feel the rod load, so that you can effectively cast your fly. If you aren’t loading the rod correctly, the line won’t be able to unroll, which won’t allow the tip, leader and fly to unroll towards the target.

How to use a Grain Window

Trying to find the perfect line truly has to do with your casting style, (think speed). With all of the TFO two-handed rods, we print not only the “rod weight,” but more importantly a “grain window,” on the rod blank.

A grain window defines the engineered grain carrying capability of a fly rod blank under load from the line. Like a lure rating on a spinning or casting rod, we print the grain window on our two-handed fly rods to show how much weight will make the rod do what it was made to do.

For example, the 13’6, 8/9 Deer Creek Spey rod has a grain window of 550 to 800 grains. If you were fishing large water in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes Region or in British Columbia, an ideal line choice would be a Skagit head.

When choosing a Skagit head, it is often best to initially pick a line towards the high end of the grain window. The heavier the line, the easier it will be for the road to load and ideally more efficient use of motion and energy.

Skagit heads in the 600-700, with tips to 200 grains are ideal for this rod. A Rio Skagit in 600/675 grains, Airflo Skagit Compact/G2 and Rio IFlight Intermediate line in the 600/700 range. Others lines to consider would be the Nextcast Zone and Coastal at 575 to 650 grains.

Scandi lines in the lower end of the grain window, 550-625. Examples include RIO Scandi, Ballistic Express (8/9), Airflo Rage Compact and Loop GDC (#9).

Traditional, (mid-to-long belly) lines in the 8/9 to 9/10 designation. Line recommendations include the Ballistic Vector (8/9), Nextcast WA 45/55 (8/9), Airlfo Ultra Spey (8/9) and Cortland SH Spey (9).

For more information on the various two-handed lines to match our TFO rods, please see our recommendations here.