Better fly fishing

Sometimes when I think about what I have learned about catching steelhead on flies it occurs to me that everything I have ever heard or read about the subject is wrong.

That of course is neither true nor fair, the problem is the subject covers too much ground.

I mean if Heraclitus is right and you can’t even step in the same river twice, how can you expect to catch a steelhead in two different rivers in the same way?

Good fly-fishing is like fine cabinetry, strict attention to detail and unending reserves of patience combine to create a quiet and functional art form.  Only of course in fly-fishing the physical results are totally transitory, much the same way that underwater cabinetry would be.

In an attempt to occasionally offer some useful general fly fishing information on the blog I thought I might do a little piece on the key to making steelhead, and all fish, eat our hooks, that being presentation.  Then I realized that the key to presentation was mending, and that that really had to come first.

 This will be easy.

 Mending is sometimes described as throwing fly line upstream of your fly to create slack.  The problem is water is not so simple. It rarely moves in one direction at a time, more often mixing and rolling and spinning around its self as it rumbles down hill.

Mending is about learning to see and predict these mixed currents  and then doing something smart in response.   Like all fly fishing it is a mixture of seeing and feeling that comes mostly through experience, quitting your job, or better yet getting fired, is probably the quickest way to speed the process.

In the simplest terms, mending the line, and letting the river fish the fly

Mending is the constant “now” moment of fly-fishing.Interpreting every seam and mixed current, anticipating what is to come and working as many steps ahead as we can while watching the fly intently.

It is by nature done preemptively, the line must be mended before it begins to drag, best if possible to actually mend the line before it hits the water.  You want to mend as little as possible, but never too little.

I was a little tempted to start a conversation on presentation with casting, because that’s how you get the fly over there, but casting and mending are really two parts of the same thing. Its line control,in the air on the water, it makes no difference. Understanding what cast to make, where and when to make it, and how to mend it when it gets there,revolves around your understanding of the way that water moves and the behavior of the fish that live in it.

On tough days you have to just keep doing the right thing

In the process of coming to some understanding of the subject, I can think of no key moment when everything became clear.  For me its been more of a gently rising tide of understanding. At this point my objective revolves around having a goal for the fly, setting it in motion, and then doing everything in my power to stay out of its way.  In the simplest terms, mending the line, and letting the river fish the fly. 

October dry fly water on the Peninsula

Here is something that has helped me visualize and better understand line control.

When dry fly fishing for steelhead I tend to fish small flies.  I like a sparsely dressed grease liner as well as anything. It’s not a great floater and over the years I have spent countless hours playing a mental game as I swing it. I believe, despite all odds, that I can keep this fly on the surface as it swings through any type of water. Generally I run a long leader, 18ft. or more, so the fly traces surface currents independent of the line, I am constantly steering and changing pressure to keep the bug on top, and if it sinks, to re-float it without disturbing its natural progress.

The dry fly is great for this because you can both see and feel the effect of the current and your mends. In the end, every inch of every river is a little different,
and so requires a slightly different presentation. The pieces of the puzzle
seem to snap the loudest when a fish comes to a fly that was fished with a
specific intent, those
successes keep me fishing in the moment.

Jim Kerr

Raincoast Guides

Posted in Fly Fishing Classes and Workshops | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Better fly fishing

  1. Kory says:

    always enjoy reading your reports or should I say philospophical perspectives. I subscribe to your reports via rss and read them all year long fishihg the peninsula (and other areas) vicariously through you. I have been reading since the old site where you used to make those cryptic yet very telling posts and always look forward to hearing your highly entertaining and very insightful perspective. I have run into you on a few of my trips out your way and look forward to drowning some hackle with you some day. You have a way with words and it is always enjoyable reading your report. Thanks

  2. Jim Kerr says:

    Everyone take note!  Kory gets a A+, none of the rest of you (except for Lauren) are doing better than a B-

    Thanks Kory, on this end its hard to know if anyone is reading at all.  A little positive feedback goes a long way.

  3. Lee says:

    I’m checking in on the reg as well. My favorite reports are the ones about all the fish you guys slayed each and every day ASIDE from the one we were out there, but these informational learning posts are a close second.

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to spendning a good deal of time out there in 2010.



  4. Jim Kerr says:


  5. Lee says:

    HA. Touche.

    Never a dull moment out there actualy.

    Coming out 2nd week in Jan if there are still any fish around.


  6. Jim Kerr says:

    You guys have toughed out some very rough days.
    Lets plan dinner mid January.

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