Friday, October 16, 2009

Floating lines and classic flies in the Midwest?

Nah... That won't work.
Or... will it?
I have committed to fishing the floating line with classic flies this fall here in Wisconsin. As long as the water is low and the temps are above thirty five, I have confidence that the steelhead will rise to a fly. I would fish wakers and muddlers, but the low flows provide no current for waking a fly. However, I hit a chrome hen yesterday on a classic hairwing. Neat stuff!

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that I am wasting my time fishing classic flies in our rivers with a floating line. I agree that when the water is high and cold, big flashy patterns and sink-tips will out-fish the dry line in general, but so few if any practice McMillan's winter techniques here that real experiences are hard to come by. The floating line also minimizes flies hooked on rebar or cinder blocks, although the constant presence of leaves hooked on the fly can drive one to distraction.


  1. it most certainly works when water temps a 40+, especially on low gradient streams on the west side of the lake.

  2. anchFor years I used to fish a floating line with an intermediate polyleader in the fall. The poly leader was more for some bite when trying to speycast where there's little current than it was to increase the depth of the fly during the swing. I've gotten away from it more recently, but made up my mind a few weeks ago to get back to fishing that way whenever the conditions seems to be right. I've found that 40-42*F is about the minimum temperature for that to be a fairly consistent method.

  3. You go brother!
    Last winter, the heaviest tip I fished was a 10 foot super-fast poly leader. This year I'm gonna stay floating all winter just for grins. The fascinating thing last year was, I caught a ton of fish. Probably more than I have in recent years, although I don't really keep track. The thing was, I was fishing water that the skratchit boys simply couldn't, and I've a hunch I just got over a bunch of virgin fish.
    I just get a huge charge out of knowing that the fish had to make a real commitment to tag that fly...
    However, I freely admit that I'm still sticking with my big, flashy marabou jobbies for winter. One step at a time eh?

  4. I will only swing flies this way as long as I have a chance. The Skamania are surface oriented, and there is no reason to use sink-tips to dredge them out of runs that are four feet deep at the most.
    A drawback to the floating line is the sheer amount of leaves you hook. Very frustrating. However, the trade-off is that you have a much smaller chance of foul-hooking a salmon. Leaves are irritating, but can be taken off easy. Salmon not so much...

    "I just get a huge charge out of knowing that the fish had to make a real commitment to tag that fly..."

    YES!!! That is the essence. Whether it is a colorful marabou creation or a low-water classic, it matters not.

  5. Jim,
    Last year I hit a steelhead in 33 degree water with a Daves Bad Hair Day in black with an intermediate polyleader on a Skagit head. Carl (from Il) watched the fish rise and appear like a ghost and track the fly and eat it. 33 degrees. Admittedly the flow was low and water very clear. I could have kicked myself for not fishing a full floating line. Plus, the ease of casting an actual flyline instead of having to constantly futz with running line and anchor-tips is a joy. My fly is usually something with presence. Black bear wings or something or other. size 3 to 1/0 depending on needed depth. I also tied some gold demons on 2/0 super heavy-wire hooks for spring.


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