One thing we really dig about swinging flies for species like king and chum salmon in our neck of the woods is we tend to learn pretty quickly what gear works and what gear just doesn’t quite cut it. Plenty of willing fish stacked up in ideal ‘swing’ water allows us to cut out enough variables to get an idea of what makes a difference between catching fish, and what just might be pure coincidence.
We think it makes for a great testing ground for spey gear, especially for those interested in chasing those ‘fish of a thousand casts’ (steelhead, atlantic salmon, and the like) where the hard truth remains; You might be doing everything perfect, they’re just not ‘on’ today.
That’s why confidence in your gear is important when swinging flies for anadramous fish and one piece of gear we grew plenty confident in this year was Airflo’s new Skagit F.I.S.T. head. We put it through the ringer during our king season and today we’re going to tell you what we thought about it.
Another skagit head? That’s right! But this one’s a little different than anything we’ve fished. Appropriately named, the F.I.S.T head is comprised of three integrated sections of differing densities; a floating, intermediate, and type 3 sink tip section (hence F.I.S.T.) designed to get down and stay down throughout the majority of the swing. When we first heard the mummers of the F.I.S.T. head we immediately thought about our king salmon fishery, and lets just say we weren’t disappointed in the least.
Until now, skagit heads have consisted mainly of two different flavors; full floating heads and full intermediate heads. Fully floating heads are believed by some to ‘hinge’ at the connection between the floating skagit head and heavy sink tip. That’s okay most of the time, but when swinging big, deep, uniform runs, some feel that this hinge can limit the control over your fly throughout the entirety of the swing, particularly when fishing deep.
On the other hand, the introduction of intermediate skagit heads allowed the head to cut just under the surface of the water, creating less of a belly in the sink tip, resulting in a more uniform (and slightly deeper) swing. However, because the entire head rides just under the surface of the water, some find it more difficult to manage (mending, casting, etc.) than a full floating head sitting high and dry on the surface.
Therefore, it was only a matter of time before someone combined the two to allow for a head that’s both easy to cast and control at the surface, while still digging deep over a long uniform swing. That’s exactly what the folks at Airflo were shooting for with the Skagit F.I.S.T., and we think they hit it on the head.
How It Casts
As you might expect, the first thing we noticed about the Skagit F.I.S.T. was how well it cast. When we first heard about the line, our initial thought was that an intermediate section coupled with a light sink tip was going to make a line that was very ‘sticky’ in the water.. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that that was far from the case. In fact, we found it far easier to dig out of the water than a full intermediate skagit head, and even felt that it had a little more ‘oomph’ on the forward cast than a fully floating head – most likely due to the little extra water tension provided by the intermediate and sink tip section.
At 20.5 – 23.5 feet (depending on the grain weight), the F.I.S.T. falls right in the middle between a Skagit Compact and Skagit Switch. We found it paired up great with the few rods we tried it on in the 12.5 – 13.5 foot range which we would consider the best all-around rod length for putting the heat on big fish.
Also, while we don’t run into much of an issue with back cast room on our river, with a slightly shorter head than the standard Skagit Compact, those who fish in tighter quarters will surely appreciate the shallower d-loop required to still punch out a powerful cast.
How It Fishes
We may never know exactly what goes on under the surface of the water, but what we can say is that the F.I.S.T. proved to fish exceptionally well. Case in point, on three separate occasions, your humble editor fished through three separate runs run with a full floating head. Following behind him was another angler fishing more or less the same rig, the main difference being the Skagit F.I.S.T. On all three occasions while yours truly managed only a few have hearted grabs, the following angler proceeded to hook up on quality fish time and time again, including the very fish pictured above. Did the F.I.S.T. have something to do with that? Maybe, maybe not. But what we do know is that it certainly didn’t hurt.
What we can say for sure is that the rear most floating section of the head did allow for much better control over long casts than a full intermediate head. Mending was a breeze over any fishable distance we encountered.
According to Airflo, the F.I.S.T. head was said to not only fish deeper but also provide a slower swing than standard floating heads due to a larger percentage of the line ‘cutting’ through the water. It makes total sense to us, and while we didn’t break out the stop watch to confirm, it did appear to deliver a slightly slower swing in comparison. One it comes to king salmon, slow and steady generally wins the race, and we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that had something to do with its effectiveness.
We think the Skagit F.I.S.T. is a great line for anyone looking to deliver a fly to the depths and keep it there. Will it replace your floating heads? We don’t think so, but if you’re targeting deep holding fish over medium-long runs, we don’t think it can beat. It’s the ultimate king salmon weaponry as far as we’re concerned, and we think you should give it a try.
The Skagit F.I.S.T. is available in eight sizes in 30 grain increments from 450 – 720 gains. It retails for $54.99 and can be found at your local fly shop, or by clicking right here.