Here’s a scenario that most two-handed anglers can relate to; You’ve made a nice cast to the opposite bank, kicked over a big mend, and stepped down the run setting up your swing to perfection. Your fly tracks through the gut of the run at that magical speed at what you’re confident in the perfect depth, only to find.. No one’s home.
You think to yourself, ‘there’s got to be one in there,’ and start to strip back to your shooting head for your next cast when Pow! A fish nails your fly with a half-hearted grab, and as quick as he came, he’s gone.
We’d venture to say that more fish are lost when hooked at the end of the swing (i.e. the hang down), than at any other point during the swing. Part of this is due to the fact that fish hooked directly downstream generally result in a poor fighting angle, making it difficult to find purchase in the corner of the fish’s mouth. Unfortunately, there’s little we can do to control that. After all, we can’t decide when a fish will take a fly. However, part of the reason also lies in the fact that it’s during the hang down when we least expect a fish to take in the first place!
Therefore, when swinging flies we always like to assume a fish has moved out of its holding lie to chase the fly. It’s not uncommon for a fish to track your fly while under a slow uniform swing, only to eat it once it does something out of the ordinary. That’s why we like to end each swing with a little something to impart some sort of action before making the next cast, and here are a few ways how.
- Strip with Intent. At the end of your swing, rather than stripping back to your shooting head as fast as possible, start retrieving your running line with three or four slow legitimate strips, such as you would when fishing a streamer. After a few strips, it’s probably safe to say there’s no one eyeing your fly and you can strip quickly back to your head for your next cast.
- Let it Sit. While it’s not imparting any action per se, letting your flight sit for a brief moment (we’re talking a few seconds here) during the hang down can sometimes cause your fly to ‘dance’ in funky hydraulics directly below you. Plus, waiting a moment on the hang down ensures your fly (not just your shooting head) has had a chance to swing all the way through – A common mistake when fishing sink tips.
- Pulse the Rod. As your swing straightens out below you, try pulsing the rod back and forth three or four times before stripping in for the next cast. Doing so causes the fly to swim quickly upstream and fall slowly back downstream, all the while remaining in the same few feet on each pulse. This can work well to entice a fish that may have followed your fly but lost interest. Plus, because you’re pulling in-line with the direction of your fly line, you’ll have instant feedback if a fish is toying with your fly on the hang down – which can be difficult to detect when not under tension.