If you want to get more hits, you need to work on your swing. This truism is just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball. It is particularly critical for fishing streamers, although it can also work for nymphs.
The “swing” is that moment when the current begins to drag (swing) your fly back across the stream so that it suspends in the current directly downstream from you. At this point, you will begin to strip in your streamer (or pick up your nymph).
I have had a lot of trout hit my streamer or nymph as it swings across the current, so it pays to perfect the art of your swing. What initiates the swing is drag. Ordinarily, drag is the kiss of death. This is always true for dry fly fishing, and it’s true for nymph fishing – until you reach the end of the run.
Here are couple different approaches.
The Drift and Swing
Four years ago, I landed ten rainbows and a Dolly Varden — all fifteen to twenty inches—in Clear Creek, upstream a hundred yards or so from where it empties into Alaska’s Talkeetna River. I caught all but one on the swing.
My approach was to drift my streamer, a Dalai Lama pattern, down the run like a nymph. Then, when it reached the area where I knew the trout were waiting, I let the line go taut. This tightening of the line resulted in the current dragging the fly so it swung downriver from me. I quickly realized I needed to be ready for a strike as soon as the fly started to swing.
After I caught several trout, I decided to tie on a big attractor dry fly pattern. I had no action on the first two casts. But on the third, my fly got water-logged and disappeared beneath the surface. When the fly reached the end of the drift, I prepared to haul it in to dry it. But as soon as the submerged fly started to swing, an eighteen-inch rainbow attacked it.
I used this same technique whenever I fished nymphs in Montana’s Gallatin River south of Four Corners. I found a couple long runs, and invariably, I caught the most trout when my nymph reached the end of my drift and started to swing across the current. That’s not the norm for nymph fishing. But in certain situations, it works.
So be ready when your nymph reaches the end of the drift.
The Cast and Swing
The most common technique is to bypass the drift and simply cast downstream at a forty-five degree (or so) angle. Veteran angler Gary Borger likes this tactic in smaller streams where he can cast his fly as tight as possible to the other bank. It might take a strip or two to pull it into the current. But be ready when the swing begins! Trout on the opposite bank will chase it to keep it from escaping. If it makes it across the current and into the slower water along your bank, be ready for trout to dart out and grab it — even before you begin stripping it.
In a larger river, like the Missouri, I will even cast streamers straight ahead or slightly upriver. As soon as the fly hits the water, I will wait a couple seconds to allow it to sink. Then, I start stripping it. This results in a long, sustained swing.
Gary Borger also reminds fly fishers to give their streamers plenty of time to swing across the current. He even suggests letting the fly hang in the current for a few seconds before beginning the strip or picking it up to cast again.
Work on perfecting your swing so you can get more hits. Yes, it’s just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball.