Fly Fishing Techniques
Just A Swinging
And Not Just For Steelhead
Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Premiere Issue August 2013
veryone that fly fish for steelhead as well as many pure trout stream anglers are probably familiar with the swinging method
of fishing. Although it doesn't relate in any manner whatsoever, every time I use the fishing method, I find myself humming my
friend John Anderson's classic country music hit "Just a Swinging".
I'll never forget the first time I swung a fly. Angie and I were fishing Yellowstone National Park in late September. Large brown
trout were moving out of Hebgen Lake up into the Madison River to spawn. Anglers were fishing every well known holding spot in
the Madison from the lake to its beginning at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon including Angie and I. We were catching a
few but not what we wanted or expected.
One day we ran into this couple from New York who showed us a picture of a large brown trout they had just released. When I
ask how he caught it, the gentleman told me he was swinging a soft hackle. I had heard of swinging a fly before but honestly had
never done it. So, I ask the dumb question but I tried to hide the fact I didn't know how by asking how he went about swinging the
fly in the small headwaters in the upper meadow section of the Madison. I didn't get very far with that. He just answered by saying
he used the standard method. So, we wondered off in a different direction and at the point I thought he wouldn't noticed me
watching him, I turned to watch him fish for a couple of minutes. I watched as he cast slightly up and across and let the rod swing
all the way around directly downstream of his position. I thought that is simple enough, so we headed about a mile downstream and
I tried it. I didn't catch a trout swinging the fly I was using and I soon gave it up and returned to my normal method of fishing.
The next morning, I went to one of the fly shops in West Yellowstone and purchased some soft hackle files similar to what the
man showed me the previous day. Those were the first soft hackle flies I ever purchased. Back near the same area of the Madison
around noon, I hooked my first ever trout on a soft hackle - just a swinging. I was humming John's song when the 18 inch brown
trout nailed the soft hackle fly. That was my first and only fish on a soft hackle fly or using the swinging method of fishing. Angie
ask me what the fish thought the fly was. I responded by saying "something they don't like in their territory". I still think that's the
right answer. At times, the pre-spawn trout seem to attack most anything that gets near them.
During the next year or two, I used the same method of fishing, but only when I was fishing for pre-spawn brown trout that were
moving upstream to spawn. Like many other trial and error methods of fishing, it seemed to work at times and other times seemed
to be a complete waist of time. Quite frankly, I never thought much of the method until I started fishing imitations of caddisfly pupae.
The fly is swung similar to the way the soft hackle fly was presented, except I allowed the fly to rise up to the surface in the current
at the end of the drift imitating the way real caddisfly pupae emerge. Before Angie and I developed our own fly patterns, I used
Gary LaFontaine caddisfly pupa imitations. I still use the same method of fishing some of the caddisfly species hatches. Not all
caddisflies hatch in that manner but many do. Other than that, I never used the swinging method of presenting a fly until I picked
up something from the guy we're featuring in this same issue of the Perfect Fly Fishing Journal - Chris Tobias.
I was shooting video for our "Stalking Appalachian Trout" program featuring Chris when it stated raining. After about an hour of
rain, the stream started rising and the water turned a little off color. I was ready to move to a different stream to look for clear water
when Chris mentioned he wanted to try something. He tied a different fly on the four weight rig he was using that turned out to be
some type of bugger and started swinging it. He cast slightly up and across and allowed the fly to drift down near the opposite side
of the stream near the bank. About the third or forth cast he hooked a huge wild brown trout that ended up getting off. It didn't
break his light tippet but managed to come to the surface and shake the fly off in full view of the both of us including the lens of my
TV camera. It wasn't long before he hooked and landed a couple of browns using the same method of fishing.
I've never mentioned this to Chris, but I learned something from him that day. I learned that swinging a fly isn't only good for
pre-spawn brown trout, it is good for catching trout on streamers anytime and especially, if there's a little color to the water. I've
since learned that it works just as well fishing streamers in low light situations such as early in the morning or near dark. It is an
easy and effective method of putting the streamer in the right places where trout get just a good enough view of the fly to think it is
something to eat (or get rid of in the pre-spawn case) but not a good enough view of it to determine it isn't.