Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Comeback

By Tom Larimer

We’ve all been in the situation where a steelhead grabs our fly but doesn’t fully commit to eating it.  The aggressiveness of the grab can range from a hard pull to a soft tick.  Standing on the high banks of the Deschutes, I’ve watched steelhead eat surface and near surface flies many times.  It’s amazing how a steelhead can grab a fly, then violently twist and turn then drop the fly without the angler ever feeling more than a tick or a slight pluck.  Here are a few things to consider when you find a player.
Outside of the grab, you may also see a boil if you are fishing on or near the surface.   This is the telltale sign a fish just rushed your fly and kicked away at the last moment.  The grab and/or boil might come seconds after your fly lands or on the “hang down” after your fly completes its swing.  All of these movements towards the fly should key you into how aggressive the fish is.  If a fish gives you a hard pull and a good boil early in the swing, you can assume he’s pretty amped up and is an aggressive player.  Conversely, if you get a soft pluck at the end of your swing, chances are that fish is a little less aggressive.

Once you’ve assessed how aggressive the fish is, it’s time to bring him back.  Your first thought should be to mark to exact spot you are standing.  Find a rock you can identify near your feet.  Next, remember “the rule of three”; never show a fish a fly more than three times, and always switch at least three times.  So, you’ve shown the fish the fly once on the initial presentation.  -Make another cast.  If he eats, great, if not, take one-step down river and give it to him again.  You’ve now made three casts with the same fly; it’s time to change.  Step back up to your original position and tie on a smaller, darker pattern.  One of my favorite comeback flies is my Brazilian.  When you tie the new fly on, don’t reel in your line!  You want to know exactly where that fish is and have the right amount of line to go right back at him.  On your first cast with the new fly, it sometimes helps to fish the fly a little faster, especially if the original grab was aggressive.  Make the fish chase the fly, give him a reason to attack it!  Be sure to watch the water where you think your fly is.  Many people miss the subtle boil a fish can make when they turn on a fly and miss it.  After your first cast step downstream one step, if the fish doesn’t eat, step again and cast.  Now he’s seen it three times.  You may raise the fish again during this sequence.  Don’t assume he didn’t come to the fly just because you didn’t feel or see a response.  Either way, if he didn’t commit to the fly step back up the original position and repeat with another fly, usually something a little brighter than the first “comeback” fly, but still smaller than the original fly.  Give the fish three more casts, three more steps.  Hopefully during this process the fish decides to climb on the fly and head for the moon.  If the fish keeps coming back, keep switching your fly. 

I once had a client raise a fish to a skater in a smooth glassy tail-out.  I was standing on a high bank well above the water and could see the rise perfectly.  We started switching flies and doing our three cast sequence.  Thirteen fly changes and nine more charges at the fly and we finally hooked the fish!  If you find a player, stick with him… It might be your one shot of the day.
If he hasn’t, comeback after three fly changes, you’re better off resuming your hunt for and active fish.  Sometimes if you mark the spot and come back after you have finished the run, you can get that fish to play ball.

As for bringing them back on sink-tips, it’s a little different game.  In most cases, if the fish is going to come back on a sub-surface fly, they usually do so the very next cast.  If you get another grab but no hook-up, try changing flies and using the same rule of three you used for floating lines.  However, it’s harder to bring back a sink-tip fish than it is a floating line fish.
Next time you get that soft pull and you know you just had a fish eat your fly but didn’t commit, switch flies and try “the rule of three”, you’ll be surprised how many fish will comeback.

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