EDITOR'S NOTE: To try to get a feel for what fly fishing is really like in Washington, more specifically, Seattle ’s Puget Sound area, we caught up with one of the area’s top guides, Ryan Smith, of Arch Anglers in Seattle (ArchAnglers.com), and asked him a few questions. This is Part 2 of our Q&A. Read the first part of our fly fishing in Washington, Seattle and the Puget Sound.
Q: How critical is the spey cast, and, for those who aren’t familiar with it, what are some tips to remember when executing the cast?
A: Spey, double-hand, Skagit and Scandi are all terms for casting these long rods. These rods range from small switch rods to big water spey rods. Lengths range from around eleven to over sixteen feet. While line weights now span four to twelve plus. The type of river and size of flies has demanded new fly lines and techniques.
We now instruct the spey cast in all situations. The river Spey in Scotland provides minimal wading and backcasting room, and broad runs that require a long cast. Thus, two-handed rods were developed over 150 years ago. It is virtually a roll cast with a change of direction. The line and rod create a huge D-shaped loop, before the power is applied with the bottom hand. We have adapted these rods to fit our need around the Northwest. New fly lines have been developed that are shorter than the classic "long belly" lines. These short heads are meant for turning over big flies and tight conditions to wade and cast. On the west side of the Cascade Mountains, often you will find yourself tight against a bank full of willows, alders or cottonwoods. Short heads mean that the D-loop you create is smaller, and the strokes you make are shorter.
When casting Skagit style heads. Keep your hands near the body and focus on a good rhythm. Each aspect of the casting stroke is important. Just like single-handed casting, each stroke is an acceleration. When using two hands the force is applied in opposite directions. The bottom hand is used for power and the top hand is used for your directing your loops and power.
Learn the double-handed cast with a floating line first. Sink tips are necessary in the winter to reach most fish, but learning to cast them is not easy. You will go through a progression when learning, and stopping the top hand on your forward stroke and proper loop formation are essential. Look for a local instructor to get your started. Also, don't hesitate to rent a casting video and practice on your own. Running your hands through the motions at home can create muscle memory and establish a rhythm.
We work with CF Burkheimer Fly Rods, who provides the finest in Northwest two-handed rods. These rods define custom made. Every blank is rolled by Kerry Burkheimer himself, or one of his hard working employees in Washougal, Washington (www.cfbflyrods.com).
Q: Seattle has a ton of shoreline. How nice is it to have 2,500 miles of coastline to retreat to when high water, poor conditions keep you off the streams?
A: Out our back door, we have the diverse fishery known as the Puget Sound. Beaches can range from huge sand flats, cobblestone or oyster beds. Even just an hour or two after work, you can wade the local Seattle beaches and expect to see some activity. Whales, porpoise, seals and sea lions are often "fishing" off the beach as well. It is an ever-changing environment lacks the crowds found on most rivers. You can truly get away for a day and find your own favorite beach.
If you have ever bone fished, you will appreciate our beach fishing. Only on rare occasions do we get to cast to visible cruising fish, but we often see activity that concentrates our efforts. Salmon smolt hugging the shoreline, or sand lance flashing over the beach can be good indicators. Often nothing at all is apparent, and fish are feeding quietly (at least from our perspective). Canvassing the shorelines in search of structure, current rips and drop-offs will increase chances of hooking up.
The sea-run cutthroat are unique to the West Coast, and the Puget Sound provides year-round fishing for this hearty species. After years of a kill fishery, the population was depressed, but in the mid-80s the state protected the cutthroat in saltwater. Now, anyone fishing the Puget Sound must use a barbless hook and release all cutthroat, bull trout, native steelhead and native salmon. The regulations are paramount for the recovery of our anadromous and resident species.
Q: Steelhead and salmon fishing is obviously big in the Northwest. What other species have become popular game fish in recent years? Good question, the previously mentioned coastal cutthroat are first on the list, but have been targeted for many years. With access to a boat, lingcod, saltwater bass, and other rockfish are fun on a fly. The Puget Sound has decent stocks of these fish, but many travel to Vancouver Island, San Juan islands, Sekui or Neah Bay. The grab from a lingcod is often voracious and they will take you back to their rocky home in a hurry.
A: As far as freshwater fish go. Eastern Washington is home to some of the best carp and bass fishing around. The Yakima river in particular is a wonderful smallmouth fishery. When the flows are stable, the river can hold some nice fish. Most fish the Yakima for rainbow and cutthroat trout, but the lower reaches are warmed by irrigation and top-water dams. These long stretches of river provide good surface and wet fly fishing for spunky smallmouth.