Skagit heads combined with modern Spey rods have changed our approach to sink-tip fishing not just for steelhead but also for Atlantic salmon; we now have the ability to fish heavier sink-tips and larger flies than ever before.
Skagit heads combined with modern Spey rods have changed our approach to sink-tip fishing not just for steelhead but also for Atlantic salmon; we now have the ability to fish heavier sink-tips and larger flies than ever before.
Skagit heads combined with modern Spey rods have changed our approach to sink-tip fishing not just for steelhead but also for Atlantic salmon; we now have the ability to fish heavier sink-tips and larger flies than ever before. However, with this change has come some confusion. With the wide range of Skagit heads and sink-tip materials available on the market today it’s difficult to know what’s right for your type of fishing and moreover what’s right for your Spey rod! In this series of articles we hope to throw some light on the subject.
The first article of the series is an introduction to sink-tips, the second is all about is matching Sink-Tip grain weight to your Head weight, this the third explains how to determine the correct Sink-Tip length for your casting style and Rod, the fourth explains how best to cast heavy sink tips and the final article pulls it all together and shows you how to lift your game up to the next level.
While sink-tip weight is extremely important, sink-tip length cannot be overlooked. Back in the early days of Skagit there was there was a formula that said your total length of your Skagit head and sink-tip should be about 3 to 3 ½ times your rod length. Say what??? Not only did that formula confuse the hell out of the majority of anglers, it also goes against the point of casting Skagit heads. In an effort to create a formula to standardise the length of Skagit heads, it made things far more complicated than they already were.
Sink-tip length is all about personal preference and casting style. A taller fly fisherman will cast differently to a shorter angler; the taller guy will naturally have a longer casting stroke, which means he can cope with longer sink-tips e.g 12ft to 15ft. Whereas the shorter caster will probably prefer shorter sink-tips say in for example 10ft to 12ft range. Casting style will also effect the length of your sink-tips; a relaxed long stroke style is good for longer tips, and a compact aggressive style is better for shorter tips. And of course, finally a longer 15ft rod will potentially handle much longer tips than a 12ft rod.
This all sounds pretty complicated but to sum it up in our experience most anglers who fish with a 12ft to 14ft rod seem to get on best of all with a 12ft’ish sink-tip. A 12ft’ish sink-tip will cover most of the fishing situations found in European salmon rivers.
However if you would rather determine your ideal sink-tip length yourself and not just take our word for it then we suggest starting with your heaviest sink-tip cut approximately to the length of your rod. Then go to your local river or lake, tie on a length of leader and the largest fly you intend to use for salmon (or steelhead) and cast a few times. If it doesn’t feel good, then cut back the sink-tip (by say increments of 10cm) and keep repeating until you have found the ideal length for your stroke. According to Tim Rajeff (and he explained the process to us) it is absolutely critical to start with your heaviest sink-tip.
Once you’ve found your preferred tip length of your heaviest sink-tip, you can cut down your other tips to match the length and grain weight. Let’s start using some hard values to help explain this a bit better. For example let’s say your heaviest sink-tip for your ECHO 13’0 #7 TR Spey rod is 12ft of T-14, at fourteen grains per foot it weighs approx. 170 grains. Your slower sinking tips should weigh no more than 170grains and the length should be no longer than that of your heaviest sink-tip. If we cut 12ft of T7 we end up with a sink-tip which weighs approx. 94grains and you now have two sink-tips with different sink-rates for the same length.
Ultimately, your goal is to end up with a set of sink-tips that match your casting stroke and Skagit head of choice; if you decide 12ft is your preferred length, ideally all of your sink-tips should be around 12ft. By having a consistent length, your casting stroke won’t have to change every time you change your sink-tip. It is of course possible to cast using different lengths of sink-tips, however your stroke length will have to change as your sink-tip length changes. For good Spey casters this is a no brainer but for beginner and intermediate anglers having a consistent casting stroke takes the pain out of casting which results in a massive boost of self-confidence.
Hi, my name is Jari and I’m a Saltaholic 🙂 … would be one way of introducing myself to you guys. I am just totally hooked on chasing all types of predator fish in the salt and tying flies for those feisty fish. Stuart of Baltic Flyfisher is one of the people I can blame for this obsession, because it was his help on planning my first Los Roques trip that got this mess started. Since I got the saltwater bite I have been all over the world fishing for these fast and furious fish and have caught over 20 different saltwater species on the fly. So please bear with me for this short article as I let some steam out of my system…
It’s all in the chase as my American friend says. Whether your stalking a bonefish on a shallow and clear pancake flat, making a long cast to the big lead fish of a group of Striped Bass on a sandy beach or chasing a pod of tuna (any kind of tuna) in the open waters there’s nothing like the feeling that the chase gives you.
The perfect scenario is quite simple, but yet so exciting and sometimes very difficult to come by. First you visually find the fish, then make your cast, choose your presentation and finally if it all comes together, hook the fish.
Chasing these fish is something very different then we get here in Northern Europe. Sea trout fishing and Pike fishing is as close as we can get to it and still that’s pretty far off.
The chase differs from species to species and from venue to venue, but you always get that special feeling from it. I won’t go in to detail about every spot and species on this article as I have saved something for later articles. Just imagine speeding your boat close to a pod of false albacore that’s whoozing (they really make a loud WhooZZ sound when they are eating baitfish) through a ball of Bay anchovy and having one second to cast your fly in to them or they are gone or seeing a school of BIG 40-44” Bass cruising along a shallow beach and you have to get your fly perfectly thrown to the lead fish from as far away from the boat as you can or they will scatter. You really feel like a hunter when you’re doing this type of fishing.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other ways to catch salt water species with a fly then just sight fishing. It’s just that aspect of this sport that was the thing that sealed the deal for my obsession.
Tools to do it
There is a lot of literature around about gear for saltwater fly fishing. I’ll just give you my preferences about this subject. Remember that I’m not a full time pro at this sport so don’t take this too seriously. These are just my preferences.
The most important thing about your saltwater rod is that you are familiar with it and have tested it with the lines you’re using for that particular fishing. I think the biggest mistake you can make with your saltwater gear is to go on a trip with brand new gear that you haven’t tested. Even the best rods take some getting used to. Don’t lose precious fishing time getting use to your gear.
I like a rod that has a fast-medium/fast action. A nice blend of power and feel is the thing I aim for. In my opinion a line that matches your fishing is more important than your rod, but a good, high quality saltwater rod will make you fishing even better.
To me small things matter on a saltwater rod. A grip that fits my hand (and is long enough), a reel seat that really holds the reel in place and a fighting butt that’s big enough and soft enough to keep me bruise free. A very good example of a real, well thought through saltwater rod is the Echo E3s. It’s the real deal. I know that this doesn’t sound like a big thing, but when you’re lifting a big fish from 100’ of water little things turn into big things. Fighting a fish with a well thought rod will shorten the fighting time and save you energy to fight another one! In all the other types of fishing that I’ve done these things have not mattered a lot. In the salt it does, especially with the bigger fish.
There are a few things that are paramount for me on a saltwater reel.
Reliability is very important. You obviously don’t want anything to brake with these brutes.
I also like a reel that has a short drag adjustment area. It helps you really put the heat on fast when the fish is running and ease up quickly when the fish is close to the boat. It also makes stripping your line out after a fought fish a lot easier because you can just quickly turn the drag off and strip the line out and when you’re ready to cast just crank it up and you’re good to go and all set to fight another one.
A good saltwater reel should give in my opinion at least 6lb of drag power – preferable 8-10lb. I would not be comfy fishing in the salt with a reel that has a lighter drag, but that’s just me. I am a strong believer that drag power shortens the fight.
A fly line that matches your fishing scenario, rod and casting style is in my opinion the most important piece of equipment you need on your saltwater trip. A floating, intermediate and a fast sinking sink tip line are a good trio of lines to go with on just about any destination. Test your lines before your trip and make sure that they are a good match for you. It’s the most important tool you’ll have in a successful trip to salty waters.
Weight and taper of the line makes all the difference.
For shallow water fishing I like a line that has a decent amount of back taper so that I can use a long line if necessary. The front taper doesn’t have to be super long and whimpy in my opinion – it’s not like your casting #14 Black gnats at these fish and it can be pretty windy out there. For example I much more prefer the Tarpon taper of the Airflo tropical lines over the Bonefish taper, even for super spooky fish like bonefish. Just adjust your leader accordingly to your fly and the rest is just up to your casting. With a line that has a long and fine front taper you’re kind of stuck with just one thing and you won’t be able to “power” stuff out there if the weather suddenly gets ruff, right? Of course there may be some super clear and calm days when a finer line could give you some extra edge on the fish, but in my experience that’s very rare. A floating line is pretty much the one and only line for really shallow water, but an intermediate tip is also doable.
Sight casting for fish in deeper water is also best done with a line like described above. I just like to change to an intermediate in this situation. The intermediates cut through wind better and they stay under the swell nicer than a floater. Even though lines like these don’t have to be super heavy, but you do need enough weight to quickly launch your fly to its target. So if given the choice of either going a bit too light or a bit too heavy, I would always go on the heavy side. The reason for that is that even on the calmest situations in the salt, time is something that you don’t have much to spare. A slightly heavy line is always quicker to cast then a light one.
For those unfortunate days that the fish stay down you need a sinker. A heavy, super-fast sinking head with an intermediate running line is my choice. You can fish with them reasonably well in 40-50’ of water with a weighted fly, but I do think that 30-40’ is more doable. I have used a lot of 400gr and 500gr heads on 10 and 12 weights and a 600gr for my 14 weight. These sinking lines are also good for fishing channels and other spots with current in them and if the weather gets really tough there’s no line like a 400gr fast sinking head to cut through it. These lines also double as a “blitz line” which I’m going to explain in the next paragraph.
A “blitz line” is something that I call my short and heavy lines that I use for chasing fish that are pushing bait fish on top and then “blitzing” on them. If you have never heard of that term I suggest you to go on Youtube and watch a few videos on the subject. It’s one of the most amazing things you can witness when fishing in the salt. These things are usually very short lived moments and for that reason you need something that you can throw in a nano second. For that you need a short and heavy line. Not something that’s going to look pretty, so forget about tight, sexy loops and long, long cast. That’s not the purpose of these lines. You just need to be as quick as possible with your cast. A line with a head of 25-30’ and short tapers is the best for this job. It also needs to be seriously overweight if compared to the AFTM standard. So think of having a short, blunt and heavy fly line and you’re in the right direction. Usually the surest way to go on these lines is to go with a sinker and as explained earlier on they are also handy when you need to get down. There are however some occasions when an intermediate or even a floater will get a bite better than a sinker. Sometimes the fish are just so focused on the bait that’s on the surface that a fly presented with a sinker will be refused. An intermediate or especially a floater is also quicker to re-cast if you don’t hit your target. These lines are also very good at throwing big flies. So when you need to take out your 10” Mack patterns or similar beasts, this is the line for the job.
Flies, terminal tackle and other accessories
There are many different fly patterns that catch these predators. I’m writing a separate article of my favorite patterns so I won’t go to detail about them now. I can however say that I am a believer of the “match the hatch” way when it comes to flies. Something that’s similar to what the fish are on is usually the ticket – especially when it comes to size and shape of the fly. It’s also a good idea to have some flies with something extra on them. Like a dash of pink or extra flash to make it stand out from the “crowd”. All in all be prepared and do your homework on the destination you’re going to. There are always local specialties that can be very valuable on your trip, even though a white and olive fly is in some weird way never the wrong color to go with… Remember, don’t use cheap hooks! Gamakatsu hooks have been the most reliable ones for me.
The other thing that is not worth saving on is your leader material. I prefer to use high quality mono whenever it’s possible and have not seen any affect in using it over fluorocarbon even on super spooky fish. The reason I don’t prefer fluoro is that I can’t make consistent knots on it. Thankfully that’s only a problem with the thinner stuff – thinner than 0.45mm. So I do use a lot of the thicker stuff in fluoro, but I am inclined to use mono even in the thicker diameters when possible.
A good set of pliers is also a handy thing to have and a hook sharpener is a must if you want to keep your hooks sharp and ready. A pair of gloves is also something I recommend. Golf gloves are good and so are the thin, cut proof gloves you can get from a hard ware store. I mainly use those as I’m so used to them from work. The gloves are great to protect your hands (I actually use a glove only in my rod hand) from line burn and other abrasions. The ability to control your line whilst fighting a fish and casting is very important.
A good pair of polarized sunglasses is also a must. Sure, they are not exactly fishing gear, but even more important than the most expensive rod you have if you want to make the most out of your trip. There are many preferences on lens color, but there are two colors that I prefer the most – an amber lens for shallow water and a blue on amber/yellow lens for deeper water. Oakley and Costa Del Mar are in my opinion the best you can get. They really make life on the water much easier. When you see the fish clearly, there’s a much bigger chance of catching it. Also in the category of non-fishing stuff… Remember to drink during your day out to stay focused. I love beer… 🙂
A word or two about casting in the salt
You don’t have to be a certified fly casting instructor to catch fish in the salt, but it has been the only venue where casting skills really make a difference whether your catching fish or not. Versatility is the key to success, not ultimate distance.
The fish can literally be anywhere and the ability to cast with your backhand is the most important skill you can learn for salt water fishing. Second most important thing is to learn how to cast in to the wind and learn how to cope with different wind directions. The third thing is line management and presentation. My good friend and a real veteran of this sport Gil Berke once told me that the surest way to tell if someone is a freshwater fisherman is to watch how he releases the fly line after a cast. Shooting high and letting go of the fly line after your haul is ok at a trout pond but when fishing for fast moving fish on the salt that is less then desirable. Why? If you shoot high and let go of the line there will be a lot of slack on the line, which means that it will take time to get some movement on the fly. Most fish are enticed with those first ten strips of the line so it’s very important to have direct contact to the fly right from the first strip. So aiming only as high as you need to and keeping control of the line through the cast is mucho importante. I personally make a ring out of my thumb and index finger after the haul and let the line run through it during the cast to keep control. You might lose a few feet of distance this way, but gain a whole lot in fishability. This also helps in accuracy as you can feel the line going out.
Whichever method you adopt for versatility, remember to practice your cast before going on a trip. In my opinion there’s nothing stupider than going on a hard earned trip to learn how to cast. Hook up with a good instructor (I’ve heard Silja is pretty good 😉 ) or ask a friend with more experience to help you out with the basics. Strong basics in fly casting develop into versatility. Also remember, that the fish give no style points. So even though it’s important that you can cope with different situations and cast your line with some level of certainty, remember, it’s not how you get your line out that catches the fish. It’s how you get it back in that get’s the bite…
Making dreams a reality
I work in a factory for a living. Not the most media sexy way to make a living, but working hard and doing a lot of overtime and nightshifts makes saltwater fly fishing a reality. So you don’t have to be a millionaire to fish for saltwater species. Do your research and homework and don’t spend your money on gear that’s not a necessity. Low-mid price stuff is very good nowadays and Echo products have been a number one choice for me for years.
Thankfully there are many choices out there regarding destinations that don’t break the bank. Sure a week on a high end lodge on the Seychelles would be nice, but that would mean that I would have to skip at least three years of fishing to save up the money, so I leave that stuff for the rich and famous. There’s a lot of good fishing out there for the middle classes also! For me the next big thing is to catch a big tarpon and see what all the fuss is about them…
If you guys need any info on the topic of fishing salty waters on a budget, I’m your man! 🙂
In her last article Silja gave a few tips for casting pike flies, however in this short article I want to discuss how you can lift your game and start chucking chicken size flies.
I’m often asked if this or that rod can throw big flies. The thing is, it’s really about choosing the right line for the fly size, rods are just tools to move the line around!
So we want to throw half a chicken (not literally, but a big fly with lots of material, and sometimes some oversized dumbbell tungsten eyes and stuff) and want to make it as much of a pleasure as possible, and less of a pain. Now normally I would start talking about casting mechanics, offering a course and stuff, but no! Lets look at the tackle part. A really excellent caster can throw half a chicken on your average 5 weight rod and line, but that takes some really good skills, and is definitely not a pleasure to do all day. If that skilled caster is going to throw big flies all day, he/she will choose the right line for the job. Big flies are best thrown using a heavy line. And short lines are easier to move around than a long line. So short and heavy.
The twohanded people have long known that, but we also want to use a soft enough rod that fighting your average 5 lbs pike isn’t too much of a killer. Twohanded people have got that one sorted out as well;-)
Enter Skagit, soft rods for medium fish, but heavy duty lines to throw big bulky flies.
Well those twohanded lines are too heavy for my singlehander I can hear people cry. Nope, they come down in sizes that are easily matched to a singlehander. Your average 8 weight singlehander would have a grain window as a recommendation from 260-330 (17 to 21 grams) for normal scandi type shootingheads, but will comfortably cast even more!
OK, but Skagit is all about sustained anchor casting and you shouldn’t try to overhead cast them without a helmet and exstra life insurance I now hear. Ah, but we’re not going to go that heavy, it still has to be a pleasure and not a lot of pain to cast it. ECHO Skagit switch lines and ECHO skagit compact lines are very short, and even though they throw big flies, like the rubber chicken in the clip above, a little more length and less chuck and duck mentality is required. Enter the ECHO Rage compact! Originally a crossover between scandi and skagit (scandit!), it performs very well on a singlehander throwing huge flies 8)… and for the really huge ones, size up, turn it around 😎 😎 and shorten the leader
chicken chucking pike hunting!
This is the fourth and final of my articles on fly fishing for Salty-Pike, in the first I gave an overview of the gear we use, the second presented a brief insight into tactics, the third was all about the flies I use and this one tries to give you some tips on casting pike flies. Enjoy it.
You don’t have to cast far to catch Pike but as with most types of fishing it certainly helps – the more water you cover the more fish see your fly. I always begin by making a few short casts immediately in front and to the side of me before gradually lengthening the cast to cover greater range. As mentioned in my second article of this series Pike often lie in very shallow water so take it easy and don’t splash in without fishing the shallow water first
Casting large pike flies can be tricky, especially in the wind. Increasing line speed helps, and a good way to do this is to double-haul but this needs time and practice.
Try not to fight the wind, use it to your advantage; shoot high in a tail wind or turn round and “beach cast” (release on back cast) if the wind is blowing into your casting arm.
I would advise newcomers to book casting lessons from a certified instructor (of course I would wouldn’t I 😀 ). Casting is not about muscle and strength its all about technique. No matter how hard you try you will not ‘force’ big flies out into the water. A few lessons from a professional will teach you the basic techniques and help you jump the curve. Learn good habits from the outset, it can take years of hard work to re-program “bad” muscle memory!
But before you all rush off and book casting lessons with me 😀 here are a few tips to help you get along:
Just because your casting feels crappy doesn’t mean that it is crap – casting big flies is everything but elegant at the best of times.
See you on the water.
Skagit heads combined with modern Spey rods have changed our approach to sink-tip fishing not just for steelhead but also for Atlantic salmon; we now have the ability to fish heavier sink-tips and larger flies than ever before. However, with this change has come some confusion. With the wide range of Skagit heads and sink-tip materials available it’s difficult to know what’s right for your type of fishing and moreover what’s right for your Spey rod? In this series of articles we hope to throw some light on the subject.
The first article in this series introduced Sink Tips or CCT’s (Custom Cut Tips), this the second is about Sink-Tip grain weight, the third tells you how to set up the correct Sink-Tip length and the fourth pulls it all together and shows you how to lift your game up to the next level.
Sink-tip Grain Weight
Before we start discussing how you match sink-tips to your Spey rod, we need to understand a little about sink-tip grain weights and density. The weight of sink-tips (and Skagit heads) is measured in grains (!!). One grain equals 0.065grams but before you get out your smart-phone and start calculating, the industry has simplified things; T14 weighs 14grains per foot, T10 weighs 10 grains per foot and so on. So for example, a 10ft AirFlo T-14 sink-tip (AirFlo call them CCT’s or Custom Cut Tips) would weigh 140 grains (14 grains x 10 feet = 140 grains). AirFlo sink-tips are available in 10ft and 18ft lengths, with colour coded loops on one end for ease of use and weight/density recognition
CCT’s are impregnated with Tungsten and sink like a brick.
I know it may seem strange for those of us used to metric based systems, but getting our head around grain weight is important for two reasons:
1. Sink-rate: with AirFlo CCT’s the higher the number on the package, the faster it sinks. For AirFlo CCT’s the weights/densities/sink rates are:
To help you get a feeling for the sink rate of the CCT’s an AirFlo Extra-Super-Fast-Sinking Polyleader has a sink rate of approximately 6.5ips and a “type 7” head/line approximately 7ips.
2. Head Weight: Head weight! What the +~ß% has head weight got to do with my sink tip? In the world of Skagit, head weight has everything to do with sink-tip weight; you need mass to move mass. Heavy sink tips require heavy Skagit heads to cast them … ideally by about a 2:1 ratio. For example, couple a 390 grain ECHO Skagit Compact with any sink-tip up to 145 grains; match a 450 grain ECHO Skagit Compact head with any sink tip up to 225 grains; a 540 grain Compact Skagit head with any tip up to 270 grains; the 660 head with tips up to 330 grains; and the 810 Skagit Compact for long heavy anchor chains. Get the idea?
In the next article of this series we will be discussing sink-tip lengths.