We recently caught up with our longtime friend and Sage Ambassador Mike McCune and talked about winter steelhead in hopes of mining out some basic theories on the fish, the casts, and what makes two handed casting unique and magical. Below you will find some of the gems from this talk. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and hopefully you can hear Mike’s enthusiasm and infectious love of the sport come through in written word. Currently, Mike is spending time re-connecting with the rivers of his youth up in Northern California swinging a fly amongst the redwoods.
Delivered by Russell Miller
Man … its fishing. – In my mind fishing is a recreational activity and recreation, by definition to me anyway, should be fun and relaxing. It should not be hard work or hard work casting. The spey cast is relaxing and enjoyable in itself. When you are in a lazy piece of water swinging a fly a spey rods give you a time to look around and enjoy that cool bird on the shore or the family of otters that are crawdadding on the far bank. No one is adding up your score at the end of your day. Immerse yourself in the day and take the chance to participate in your environment. Don’t be a spray caster, be a spey caster.
A lot of it is a day to day gut feeling. – I like to cover as much water as I possibility can, fish it well and get on to the next. However there are those high confidence spots that just tend to hold fish and happen to be in very, very, very good fly water and I tend to spend a lot more time and slow way down for places like these. One of the great things about Steelhead is that although they have the status of a fish of a 1,000 casts, they frankly bite really, really well. It’s unbelievable how well they move to a swung fly and they are not as difficult to catch as we are lead to believe.
Be your fly. – I love steelhead 12 months out of the year, but I have always been enamored with the winter fish. I started going to Alaska primarily to finance my winter steelhead fishing. In regards to winter fish, I edit my water to good fly water, specifically good fly water that has structure. I gravitated towards fishing coast rivers that have lots of structure and ledge rock where you have to be able to steer your fly. You can’t steer your fly with 15ft and longer sink tips where you lose the fine touch control of your fly. The MOW tips give you fine tune control over your swing and allow you to really steer your fly through the run. You can pretty much do anything with a wallet of MOW tips and a Skagit head.
You can only fish a piece of water first once. – Make the most of your opportunities. When I head out to the river I like to have rods ready for what’s in front of me and I don’t mind having my boat look like a porcupine. I’ll have my 7136-4 ONE, 7126-4 ONE and 7116-4 ONE all lined up and ready. That way I can grab the rod that makes sense for the application at hand. I might have a rod in my boat that I might utilize for one specific piece of water, but it is a high percentage piece of water. Everything is dialed in with the appropriate fly, line, and tip, so you can just step in, stand here, and hold on. It’s a time management thing. Your hours are limited so you have to make the most of your opportunities.
Catching a fish on a tip cast is the coolest thing that exists in all of steelheading. – Fish that are up in the head are moving fish and very often those moving fish are parked in there sitting for a minute, two minutes, or ten minutes. Those fish are biters. Also, don’t give up on the tailout until you reach the break. If you know that the tailout has a depth of about 3ft and some boulders, Ha! You have a day saver there. I see too many people leave fish because they pull out of the run too early.
It’s better to be lucky than to be good. – I was extremely fortunate to start the 2 handed game before it was termed the “PNW revolution”, and as fate would have it we all gravitated towards one another because of our singular passion. We were so captivated and riveted that a lot of great ideas were spawned out of that passion. You know it wasn’t “hey let’s do this”, it was “let’s TRY this”. Perhaps it would be a step in the right direction, but maybe we need to take 3 steps to the right and try THIS and on and on and on. It was a long road to tow, but it was one of the most enjoyable journeys that anybody could have as an angler. Those days are still are some of the most memorable days of my life. It was heady. It was absolute magic.
There are new territories and new horizons to be explored with a two hander and while perhaps it’s not as close knit a group as it was, there are a lot of individuals trying to do the same thing in different parts of the country in new fisheries. There is still a lot of magic to be discovered out there. With the introduction of the new ONE Trout Spey rods there are new species to pursue and new rivers to explore.