Just a Swingin’

Swinging Flies for Trout

By Alysia & Elke Littleleaf, Littleleaf Guide Service


Our story

I’ve never attended fly fishing school or any kind of class period. I learned it all from my husband Elke Littleleaf, who learned fly fishing from books and spey casting from YouTube—entirely self-taught. Elke caught a steelhead on the first day he tried. The next day he taught his friend, who also caught his first steelhead on a spey rod on the swing! I’ve lost count of how many anglers Elke has taught and their resulting successes.

I was intimidated by a spey rod thinking it would be too much for little me to handle! So, I bought an intermediate switch rod which is in a transition from single to switch to spey rod. It was smaller than Elke’s 12′ 6 ft. spey rod. My switch was a 11′ 6 5 weight 6 weight line that I mastered casting with and caught many trophy bow’s.

PC Alysia Littleleaf


One day, I broke my switch and had to use my husband spey rod set up to show a first time client who had never caught a steelhead or had never swung a fly yet either. It wastime for me to suck up my fear of the spey rod! The sun was going down quickly we got out the headlamps. I was determined to show this client how to cast, swing and land a steelhead. I got a solid bite my fourth cast, so I went back to that same spot. To my delight, he ate it again! I pulled to the right, thinking I might have beenstuck on a rock. Until I waded down to my catch, it was splashing all around, while my client was screaming “OMG Alysia, you got a steelhead!” My heart pounded as I finally realized it was not a steelhead but a trophy size bull trout! I explained to my client that it was not a steelhead by showing her the pink dots on the fish, the little slight pink on fins, and it’s greenish grey color. A lot of people mistake bull trout for dolly vardens, but we don’t have them in Oregon.

I am now hooked on a spey rod set up and will be getting rid of my switch for a spey set up. Once you learn it and master it, you will have success, even swinging dry flies! Pick up a book, go watch spey casters or steelhead anglers—they are all swinging flies but everyone has their own way to do it.

The Gear

The gear that is used here is a 6 -9 weight single handed rods. Typically, you will need 9 to 11 feet of 2x leader & 3x tippet, 2 weighted flies size 6, stonefly for top fly then do a trailer 12 to 15 inches of 3x tippet tie on a size 10 bead head nymph. You’re going to want to give the fish two options to choose from: big or small, in order to mimic the food chain. Switch the sizes up until you find the fly that works. Usually, you can’t go wrong with an emeger fly! I personally use an air lock strike indicator pink or orange for riffles and long 15 to 20ft drifts.

Anytime you get into the river it requires stealth, so be sure to be quiet! This is important, as many anglers forget this rule of thumb. Don’t stomp up the riffle or if you’re on the bank, don’t even get in yet as there will be fish holding up, resting right on the shore! I have caught many fish on my first cast with 9 ft of leader out, standing only on the bank with deep water and tall, lush vegetation around the bank.

PC Alysia Littleleaf

Reading Water and the Strike Indicator

Typically, you look for a knee deep to thigh high water run, a riffle is ideal with a bucket or eddy. The strike indicator needs to be about 6 to 7 ft on the leader for the riffle. Until you get down into the eddy and tail out of run the indicator will need to be moved all the way to the top in order to be deeper in the fish’s mouth! The best thing about these air lock strike indicators is that they are adjustable.

Now while in a stable position up on the riffle start out short 9 or 11 ft of leader, cast up the river at 45 degree angle. The presentation is everything, make these casts work and try not to splash around with multiple casts trying to perfect on the first cast. If the flies swing below 1 o’clock, be sure to watch the strike indicator. If it goes down you might have a bite or be hitting the bottom (if it hits the rocks, it’s okay). Keep your index finger on fly line (we call it trigger finger so you feel the flies manually pull the flies with the current flow of the river to unsnag on rocks to keep the swing going). Once the flies are below water level, pause for 5 to 6 slow seconds, then manually, with the current flow of the river.

If the strike indicator goes down, pull to the left or to the right, as that will set the hook into fish. Don’t pull straight up in the air, if it’s not a dry fly. Let the fish take the line out then reel them in when they stop or slow down

Swinging flies is all about patience and presentation. There is about a 70 to 80 % chance for a fish to bite at the end of the swing. Start wading 3 to 4 feet down the river while taking the time with each cast to take to get a good full swing in. Remember each cast and drift needs to match the current flow of river and swing as close to shore as possible.Target knee to hip deep water. Reading water is key as is sight-seeing the fish or structure they will be holding up by. A swung fly will be irresistible especially in a slow calm river bend where they are relaxing before hauling up a riffle for example.

The swinging technique works for steelhead, rainbows, redbands, bull trout, pike minnow, white fish and suckers. They all have fallen victim to the flies on a swing. Note: if you are swinging streamers, tie a rapala knot it makes a loop for the fly to swing freely, which makes it look more lively and appealing.

Team Littleleaf guide services are comprised of Wasco tribe members of Warm Springs and offer guided trips on 39 miles of Deschutes River. http://www.littleleafguides.com/fishing.html