These days two handed spey rods and swinging have become synonymous with steelhead, an already challenging enough species to chase. Steelhead often require precision presentations, often best achieved by using a dead drift technique with an indicator. Unlike Swinging a fly, using an indicator or “indie” fishing calls for an upstream cast, using weighted flies or split shot to slow the drift down to a natural speed. Swinging a fly calls for a cast across and downstream, allowing the fly to make its way back across the tail-out and eventually parallel to you, at a pace meant to entice predatory strikes.
The differences in these two techniques also translates into the flies commonly used for each. Spey flies are almost always meant to imitate bait fish or other similar fleeing prey, while flies used in dead-drifting are often meant to be just that: dead. Although there is no limit on what you can dead drift, the most common choice for steelhead is egg patterns or stone flies, you know, stuff that doesn't move much and can be easily slurped in by a lazy winter-run steelhead.
As the water temps drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and with steelhead already traversing the rivers in spawn mode, getting a fish to dedicate the energy needed to hunt down it's prey takes more than skill, it takes a little luck too. Many times steelhead caught on the swing didn't bite out of hunger but out of pure aggression. The take from a steelhead on the swing is incomparable to those taken by dead drifting with an indicator. Words like, “crushed”, “slammed”, or the ever popular “The Grab”, are often used to describe encounters with steelhead on the swing. It is certainly a more exciting experience than simply setting the hook at the drop or pause of an indicator.
So what's a swinger to do when the forces of nature have put the odds of catching fish against him? The answer all depends on what you want out of your own fishing experience. It's a proven fact that dead drifting with an indicator will give you the best chances of hooking fish, you just have to decide what's worth more to you: numbers, or finding the players that will give you the addicting “grab” associated with swinging a fly. For some people it's all about numbers, but if you look around these days more and more people are dedicating themselves to the swing, and for good reason: it is addicting!