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  1. Default Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf

    Fly fishing the surf in the Great Lakes is not popular so there isn't a lot of information available and I'm having trouble deciphering and translating the mess of what is available - hence my inquiry here.

    My primary target species will be brown trout because they can be found within cast-able distances even on the hottest days of the year (under the correct conditions) but I would also like to hit salmon and steelhead during their runs. The fish will be anywhere from 5 to 30 pounds with an average probably in the low teens. From what I can gather, I will be throwing big imitator flies from 3 to 6 inches (both weighted and unweighted... 1/0 and 2/0) - perhaps even bigger.

    The confusing part comes to rod and line selection.

    When I look into the magic eightball, it appears that a 9 or 10 weight rod would suit this need (confirmation here would be nice, however). It also appears that I want a longer rod and a shooting-head system for long overhead casts. What isn't clear is whether I want a single hand or two handed rod. It seems like a two hand rod would be best, since the main goal is to cover a lot of water - but this isn't clear. Is there some requirement for the single-hand rod?

    I figured that, since I am just doing conventional, unobstructed overhand casting, I would just pair up the rod to the corresponding weight shooting head (i.e. - 10wt rod, 10wt head). A lot of what I am reading indicates that I should be over-lined by as much as 2 sizes (i.e. - 8wt rod, 10wt head). If this is correct, then do I size the rod or the line based on the fly throwing requirement?

    To complicate things, I also see the eventual need for spey techniques. I see that a lot of two-hand rods are of the spey variety but I also understand that overhand casting is a different beast with different line requirements. Is it possible to do double duty here (overhand plus spey on the same rod) or is this fundamentally incompatible?

    Comments and suggestions are welcome (rod length, type, line weight, type, single, double, etc).

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2008

    Default Re: Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf


    I have zero experience with spey rods and spey type casting, but do a lot of surf fishing for striped bass with 1/0-3/0 flies with both full length lines and shooting heads. Hopefully, some folks with more GL experience will chime in, but here are some things to consider-

    "Switch rods" are designed to be able to do both single hand and spey type casting. They tend to be a little longer than single handers and shorter than speys, and have a a small fighting butt style grip below the reel for two handed casting. Trying to single hand cast a spey will be difficult and tiring. Whether switch rods are a good compromise or represent the worst of both worlds for what you're looking to do is a debate I'll leave to others with more experience.

    As far as spey rods go, be aware that there are a lot of different styles of rods and line weights/tapers depending on the application, and matching up lines to rod is critical, depending on the application, as well as matching the rod. For more info, look to Speypages as a great resource. There are also a lot of "spey claves" held in various spots, and attending one would be a great way to get your hands on a lot of rods, lines, and get some help with the casting and technical help to get pointed in the right direction with the right gear for what you're looking to do if you want to explore the spey/switch thing. Hopefully someone here will chime in that knows more about it.

    As far as shooting heads with "regular" fly rods, I think a 9 or 10 foot long 9 weight might be a good choice based on NE Surf--again differ to local experts for GL, but I would think a 10 wt would be a little overkill, except for chinook. An 8 wt might also work, but you might find it a little undergunned throwing 1/0 flies, especially if you've got wind to deal with. A 9 wt would be still light enough to blind cast all day, have enough ooomph to throw bigger and weighted flies and be enough stick to turn big fish, including the occasional 'nook.

    I typically do go up 1 or 2 line weights in grains (2 most typically) with shooting heads. This can be tricky though because shooting heads are often sold factoring this in. For example Rio sells shooting heads "for ____ weight rods" that are designed to be heavier and for the "___weight rod" as opposed to equalling the grain weight of ___weight regular fly lines. Shooting lines can be sold as "integrated lines" (heads fused to running line). These are the easiest to use, and don't hinge as much as separate heads + running lines are prone to do. They're not as flexible of course because you can't change heads for different densities if you need to cover a lot of different water depths as you could with a wallet of different head and loop to loop connections with your running line. For running line I use Air Flow Ridge Running Line (30 lb intermediate). There’s other stuff out here, but it seems to tangle less, and is easier in cold water when wading since it won’t be apt to cut fingers as some of the smaller diameter “distance” stuff. I also use a stripping basket (rubber maid dishpan + bungee cords) to help keep line under control, and it adds a lot of distance compared to trying to shoot running line off the water (especially intermediate).

    Again, differ to local experts, just wanted to give a general idea of things to investigate.

    Hope this helps


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Central Florida

    Default Re: Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf

    Hi pneumatic,

    I think peregrines has given you some excellent information.

    Michigan is a great fishing state with a wide variate of fly fishing. I know you are relative new to fly fishing and Spey rods and equipment is a study in its self. If you have the opportunity to fish for big King Salmon you might feel under gunned with a 9wt. For Kings in Alaska we used 11 or 12 weight rods. Alaska Kings can run from 30 to 80 pounds. If Michigan has Kings this large you can land one with a 9wt but it will take a while. If you are going to kill the fish then a lighter rod is OK. You shouldn't be killing females with eggs. So if you hook a big female you want to whip it quickly and then release. It is my opinion that you can't do that with a 9wt.

    Here is how I look at it for myself. If most of the fish are going to be big trout or small Salmon I would want a single handed rod. If you are thinking Spey, I would be looking at a switch rod. I find two handed rods clumsy to use. I had a custom rod made for me in Alaska with a long fighting butt. My thinking was it would be better for Salmon. I disliked the rod so much that I only used it one time until I shorten the fighting butt to a couple of inches. You may feel differently.

    I suggest that you buy a Spey casting DVD and study the different cast that are available and see if you think they might apply to your fishing. Then if you are still interested I would call Kaufmann's and talk to one of the Spey casters about the different equipment. Then I would look for a instructor in your area and take a lesson on Spey casting. If you haven't lost interest during this process you will have a good understanding what you want to buy.

    It seems to me that you need two rods. One for big Salmon and one for every thing else except small Trout and Smallmouth.


  4. Default Re: Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf

    Thanks - based on the info here, I think that I will try to attend a few of the local "spey claves" before investing in anything. I was told that switch rods are difficult to jump into until you really get the two-handed techniques down but there is also a large number of people who really don't enjoy anything beyond the single-hander.

    And, certainly, if I'm not going to enjoy such an activity, then I guess that dragging big spoons through the mud will have to suffice for now (it really is amazing that the fish will both find and strike a 1oz spoon with such a slow retrieve in the middle of a giant body of water).

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2008

    Default Re: Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf

    Hate to see you miss out on this season--- is there anything in terms of spey claves etc. coming up that would allow you to get something and some practice in before they start piling up in the mouths (Sept for salmon and browns in October?)?

    I'm sure someone can give you good advice. Maybe start a thread and ask the Mich. and/or General Discussion board/s for info on a fly shop that does the spey thing so you could try it out, get some lessons and ask a ton of questions. I don't know anything about them, but heard that TFO came out with an 8 weight single hander that could be converted to a switch with the addition of some sort of an extension. Maybe some folks have some experience with that? You could also ask the same questions and get a lot of useful info/vid clips on the speypages dot com and sexyloops dot com. Wish I could be more help. Good luck! Hope you get some on flies this year.


  6. Default Re: Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf

    Quote Originally Posted by peregrines View Post
    Hate to see you miss out on this season--- is there anything in terms of spey claves etc. coming up that would allow you to get something and some practice in before they start piling up in the mouths (Sept for salmon and browns in October?)?
    Don't worry about me - I've got plenty to keep me busy with learning just regular old fly fishing, at the moment (I'll still make my way out with a buddy's backup single-hand 8wt, regardless).

    But I did find some more info on Great Lakes surf that I wanted to share:

    Hatches Magazine - Tackling The Great Lakes Surf

    Looks like it is indeed comparable to the right-coast striper fishing. I do think that I need more seat time before making such an investment. I'll certainly keep everyone posted.

  7. Default Re: Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf

    I live over here in FIB land and use an Beulah 8/9 switch that I love Beulah Fly Rods, I fish the lower side of michigan and Indiana and the rod is very versitle. I've landed LR browns, steelies and big lake mich carp (20+) with this set up and have yet to encounter anything to big.

    I can fish a fairly small trib and then go to a pier head or beach and belt out some surf casting. Rio makes a coldwater striper line specificly made for this type of fishing, I'm gonna try it out this fall, I was overheading a floating line with tips this being my first season trying the open water thing.

    Speypages are a good resource as was previously mentioned, try looking over on some gear fishing but they may have some answers for you, an flyfishing eastcoast saltwater forum may also help.

  8. Default Re: Help with Fly Fishing in the Great Lakes Surf

    Your Post caught my eye. As both a long time fly fisherman and sea kayaker, I have spent a lot of time time kayaking on Lake Michigan. If you have not spent a lot of time investigating what the shoreline is like, then you should do so before investing a lot of money in equipment.
    Except for beaches, invariably the bottom drops sharply off and you would not have more than a few feet to comfortably wade in before going over your waders not to mention that you would have to be constantly guarding against just stepping off into deep water. Fishing from a small boat is a more reasonable alternative but that requires two individuals. When the lake looks like it has a light chop from a distance, it can be rough when you are in it. When it looks rough, you don't want to be in it. A quality PFD would be a must.
    While kayaking I always carry a VHF Marine band radio that can be submerged.
    Anyway, good luck in your endeaver and be safe but there are reasons you don't see people surf fishing the Great Lakes.
    BTW where ever you have a stream entering the lake, you must watch out for strong currents-Dick

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