The Hatchet Cast,
By Bob Bolton (Bobinmich, Michigan

I realize I may be preaching to the choir here, but I thought I would share this with any of you budding steel headers out there who are still developing your casting technique. Most of you have been exposed to the different types of stream fishing for Great Lakes steel head. Spring fishing is predominately fishing to pods of spawning steelies on redds in gravel areas of smaller rivers and streams. I don't want to get into the morality issue of fishing spawning fish, but in the spring, it is the normal method in the Great Lakes tributaries I fish at that time of year.

The three common methods of fishing redds in our area are indicator fishing, swinging nymphs, and chuck and duck. I am only going to hit chuck and duck here because there is a type of cast I was taught by an experienced guide that is particularly effective. The guide was Doug Nieme and he is a minister who plays basket ball and guides for his recreation. Not at the same time though. I call him the Preacher and he is one of the best guides I have ever been fishing with.

The technique, chuck and duck, is accomplished with a .029" shooting line with a sliding weight on a 6 foot 20 pound leader attached to swivel and then a 4-6 foot 6 pound leader with a nuke egg or a #8 nymph with a 2 foot 4 pound dropper attached to a second similar fly. You cast with 5 or 6 coils of shooting line in your off hand and shoot it much the same as if you were casting a spinning rod. The intent is to cast the weight about 3 feet past holding fish and 3-6 feet upstream depending on how deep the redd is. Done properly, the weight will pull towards you as it sinks passing just your side of the redd and the flies will pass just outside the spawning female. You are trying to get to the males always waiting below her. Catching the female is not desirable because once hooked and landed, it will take her some time for her to recoup and return to the redd. During that time, the rest of the pack of males will split and you may as well move on.

You face a couple of problems with this technique. First, there is always that invisible branch, just over where you need to cast, that jumps out and grabs your line just when you think you've made a perfect cast. The second situation is that pesky pod of fish that have cleaned a deep redd just under a stand of overhanging tags at the bank and you need a cast straight in under the branches to get ahead of them. Normal fly casting, you would use a side arm cast and a mend to get a dry under there. But with a shooting line and a weight, it is near impossible.

So comes now, the hatchet cast. I don't remember what the Preacher called it, but it works. Start with 5-6 coils of line (or whatever it takes to go the exact distance you want to cast) in your hand and the weight out in front of you and about 1 foot of line out from the tip top. Tip the rod slightly backwards and as the weight approaches the rod, bring the forearm and rod down sharply with a straight wrist. This is not a gentle progressive cast. Sharply means sharply. Think of it as the type of cast you would use casting a mepps with a bullet type cast off a short spinning rod.

The trick here is timing the release like you would the spin cast. Released correctly, the weight will shoot almost directly to your target dragging the flies and leader behind it. After the weight hits the water, it will start to sink and pull towards you slightly from the fly line drag allowing the leader and flies to stretch out. Be careful not to cast upstream too much or the weight will sink and bounce right across the nesting female spooking her. You should be standing almost directly cross stream from the redd.

Above is shown a highly idealized sketch of what you are trying to do. Admittedly, your real cast will probably never happen exactly this way. But you get the idea.

Now some don't call this fly fishing. Others object to fishing spawning fish. But it is effective and a rather common technique on Great Lakes tributaries. If you are not inclined to use chuck and duck or consider it unsporting, I suggest using one of the other techniques which are equally effective. Depending on the time of year, water fished, or inclination of the caster, the other methods can, in fact, be more effective. But for spawning fish on shallow gravel runs, this works like dynamite. But be sure and release any females you catch (if not all fish you catch). She will return to the redd and continue to spawn given a little time to recoup. ~ Bob Bolton (Bobinmich)

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