In episode 011 of the Fly Fishing show I sat down with Tom Larimer to talk about his career in fly fishing, summer steelhead tips, spey lines and casting and a bunch of other tips that you’ll love.
Tom goes deep into how he catches summer steelhead during the daytime, something that many thought unlikely in the past. Tom also gets into his Great Lakes background as well as a number of his mentors since he got started.
Click below to listen to this episode with Tom Larimer:
(click here to get the PDF Transcript or scroll to the bottom to read the entire transcript for this episode)
Show Notes with Tom Larimer
08:47 – Tom worked for Al Bagly early on in his guiding career
12:00 – The need to think about sun angles in relations to steelhead
14:30 – Tom uses lots of flash in his day time patterns (Grape Flash)
17:45 – The orientation of the fly is an important part of the equation
22:50 – Trees on the bank is the final piece to the puzzle
30:50 – The new 11′ 11″ two handed rod (not a switch)
35:20 – Todd Harris Guide Service
35:50 – Ray Schmidt and other mentors in the Great Lakes area
37:40 – SteelheadBum.com
45:15 – Larimer Outfitters is a good resource
55:50 – The Rage spey line for the wind
You can reach out to Todd Harris, Tom’s partner and guide if you have questions or would like to head out on a trip.
“Respect the history, respect the nostalgia of our sport, and its great stuff. But, don’t be afraid to try different things and don’t be afraid to fail.”
If you loved the tips Tom shared here and wanted to get a summary of all past highlighted tips from my guests check out the Steelhead Tips PDF Quick Guide below: https://wetflyswing.com/chrome
The Entire Transcript of this podcast follows below:
Tom Larimer sat down with WFS and shared his background, offering a plethora of information on catching steelhead that eludes most anglers during those midday hours. In this great interview, you’ll hear all about Tom’s long career in fly fishing, as he offers up tips on spey lines and casting, being a guide in both the Midwest and the West, and share some fun and adventurous tales in regards to those “perfect” days on the water that, for the avid fly fisherman, literally last forever.
Tom Larimer’s Background
Dave Stewart (D.S.): Tom, welcome. It’s great to have you with us. I usually jump in and talk all about steelhead fly fishing, but I’d love to dig into a bunch of topics with you today. So, let us start with your history in fly fishing. I realize that in your background you were a guide, a company owner, and now part of a very large organization in the industry, G. Loomis, Inc. You certainly have the whole enchilada going for you, so to speak, but it would be interesting to know where and how this all began?
Tom Larimer (T.L.): Well, it’s a long tale, so I’ll try to condense it as much as I can. I grew up in the Midwest, outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And, of course, we have Great Lake steelhead back there. I got into fishing at a very young age because of that. Basically, over time, this passion grew. I knew I always wanted to be a guide from about the age of twelve, and after graduating high school and dipping my toe into college, I started my own guide business at the ripe old age of twenty-two.
I also had the opportunity to spend some summers out in Oregon just bumming around with a couple buddies of mine. In the Great Lakes, they don’t really have a summer run component – it’s more of a spring and fall run – so, we had heard about mighty Oregon with its steelhead, hiking, scenery, etc., and being young guys with a taste for adventure, we buzzed out and enjoyed a couple summers of crazy, stupid fun.
We lived out of our cars, and I even ended up collecting cans for a while because I couldn’t find a job. Basically, I just fell in love with the area of Hood River, Oregon, and all the surrounding fisheries. At that time, because I couldn’t get a job, I re-focused on the Midwest and ended up guiding in Michigan for about four seasons. I also spent a four-year tour up in Alaska as a guide. Ultimately, all roads kind of pointed me back to Oregon, so I moved there in 2002, and started to guide. I got a job with John and Amy Hazel up in the Maupin area, and had a great experience there. I learned a ton while guiding for them. In 2005, I then started my own guide business in the lower Deschutes. After a couple of years, I decided to hang up the guide hat and get a “big boy” job, so now I’m the National Sales Manager for G. Loomis, based out of Woodland, Washington.
D.S.: What was the main thing that kept you from being a guide for life?
T.L.: I think you go through these different phases as a guide, and admittedly, I think when you first get into it there’s a little bit of an ego-driven element to it. But the thing, I believe, that separates really, really great fishing guides from all the rest is that there is a discovery process in fly fishing. All of us went through it; it’s based on those “ah-ha” moments you have in fishing that take you from one plateau to the next.
As a guide I took a lot of pride and felt a lot of gratitude that I got to be a part of that discovery process. Helping people become better anglers, better casters – you know, all the skill sets that it really takes to be a good fly fisher. I just really enjoyed watching people go from square one as beginners and graduate up the ladder of success by learning techniques and becoming really great anglers. One of the pieces of my business was doing destination travels.
So it was really cool to watch my clients get better and then be able to take them places, like the Dean River in British Columbia. We also did some saltwater trips. It was great to have those experiences, and I was fortunate enough, like most guides who do it long enough, to build a clientele that really became more like friends, rather than clients. I met some awesome people who I am still very close with and I just really enjoy my time with them.
How to Catch Summer Steelhead Mid-day on the Deschutes River
D.S.: Many people want to know this from you. How do you catch steelhead midday on the Deschutes River? Maybe you could run through your process.
T.L.: Well, this might get a little technical, but I’ll try to make it light. For those new to steelhead fishing, there were many years – especially on the Deschutes – that people just truly believed you could not catch fish there midday. I mean, it’s a unique river that flows south to north and, because of that, the fish are looking directly into the sun throughout most of the day. Once the sun starts to come up there’s a very small window there where you might be able to get the sun behind the fish. But, in general, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. the shade is off the water, which made people believe that fish could not be caught. It was an interesting process to get through these beliefs. After I guided for the Hazel’s up in Maupin, I ended up guiding for a man named Al Bagley up on the Indian reservation for a couple of months. Al was kind of on his own little island up there; he wasn’t really influenced by what everyone else was saying because he just didn’t have that kind of input, so he figured things out on his own. When I started with him, I asked Al, “When do you pick up your clients?” Al said, like, seven o’clock. I was used to picking my clients up at like four, rowing down in the dark, and getting into place, so I thought that was funny. Then I asked him, “Well, when do you end in the afternoon?” And his answer was four o’clock. So, I’m going, “Well, but when do you take a nap?” He kind of looked at me really strange and said, “What do you mean?” We started talking about it and I asked him straight out how he caught steelhead during midday. He shrugged and replied, “We put a big sink tip on and a big fly, and then go catch ‘em.” See? He didn’t worry about things. I think sometimes, in steelhead fishing, we’re very nostalgic people. We love the history of our sport. We love the roots. But sometimes I think the history somewhat limits us from imagination. And the cool thing about Al was that no one ever told him he “couldn’t” catch fish in midday. He just went out and used his intuition as an angler and he caught them. Now, I will say the fish, the further they get up the river (and keep in mind, Al is fishing in the top twenty miles of the river below the dam, so he’s roughly eighty miles above where I was fishing on my own), they act a little different. They tend to eat very natural stuff, and you have very un-pressured fish because it’s on the reservation. In other words, you have to be with a reservation guide in order to catch them. When I moved down to the lower river, there was a couple of big differences from that fishery. The first was that we started fishing in mid- to early-July down there. You have sunlight from 4:30 a.m. until like 9:00 p.m., so you have these incredibly long days. So being out there in 90 or 100 degree heat for hours made it just too long of a day. This is when I kind of went on my own personal jihad to try and figure out how to catch these fish consistently with light on the water and sun in their face. What I realized quickly is the lessons I had learned upriver did not work at all in the lower river. I caught a few, but it certainly wasn’t a consistent pattern. It was also something that I couldn’t feel good about; you know, telling guys we’re going to go out and fish at first light until four in the afternoon, spend a ten hour day on the water, and we’re going to catch fish all day. It just wasn’t consistent enough. The first thing I discovered down there, is that sun angles are the most important thing you have to consider when targeting midday fish. The sun is always coming up to the south on the river, so it’s at an angle to the river at that point. As it tracks across the sky it will eventually get straight above the river, before sliding to the west. So, the ideal scenario is to position yourself with the sun behind the fish – obviously the river is not a straight line, so it can be done. What I figured out, was if I could get the fish to chase the fly anywhere but into the sun, I could catch them. That was critical. So if you are, let’s say, fishing on river left, looking down the river, you would want the sun on the other side of the river shining at you so the fish is turning to your fly and away from the sun. If the fish does not have to turn into the sun, it is key. Does that make sense?
D.S.: Yes. I think you’re right on with the angles. I think a bonus would be that you have a Jet SLED, correct? Which means you can go faster and make these changes far more quickly.
T.L.: Absolutely. The Jet definitely became a huge piece of my arsenal, just to be able to move with the sun angles. So that was a key piece to it. And then I started really playing around with a lot of flash. What I was thinking about was up in the Maupin area and above, you don’t see a lot of conventional fishermen. I mean, you see the occasional guy here and there, but in the lower river there are a fleet of guides throwing spinners, fishing plugs, etc. Everything they do hinges on fishing deep, and the gear used wiggles a lot and it’s got a lot of flash and vibration. So I started to play with a lot of different flash colors. What was really interesting about this time frame was that, in the Great Lakes, a friend of mine was trying to figure some things out back there, and he was starting to play with flash colors, as well. He was one of the best guides in the Great Lakes Theater, and I’ll never forget the very first day that we went out with flash; the first run we went into we caught five with the sun directly in their face. It was mind-altering. That first year I kind of stumbled onto a flash color that worked really well, called Grape. I was used to using a lot of flash on the fly and typically these are like a leech pattern – usually a purple or a black leech – an egg-sucking version with a pink or chartreuse head, with just a wad of flash on the back of it. And that lasted pretty well until around mid-September; then, it just stopped working. It took me a couple of years to figure out that the flash color does change through the season. As a general rule of thumb, our July and August fish tend to like brighter flash colors; as the season progresses and the days get shorter, and the light gets lower, they tend to like the darker colors, such as black. Copper is really key in the late season, as well as bronze. And you can kind of see it shift. It’s amazing how it completely changes. You’ll have a pattern working one day, and then it’s done. If you talk to the plug guys, they’ll say the same thing. Patterns emerge. So flash became a big piece of it. The third thing is I played around with how we fish the fly. In traditional steelhead fishing, fishing a sink tip – especially in the winter – you’re making a cast down and across, drawing them upstream. You kind of slow the fly down and swing it across, so the fly is really oriented parallel to the current at that point. When you’re fishing in the midday sun, you need to create as big a profile as you possibly can. I mean, hold your thumb up to the sun versus a basketball up to the sun and, what are you going to see easier? So, we started playing around with fishing the fly super, super broadside. I realized that since the fly is oriented perpendicular to the current versus parallel, it’s going to be swinging a lot faster. As an added benefit, honestly, the difference in swinging it fast – especially during the early season – was like night and day. This kind of comes back to what I said about how we hold ourselves back with nostalgia and history. You would not believe how fast I swing my fly, especially when water temperatures are in that high to mid-sixties. But the big thing is, we’re trying to create as big a profile as possible to get that fish to see the fly as well as they can with the sun right in their face. That’s the other component, how to get the fish to notice the fly. This actually took me a while to figure out. I’m thinking about two clients I had: one was a great caster who could cast 100-feet out there; the other was a guy who didn’t put as much effort in, casting approximately 60-feet. However, the guy casting sixty feet was out fishing the other, much better caster. If you think about making a cast out, the fly sort of dead drifts and then, at some point, the fly changes attitude. When it runs into tension, it makes a distinct change. What I noticed with these two clients was, if I could make the fly make that distinct tension change in front of the fish, I could solve the problem. What happens is that they see this thing fluttering and it creates this trigger, because the fish see this change in the attitude and speed of the fly. It sort of became the keys to the kingdom. Because when you think about it, that fish is down there looking into the sun and then suddenly they see this thing fluttering and flashing, they are going to notice it and turn. If I can get that fish to turn away from the sun, the fish feels more comfortable going for the fly. Casting is such a critical piece. It’s funny really, because as anglers we spend so much money on rods, guides, gear…and I always had clients who came every year who wanted to jack that line. They’d jack it out a hundred feet and feel like they smoked that. I think the best day I had on the Deschutes, I was with four anglers. It was kind of a unique situation because there were tons of kings around and the fish were holding in tight little buckets near the shore, but we hooked like 42 in the morning. The key to that morning is I told the guys if they were wading over the top of their boots, they were too deep. And if they were shooting more than ten feet of shooting line, then they were casting too far. The Deschutes is kind of in its’ own little world, in the sense that I do think a lot of people over-fish the runs. The lesson to be learned is: if you can read water, try to make your cast just far enough that you mend the fly and it dead drifts. It will come tight in their world so the fish can see that direction change. Then, if I you get that fly to track across in sort of a broadside profile, that’s the key to success. There’s one last element to all this that we’ve talked about. There was one thing that took me a couple years to figure out. I noticed there were certain runs I did really well in during the middle of the day. I mean, places where we could go in at 11:00 a.m., with the sun right down in the fishes’ face, and catch like five fish behind those who have just dry-lined there. And maybe they got one, or maybe they didn’t, but we’re having phenomenal success. There were these runs that didn’t kick out fish, and ones that did. So I began to think about what the common denominators between these places were, like structure, seam, and depth. I wondered what it was about these runs that were successful versus the ones that weren’t. It came to me when I was looking at these Alders one day; I realized every single run we did really well on in the midday had a big line of Alders. I think the key to this is, the fish are seeing a reflection of what’s above them. I think the runs where you got all these lines that are thirty or forty feet tall help because when the fish start to turn and chase the fly down, they just feel a lot more comfortable chasing that fly into what I call, the “green screen,” versus the runs where they start following the fly and are kind of looking into this bright reflection and just don’t feel comfortable hunting the fly. To prove my point, one of the best runs that existed for a long time was one that was affected badly when we had a fire a number of years ago and all the Alder burned down. I suddenly couldn’t catch anything on that once successful run, except after the sun went down. So I do think the environment is another key. If you think of a river with a lot of hemlock, spruce, etc., the fish are more comfortable making the river more successful. So, that’s the package. It’s really about the type of fish, the amount of flash you use, the attitude of the fly and how you fish it, and it’s about capturing that fish’s attention at the time the fly comes into tension. Choose the right run at the right time by using those sun angles, and fish the runs with those big trees all around that make the fish more comfortable. I know that’s a long answer (LOL), but that’s really where my head goes when talking about catching fish midday.
Leading the Fly
D.S.: Not at all. Those who want to land that summer steelhead, no matter what level angler they are, all of this helps. I’m thinking back on what you’ve talked about and I guess I had one clarification on the third part when you were talking about leading the fly. Can you expand on that?
T.L. Absolutely. When you think about your cast, the first decision to make is your casting angle. So, if you’re casting downstream, the slower that fly will swing. But it’s almost impossible to get that fly to cast in the broadside position. But if you’re casting across the current, at a 90-degree angle to the sun, the fly will swing a lot faster, obviously, but it also allows you to get the fly into more of a broadside position. Once you’ve made your cast, your next decision is your mend. Is it a hard upstream mend? Is it an almost downstream pull? Whatever you do, try to create slack for the sink tip and the weight of the fly. Once I bring the fly into tension, once I raise the rod, the attitude of the rod is what’s going to set the belly. In other words, if I lift out over the water with my rod, I’m going to set the belly into the current and naturally create a slower swing. If I lift downstream, now I’m going to set it in a super broadside swing. So, once you’ve done this (I call it the “point of contact”), and you made your mend, its dead drifting. Now, we’re going to lift and get that tension on the fly and get it fishing. What you’re doing is setting the attitude of the entire swing; trying to set it up to really swing. I think of swing speed based on water temperature; the warmer the water, the more aggressive and more broadside I want it to be. As we go into the latter part of the season, the less broadside I want the swing. I still am trying to create a profile, and when we’re in November, a lot of times we’re fishing the fly less aggressively. You have to change with the conditions.
D.S.: I am thinking of this: the evenings, when “the smaller the better” describes the flies.
T.L.: Oh, yeah. I’ve had seasons where we would be fishing a size six egg hook with a tiny little wet fly tied onto it. I’ve even watched them eat blood knots. The fish will come up and grab it, so they definitely see a lot.
D.S.: You’ve mentioned before the eleven foot, eleven inch and the Skagit short. Can you offer more information on these products?
T.L.: One of my first projects with G. Loomis was helping to develop a series called the IMX Pro. There’s a whole single-hand series that’s kind of built around modern trout fishing techniques, as well as a two-hand series. What we really wanted to do with this series was kind of address the modern era of shooting head style lines. Specifically, the Skagit Scout and the Skagit Switch, and the Rage Compact, which are all Airflo lines that I’ve actually developed with Rayjeff Sports. We really gave a lot of thought to overall length. I mean switch rods are fun and they’re light but, in most cases, I’m always asking for something a little bit longer. There are certainly places for a 13-foot rod, especially sink tip fishing. But that 11/11 length was kind of magical because, like a switch rod, it’s light in your hand but whereas with most switch rods you have to be right on your timing, and really aggressive to make them work, this has more of a true spey taper. Therefore, it’s got a powerful tip section, and it has some nice flex through the mids so you don’t feel like you’re super rushed. They’re really easy and fun to cast; that perfect length where you have enough control to fish those fifty-, sixty-, eighty-foot casts but light enough in your hand where you can just jam on them all day.
D.S.: So, would you say it’s kind of a medium- or slow-action type rod?
T.L.: No. I would put it in a medium-fast. The butt and midsection are not moderate, but it has the true spey taper to it and not a switch taper that’s really stiff through the mids and a little softer up high. They become really addictive.
D.S.: Would this be a rod that someone new to spey casting would want or should want to start with?
T.L.: Absolutely. I never recommend beginners start with a switch rod, and that’s because of the overall action of the rod. The Holy Grail of product design, for me, was always to make something that is very accessible to a wide range of anglers, but the products are also not so dumbed down that an expert would shy away from using it. I think we nailed it on this one. I would certainly put it in the hands of just about every level of caster out there.
Tom Larimer’s Mentors
D.S.: You mentioned names of people you worked with, anybody else you wish to mention in regards to mentors?
T.L.: There are so many great people in our industry and you kind of develop a circle of friends. Some of those people that I kind of consider to be part of my inner tribe, so to speak, are people who are not even in the industry. I still do have ownership in my guide business, and Todd Harris is someone who I consider a close friend. He kind of bought my business, and he’s one of those guys in the tribe with me. Having people and bouncing info off them – whether it be flies or techniques…it’s just really cool to have anglers like that. There’s a list of other people that I worked with and learned from – just awesome guys. I’m fortunate. I’m one of the very few people who has gotten to spend a lot of time in both the Great Lakes Theater and the West Coast Theater, so I was able to meet a lot of people who helped me along the way. It has been a cool road.
D.S.: I understand. It is cool. Thinking more about your career, you’ve done this since the age of 22. Was there a turning point – a moment where you thought of giving it all up – or were you always full-bore?
T.L.: I think anyone who spends enough time guiding and jumping in and out of boats has a moment where they question it. One of the big moments for me is when I started my own business and had been on my own for a couple of years. I had added a number of guides and got to a point where I was burnt out. I had started Steelheadbum.com with my buddy, Travis, from the Gorge Fly Shop. So not only was I running the guide services, but I was managing the company, guiding four or five days a week, running this online store, hosting clinics across the country, going to speaking engagements – and I began to hate it. Towards the end of my career, however, I went back to being myself. I stopped having a bunch of employees and focused on just me. I think it was really cool because the last four years of my guide career were the best. I made changes in my business. I offered camp trips on the Deschutes in the fall, exclusively, and I really just began to enjoy things again. Truthfully, when I retired, I was not burnt out then. I knew I was looking for something different down the road, and when the opportunity with G. Loomis came, I knew it was right for me.
D.S.: Do you have a new home river, or is it the Deschutes still? I mean, you fish for winter steelhead, too, right?
T.L.: Yes. I’ve fished all the rivers up here in Northern Oregon, and when I was guiding, I did many. I still consider the Deschutes to be my home. The thing about it that separates it from all the rest is the diversity in the water. If you like to fish beautiful, long, classic runs, it’s there. But there are also these one-person spots, and you wouldn’t think a steelhead lived there, but they’re there. And anything in between is there. You have water that anyone could wade. In fact, I guided a man one time who was 91 years old, and he jacked three steelhead one day. This was in classic, little, riffle water and he had a 10-foot, seven weight, single-hand rod. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where I would take young bucks who could wade anything and we did more crazy stuff. It’s not only the Deschutes’ steelhead; there is a huge variety of species there, which I love. I’m a scientific minded angler, so I look for patterns. From a fly tying standpoint, you could tie crazy stuff, and the Deschutes is a diverse river where you can play around with different colors and everything else. I would say the number of weird flies that I fish now outnumber the classics. I tend to go back to the classics at times, but the midday is where you can really get creative. I think the lower river is so special: a lot of water and a lot of fish.
D.S.: We talked about the Jet SLED. If you had to choose, do you want the SLED, the raft, or the drift boat?
T.L.: The Jet, but only because it gives me the ability to be in the right water at the right time of day; in winter, it’s not as critical, its more about just negotiating river traffic at that time. I like the relaxation of trout fishing in the drift boat at times. You see, I have a serious conundrum, because I had all three at one time. I even had the Water Master at one point. When I got out of guiding I sold the raft, and have regretted it ever since. You really almost have to have three.
D.S.: Understood. I got rid of my raft and kept the drift boat at one point; always miss that. As far as Deschutes, is there a resource out there where people could get more information on the river and the surrounding area? Especially those who are just starting out and need as much information as possible?
T.L.: I think the fly shops are the best place to go, actually. The Gorge Fly shop up in Hood River is a great place to find data on the Deschutes. John and Amy Hazel up in Maupin are on the river a ton, and they’re great to get information from, too. You also have Fin & Fire Fly Shop, which is killer. In in the Portland area there’s, Northwest Fly Fishing Outfitters; and The Royal Treatment Fly Shop is great – those guys are super in-tune. Your local fly shop is definitely the best place to go. Larimer Outfitters is still up and has a ton of articles on steelhead fishing; I wrote a lot of blog posts there. Although, it’s somewhat dated, there are still people who come and get information and to get in touch with Todd Harris, my business partner, who helps them a great deal.
D.S.: I saw a few fly shops go down over the last few years, but there is another store coming up in Portland, right?
T.L.: Yes. It’s The Portland Fly Shop. It’s definitely a changing landscape, as people buy more and more online, but at the same time, if we don’t support these shops they’ll go away completely, and that would be a bad thing.
D.S.: We have a little time left, so we’ll do a bit of a “rapid fire” round of questions in order to get in as much as possible. When it comes to flies, do you have any to recommend that you personally use, or are they all your own creations?
T.L.: A lot of the stuff in my box isn’t really available commercially, but there are a few. I have a pattern called the Loop Leech that’s through Solitude, and that’s a pretty good one. Scott Howell has a cool trigger pattern that fishes really well, and Aqua Flies has done a great job. Not a lot of people fish the flash that I did, but there are patterns that work really, really well.
Steelhead Tips for the Deschutes
D.S.: As far as fishing steelhead, in general, are there any other tips you’d give to somebody?
T.L.: I think the biggest thing is that the best anglers are the ones who are the best at reading and understanding the world around them. We all go out there assumptions, but people really need to understand the given conditions of the day. What’s the water temperature? What’s the weather? Environmental conditions? The river traffic for that day; has it been beaten down? Everyone needs to try and make a game plan around their conditions. This guy who used to come into the shop in Maupin would only go on two specific runs. He would get up at three in the morning, race down to these spots, and camp until the light came up. One day I asked him why he didn’t fish other runs, and his answer was the simple one – that he only caught fish in those two places. But I went fishing with him one night and noticed that he made the same cast, the same mend, and didn’t ever change his presentation. But if he was more versatile and read the water and environment around him, he’d be able to succeed on more runs. The water is the most important for me to know: I’m trying to match the fly, the swing, the cast, the depth, etc., and not get caught in a box and be afraid to experiment. As anglers, I think we’re so scared to try something new because we feel it won’t work. But the discovery process is the most fun, and it’s amazing what you learn when not in a box.
Typical Leader Setup and Flies for Steelhead
D.S.: Exactly. Mix it up as you go. Now, on leaders? What is your typical leader for the summer steelhead? Talk about both your favorite dry lines and floating lines.
T.L.: I always try to create systems, so you see that in the fly lines I’ve designed for Airflo. I create things that are simple and easy to remember. The Rage Compact is what I use for dry lines. It’s just sort of an aggressive taper, and I fish a 10-foot intermediate poly leader. I fish an intermediate over a floating for two reasons: It’s denser so it goes through the wind better, and it’s more durable. On the end of that poly leader (it comes with a monofilament core that runs down the middle) there’s a five-inch section of mono that I whack off. I then take a piece of twenty-pound Maxima Ultra Green and make a 7-turn Albright Knot. I create about a foot-long butt section with a perfection loop on it. I do that because it helps with turnover and because – if you’ve ever fished with a poly leader – over time the polyurethane on the outside and the nylon in the middle will stretch at different rates. So if you hang up or pull on a bunch of fish, at some point that leader will disintegrate. If you put the Albright Knot on it, the way it pulls, your leaders will last season after season. So I have the butt section and on the front I will usually add ten pound Maxima Ultra Green, and typically do a non-slip knot that some call a Lefty’s Loop. You don’t want to use a perfection loop in that junction because they don’t take shock well. I go about three feet down to the fly, but my overall leader off the front of the poly leader is four feet. So I’ll then have the ten foot poly leader, the butt section, and maybe three to four feet of leader off the front. On my sink tips, I kind of do the same thing but bump up to thirty pounds on the butt section instead of twenty. I do an Albright Knot on the end of the sink tip, about a foot long butt section with the perfection loop, and again maybe three to four feet of ten pound Maxima off of that. The cool thing was, when I was guiding people, I would tell them to just show up with tenpound Maxima. There were times I would jump down to eight if the fish were being really weird and not taking the fly well. But usually not with sink tips. And in the winter, I’ll jump up to a 12 or 15 pound sink tip. In the summer I will usually stick to the 10 pound for both dry line and sink tip. That way, no matter how my clients were fishing, they knew how to do it right and be good to go.
How to Fly Cast in the Wind
D.S.: You mentioned the wind. Can you talk about the Deschutes weather? How do you punch though that wind?
T.L.: First and foremost, it all begins with having the right equipment with you when you go out. The Rage was a line that we developed to face a specific problem. My clients would be jamming with their Skagit head in the midday because it has so much mass and it will definitely go through the wind. Come evening, when the sun’s off the water, it’s “primetime” – and what was happening was that the transition to go from a really light head to a Skagit head was really hard for the average person. So we went down the road, at first trying to put a floating tip on a Skagit, which is just a terrible idea. But it was sort of the Band-Aid to the problem. What we needed was an aggressive floating line that could go through the wind. The Rage was the product. The other problem was that some heads had really long tapers and small diameters, so what I was noticing was the head would turn over but the leader would go way upriver. The client would try to make this big mend and it wouldn’t set up properly. We just weren’t catching fish. So the Rage came from two things: needing a line to help people transition from their Skagit o their floating line, and having better turnover to punch through the wind. One of the things I love about product design is when I see the product on the water for the first time. So this one night, after the Rage came out, I was coming down the river and it was a seriously hot night. I see this guy who had waded way out, on the “big boy” line, and as I get closer, I could see that he was in nothing but a black speedo, a baseball hat, and had a pair of earphones in. He’s out there really jamming…almost dancing. And then this guy just uncorks this mega-cast and he’s got the Rage. I was like: “YES! That guy is raging!” After the equipment, comes your casting. For wind conditions, you need to practice your casting and be able to shorten up. If the fly doesn’t turn over – and what I mean by that is, the head extends, the leader comes tight, and the fly actually lands and tightens – you’re chances of catching a steelhead just went down astronomically. So you’re better off if you literally just cast the head and not twenty feet of line and let it just float out there. Try to cast shorter and lower. I always tell people, on your back cast, stop a little bit higher than you usually would; on your front cast, stop a little bit lower. Then, drop the rod tip so that everything comes tight on the forward cast. That takes a little bit of practice, but it’s necessary. The wind makes everybody go faster. I always tell people, the harder the wind blows – and this is true for casting – come around with less speed in your back cast. So if you normally cast 40/60, come around 30/70. The harder the wind blows, the less energy you need to make in your back cast and the more energy you can make in the forward cast. I’ve noticed that when you tell people to slow down, however, it leads to problems. One of my biggest pet peeves as a casting instructor is when people say, “Oh, I just need to slow down.” When, in fact, it is the time you choose to slow down that actually matters. I also teach them the tricks we do in order to get the fly to turn over. But, in general, that’s what you need to know in order to make a good cast in the wind.
D.S.: What’s your greatest story when it comes to a fishing experience?
T.L.: I always remember it when people ask me what tippet I fish. A number of years ago, when I was guiding, I had two long-time clients from Seattle. We were fishing about eight miles away from the mouth and it was becoming evening. I always have these little markers; as the sun goes down, I’ll look up and state that when the sun gets to “that” cliff, I have thirty minutes left before I have to leave. Well, the light was getting to that spot on this journey, and it’d been a good day. I tell these men that we have to go. One heads with me to pick up the other and that’s when I we saw him hook a steelhead…a BIG steelhead. This is an experienced angler, but he is freaked out. All he could say was: “Big fish, no grab.” And he just kept repeating it. So, I told him to take a breath, and settle down. Apparently there was never really a grab. This giant steelhead just came rocketing out of the water and it came tight while it was in the air. I could tell by the way the rod was just throbbing – and this was a 12 ½ foot, six weight – that this was a really big steelhead. He knows how to fight fish, but I’m watching this go down, and we are putting the screws to this fish and, suddenly, there is no sun left on the rim of the canyon. I told him that he had to land it in two minutes or he was going to be walking out of there, because we had no more time. It was massive; we both freaked out. When I wrapped my hand around the tail, I could not get my thumb to wrap around the fish, itself. I just had to cradle it. The head on this thing looked like a Labrador retriever. It was in October, and we caught this thing on a size eight reduced green butt skunk; it was tiny. We marked it on Jim’s rod and then ran to the Jet and I threw a ruler at him. It was just short of 43 inches. We didn’t get a girth measurement, but I’ve never seen anything close to this. The guys still talk about that night. I probably should have not driven the boat. We had to go through four major rapids and, by the time we got out of there, it was dark. That was on 8-pound Maxima, but the crazy thing is there was actually a wind knot in the tippet. After that, I did not fish with anything but Maxima Ultra Green, so that’s the funny story for when people ask what tippet I use.
D.S.: Good stuff! What do you have going in the next year people should know about? Anything new products coming out?
T.L.: Actually, we some consumer shows where we’re going to be, and at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo. We don’t really talk about new products, but there are some on the forefront that will drop, and we’ll talk about that closer to the release dates. But we’re going to be doing a lot of consumer events through our dealers, especially in the Portland area. I’m usually at those. We’ll be promoting the new rods, and I’ll sneak in a little fishing in the meantime.
D.S.: Anything else you want to add?
T.L.: I think if there’ one takeaway for the listeners, it’s to respect the history of the sport, but don’t be afraid to try different things and fail. Just because you didn’t get an answer from the fish during a specific moment, doesn’t mean you didn’t get a response. Just because you didn’t catch a fish, sometimes it’s when you don’t catch them that leads you down a road where you learn something brand new and figure new things out. I know it’s tough, but I think mixing things up makes it more fun. We talked about positioning and swinging the fly, and what my clients always said to me was that they felt like they were “hoping.” People need to realize there is a varying degree of aggressiveness in steelhead. It doesn’t matter if its summer or winter. But when they’re really happy, which is like two percent of the time, they will do anything and eat anything. But that varying degree of aggressiveness, and all those details we talked about, is what separates those that ‘sometimes’ get fish from the guys that most ‘always’ get them. Stay away from the “hope” attitude. Change things up!
D.S.: Great way to finish it up. Is there a good place to get a hold of you if people want to learn more?
T.L. Actually, no. Now that I don’t have the service, I don’t have a public website. But I do encourage people to go and check out the Larimer website that’s still up, and look up Todd Harris. He and I are super tight, and we guide very similar. He is a great resource for someone who wants to fish the local area.
D.S.: Thanks again.
Conclusion with Tom Larimer
I wanted to give a big thanks to Tom for coming on the show and clarifying how they catch steelhead on the Deschutes as well as all of the other great tips. The biggest take home message from the show might be to experiment and try new things.
Here’s to not getting stuck in your old way of doing things. Slow it down, speed it up, add some flash and just be different.
And if you’re interested in the right spey rod for steelhead, Click here to see the Spey Rod that has helped me drastically improve my spey cast and find more steelhead at a super reasonable cost (You also get a free spey line if you pickup the Spey Rod here). By the way, the link above is an affiliate link, which means I earn a commission if you do end up purchasing through that link. It’s at no extra cost to you, and please if you have any questions related to this product, please let me know and I’d be happy to answer them for you.
Grab the Steelhead Tips PDF Quick Guide Here
These are the Best Steelhead Tips from our Podcast Guests!