I’m just back from a Saturday clinic with the Ozark Fly Fishers. My friend, Dr. Gary Eaton, was there, and we had a great chance to say “Hi” and get caught up a bit. He told me of a couple of big trout that fell to his “Skittering Anchor” tactic, and then sent me photos of these big guys. The Skittering Anchor is a great tactic with the big fish flies like streamers, bucktails, leeches and more. Below is a story about this tactic from my book. Long Flies.
Gary with a big rainbow that ate a fly fished on the Skittering Anchor.
The business end of a big brown that took Gary’s fly fly fished on the Skittering Anchor.
Duane Stremlau and I were fishing the Lake Michigan tributaries for king salmon, with some outstanding fish being taken each day. Duane had to leave early in the morning on day four, and I spent the morning exploring a spot that had performed well the night before. There were fish, and they cooperated.
Regulations vary in the Lakes States regarding fishing to spawning fish. In Wisconsin, the laws allow fishing in all sections of the Lake Michigan tributaries because the salmon cannot reproduce in these streams. In other Lake States, fishing is not allowed in the prime spawning areas, in order to protect the reproducing fish. But even there, one finds jousting males and cooperative females in pre-spawn behavior well downstream of the protected waters.
I left the early morning fishing area after a couple of hours, and moved to another section of the river where I’d told my long-time friend, John Beth, that I would meet him. John and our mutual friend, Dan “Doc” Zavadsky showed up at 11 am, and I informed them of the river’s condition and the fish “exercising” experiences to date. After they were fully regaled with stories of fish won and lost, we went in search of other cooperative fish.
There didn’t seem to be any in the river; all we got was plenty of wading exercise and practice in spotting fish in deep water. Then about 3 pm, John hit his first fish of the day. The bite was on—for John. I couldn’t buy a fish. John didn’t want to sell any, either, and no one else was offering, even at twice market price. When John hooked his third fish, I waded over and netted it so I could checked his fly. It was a tan strip fly, not his usual grizzly barred strip fly. “Must look like a Round Goby,” John said. He was probably right. This invasive, sculpin-looking species has spread rapidly through the Great Lakes since its introduction in about 1999. At least they were serving as salmon food.
John’s imitation was tied with heavy lead eyes, and he fished it with a Jigging Retrieve. He would cast down-and-across—more down than across—and then keep the rod tip high and work the fly like a jig. As the currents swung the fly across, John would jiggle the rod tip to keep the fly jigging up and down right across the fish’s face. They took it powerfully.
I dug in the boxes and found a big Down and Dirty Sculpin. It was close enough, I was certain of that. But it was an unweighted version that I had tied as a demonstration fly at a sports show. So I hung a size 3/0 shot on the tag end of the leader about two inches under the fly.
The shot hang on the tag end of the tippet and “skitter” along the bottom, creating noise and giving the fly very attractive motion.
This was a tactic that my friend, Dr. Gary Eaton, had written about. He uses it to prospect his beloved spring creeks of Missouri, and other places that he fishes. Gary has used several terms over the years to describe the tactic; I like his “Skittering Anchor” terminology the best. The easy way to rig the leader is to run it through the eye of the fly, then tie an overhand knot at the end of the tippet. Next tie the knot you normally use to attach the fly to the leader, allowing the tag end (with its overhand knot) to protrude out of the knot for whatever length you need. Gary fishes his long flies with the knot as close as 1⁄2 inch (1 cm) to the eye, or as far away as a couple of inches, depending upon the action he wants and the size of the stones on the bottom—generally the larger the stones, the farther the shot is from the eye.
In this case, I determined the length of the tag by the distance I wanted to keep the fly off the bottom. I allowed the shot to hang about two inches below the head of the fly so that it would run up off the bottom just a bit (more at the level of the fish’s mouth). I’d been working a big female with several ardent admirers, and I went back to show them my goby look-alike on the Skittering Anchor. I fished it with the same jigging action that John had used, and as the fly passed by the front of the big female, she turned and followed for about two feet, and then simply engulfed the fly. The cry of “Goby!” went up along the river as John and I went on to fill out a most-successful afternoon. Then suddenly it all ended, and the day faded into the annals of another salmon season. We had hooked 16 and landed 14.
The big female followed the skittering sculpin and then just inhaled it.
Day five started with a definite whimper—my whimper. There was nothing. Every fish that saw the fly fled in seeming terror. The day had dawned dark and cold, with clouds that suggested snow was soon to come. But about 9:30 the sun broke through and the fish turned on. A Black and Purple D & D Leech (black fur and purple flash mixed in the collar) on a Skittering Anchor was fish candy. My score for hits was great—7 fish on in a little over an hour, including a huge male that simply would not give up, and tussled with me until the hook pulled out. The day ended at 11 am with my score 7 hooked, 3 landed. The fish certainly won that one. But I won, too. I’d developed the feel for the Skittering Anchor, adding a new tactic to my fly fishing bag of tricks.