The debate of what really constitutes fly fishing may never be resolved, some fly fishers fish only the dry, some go as far as attaching drift weights (i.e.; slinkies, pencil lead, etc.) and corkies or fly’s to a simple running line, and strip casting it, somewhat like egg fishermen did, in the late 50′s (rolling shot). Although I have fond memories of following grandpa around the river when he was egg fishing dirty water, with a glass fly rod & reel loaded with mono, and a stripping basket. I still prefer the more conventional fly fishing methods some old, some new.
As I see it, fly casting is about the line used as the weight to load the rod for casting, and the weight attached either sink tip, shooting head, split shot or weighted fly the means of reaching an appropriate depth, and or presentation.
If I had to fish one method for steelhead, the rest of my life, I would chose the swing. I have caught steelhead every way possible and enjoyed every style, but for me the grab of a pissed off aggressive steelhead of any size is the thing I live for. With over 20 years of fishing strictly the fly for steelhead, I can honestly say “Consistently catching steelhead on the swing is only possible with perfect presentation”.
Presentation of the swung fly is as complicated as a drag free drift, even more so since you must also reach a level of depth, that will put the fly within the strike zone. Matched with river and weather conditions, leaves us with a multitude of options. If you wish to load the boat, or camera, depending on season with steelhead then indicator fishing is the way for you.
I personally believe a good nympher can be as successful as bait. Given favoring weather conditions and a good run of fish, the bug rod may even out fish the bait rod. More recently I have not fished many days for steelhead when I haven’t tossed a bobber rod into fast water, with a couple of bugs and split shot. It is not an easy thing to do, especially three or four days in a row. Now, you can make it easier, i.e.; light led, small bobbers, you will just catch less fish. There are holding water spots that cannot be effectively fished on the swing. There are a lot of good lies between swinging runs. As much as I love the swing, I cannot pass up good steelhead water. The paraphrase I like to use is ” its like going on a cruze and closing your eyes between ports” it really does not make any sence IF you are out to actually try and catch them. This is where the nymphing rod has its place in the boat. As much as I wished it to be different, indicator (bobber) fishing is the single most effective way to catch steelhead with the fly rod.
As a guide, my philosophy is simple; I can put you on steelhead in a multitude of ways, you as a client must catch a few, to decide your prefered method. Once that is accomplished, I can then guide you specifically as you wish to angle.
I would never suggest one method over the others upon personal preference.