Streamer Reboot

Since moving to the US, I’ve been increasingly exposed to the world of streamer fishing. In fact some of the younger guys I bump into fish streamers here exclusively, owning only a 7 or 8 weight rod and sinking line. A far cry from the days when we were all encouraged to purchase a floating line and a 9-foot 6-weight! Go to any fly shop here in Montana and there will be as many bins full of colourful streamer patterns as there are dry flies. Streamers are great when you want to cover a lot of ground, are fishing new water, or when you genuinely want to catch a big fish. Sight fishing with a streamer is extremely exciting. They are used to explore water and to elicit strikes from aggressive predators. Streamer fishing is sometimes an overlooked method and I have recently put myself through a complete reboot to reacquaint myself with the techniques. Although I used streamers periodically in New Zealand, I’ve learnt a lot more since fishing with local anglers and seeing the effectiveness of their methods. Fishing from a boat when drifting down a river is a lot different from the walking and wading we do in New Zealand and much of the fishing is targeted at high percentage water rather than individual fish. Reading water and getting your fly in the strike zone is the first priority for success. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of casting and the variety of subtle retrieves needed to gain success. STREAMER TACKLE Nine foot 7 and 8 weight rods dominate streamer arsenals. The ability to throw large weighted flies, sometimes articulated, is not for the faint hearted. A rod must have enough backbone to handle wind and wind-resistant lures. Small (anything less than a #4) Woolly Buggers and Bunnies hardly qualify as streamers in Montana. Everything seems bigger in the US! Fly lines can range from floating to the aggressive sinking tip varieties offered by all the major companies. Each line will perform slightly differently depending on its specifications. Most popular are the sink-tips changing to intermediate running line, as they fish the lure in a more lateral zone versus a floating line or even sink-tip/floater which may bring the fly back with a more vertical jigging retrieve. However, floating lines with or without split shot provide the ability to mend and fish in shallower water. With names like the Home Invader, Drunk and Disorderly, Lap Dancer and the Sex Dungeon, articulated with double or single stinger hooks, the flies are only limited by one’s imagination. However, I have been impressed by the size that anglers use locally and the trout that will eat them. Not only the large trout but I have seen fish attacking lures only slightly smaller than themselves! The one factor I have noticed amongst the most effective patterns is range of movement. The suggestion of a ‘big’ meal is also useful to move fish that lie in wait – typical for the big browns that take on ambush predatory tendencies. Patterns that move water and have a lot of action command pride of place in any serious ‘strippers’ box. Stout leaders are the name of the game, and strong hooks. No 6X leaders need apply! I’ve been using short tapered leaders to get my fly into and keep it in the strike zone. The addition of split shot is always easier if attaching it to 15 lb fluorocarbon too. I’ve taken to making my own leaders using Maxima Chameleon. Using a simple rule of thirds I’m taking 30/20 down to 15 for the majority of my fishing (6-wt rod and line). If using an 8-weight I’ve been using 40 lb as the butt section. STREAMER retrieves & tactical presentations Trout are inherently predators and will attack wounded, sick or dying prey. Experiment with your retrieves, vary it up and consider the length of retrieve based on the size of your lure. Effective fishing is finding a best retrieve for the lure you are using and the trigger point to elicit a strike. Stopping your fly and letting it drop when a fish is on it is often very effective when you are getting follows but no strikes. Work your streamer using mends upstream or down to create depth, movement and erratic behaviour in your fly. If the movement is unpredictable it is more likely to exhibit distressed-little-fish behaviour. Dirty water allows larger flies to be used and fish (and their prey) are more likely to be forced towards the banks, undercuts and structure. Larger flies and those with bulk will move more water and be felt by trout through their lateral lines. As they are the apex predator, move your fly in an enticing manner past their lairs and as close as possible. Look for pools and holding water with stable banks that drop into deep water, and run your flies along those undercuts. Look for structure. Keep in mind the drop-offs at the head of a pool and where rocks may provide cover from current and create great ambushing opportunities. I have had great success dead drifting lures down through lanes between boulders and right up along the bank, with fish sipping the drifting minnow like a sunken dry fly. If you like to night fish you’ll know that crayfish and other prey, like mice, are increasingly active when the sun goes down. There is no question streamers are more effective during low light. Often conditions or time of day will dictate which colour fly you choose. Matching the day to the fly colour has been a standard (light day light colours, dark day dark colours) but experiment and consider the season and prey form. The JJ Special with its yellow and bronze colouration works well during autumn when the big browns are getting ready to spawn and are aggressive. You might like more flash in dirty water and a fly that has a lot of bulk to push water. Black is a real staple and presents a great profile always, but I’ve been using white a lot while over in the US to great effect, mainly because I love the visual nature of a 5-inch white fly being mowed down by a big brown. In New Zealand I’ve always found a streamer effective when water temps have been cooler and it has been the same in the new waters I have been fishing. Trout have been more lethargic as temperatures increase and also less aggressive. Perhaps the number one technique I have really noticed when fishing with my new streamer junkie friends has been the ‘dead drift under an indicator’ method. Using a large indicator capable of holding up large streamers (up to 3 inches, and lead shot!) I’ve seen some magnificent fish caught and come to appreciate the effectiveness of this method. Casting this rig right against drop-offs and banks with very small mends or movements, essentially staying in the zone for longer and deeper, there is no doubt when a fish grabs the fly. The bobbing motion of the indicator is enough to mimic a wounded drifting minnow and any additional twitch or current swirl adds to the ‘retrieve’. In New Zealand I’ve cast this rig at the top of large backcountry pools, following the fly down river by walking the bank, and had a strong fit fish crash the lure hard as it bobbled against the deep edge. When streamer fishing is slow I try to vary depth, retrieve, angle or colour. I’ve really noticed the difference colour can make and when a fish comes short on one colour, a change may immediately get a second follow and hit. Using split-shot to add depth, mending, or using an integrated line can make a difference, and consider the water speed and clarity when setting up. In higher (dirty) water I try to get closer to the edges and bottom where I believe the fish are staying out of the added current. When fishing a large articulated fly with two hooks, you’d think staying connected would be no problem. Gosh was I mistaken. Learning to strike a fish when that streamer disappears (incredibly visual!) or when you feel the first grab, is essential. Simply waiting for the weight is not good enough. I have learnt a good set downstream to put the fly in the corner of the fish’s mouth is critical for more hook ups, and a strip strike, rather than a regular ‘trout set’ helps with the larger hooks. Fishing streamers with dedicated streamer junkies has been a revelation. Their methods and confidence to use large flies and to catch bigger fish has made me ready to put away my 4-weight and get out the #7. By covering more water and throwing big flies I suspect I will be seeing some large fish and big water explosions. What a timely reminder that big (and small!) fish eat big flies, fly fishing is fun, and there is always something to learn! For further reading see Steve Dally’s article ‘Size Really Matters’ in FL#81.

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