It’s that time of year again where the leaves are changing, the days are getting shorter and that brisk chill is in the air reminding us that Winter is right around the corner. We are also reminded that this is the time of year to potentially catch that picture perfect hooked jawed and buttery brown trout aggressively attacking anything that gets in its way. Streamer fishing for brown trout is something that many only resort to in the Fall but for good reason. Most brown trout are Fall spawners, and their level of aggression increases pre-spawn, and then their appetite kicks back into high gear post spawn. The allure is simple, an aggressive arm jolting strike from a well-presented streamer is nothing short of exhilarating, and if you think otherwise I suggest you check your pulse. But like any facet of fishing, there are some finer points that can increase your success on the water. Here are five tips/things that I make sure I check off the list every time I’m out there on foot or drift boat.
1. Clean And Stretch Your Line
It sounds elementary, and it is a very simple task, but many anglers neglect to clean their fly lines regularly. If you fish often and on a variety of watersheds, your line can take a beating; even more so if you fish from a drift boat as the line often gets stepped on and ground into the floor of the boat severely decreasing the life of the line. Silt will collect quickly on the surface of your fly line increasing the friction between your guides and decreasing your ability to effectively present your fly on command. There’s nothing worse than fighting with a dirty line all day when you could’ve easily remedied the problem with five minutes of your time the night before. Another trick that can often help even if your line is somewhat clean is giving your line a good stretch at the beginning of your day on the water. Let out all your fly line without a fly tied on and let it dangle downstream in the current for a couple of minutes. This will often get out any kinks or pigtails in the line remove any memory in the core of the line. Even better is taking the line out of the reel and giving each section of the line a stretch in your hands prior to letting it all dangle in the current.
2. Build Several Leaders Beforehand And Check Them Frequently
Another relatively simple yet overlooked task is leaders. Most trout fishermen do not typically think that leader design is that important with streamer fishing. I will concede it is extremely important as you are typically dealing with situations where you could potentially catch a larger than average fish and a higher level of force is often exuded through the leader from the strike of the fish and/or the hook-set of the angler. If your leader has any blemishes in its construction including abrasions from teeth, rocks or other sharp objects, you could potentially lose that fish of the season. Before I start my day I check my leader knots, look for any nicks or abrasions as well the overall length of what’s left. If there are any issues or evidence of these traits, I replace the leader entirely. Also, I try to have a handful of streamer leaders built in advance and in my gear in a variety of lengths for the multitude of situations that I may encounter. Lastly, periodically throughout the day and after every fish, I inspect my leader for any of these potential problems as I can speak from experience, there’s nothing worse than losing a memorable fish to a neglected leader.
3. Variety Is Better Than Quantity In Your Streamer Selection
We all have confidence patterns, patterns we turn to more often than others for the simple fact that they just produce. Having confidence in a specific pattern is a great thing, but relying solely on one pattern all the time can be your biggest shortcoming when out on the water. Whether you are on foot or fishing from a drift boat, it pays to have a variety of fly sizes, styles, and colors in your streamer box. Seasons change, as will your streamer selections based solely on water conditions. That being said, it makes zero sense to stack your box full of the same fly pattern in a couple of color combinations. My suggestion is have a 2-3 of the same fly pattern in a couple of the colors that you have the most success with. Build your selection around average size of the forage base, and then separate your selection into groups based on where they will be fished in the water column. I typically have a section of weighted flies meant to be fished deep, moderately weighted flies that are transitional patterns for the upper to mid part of the water column, and lastly a selection of patterns that are unweighted, neutrally buoyant flies that are meant to be fished through all sections of the water column based on the line chosen to employ them. By building your streamer box around these principles, you have more options to choose from when your old standby’s aren’t getting a look.
4. Always Have A Couple Line Choices Available
As a fly angler, I am always a proponent of simplifying the gear that I take with me on any given day that I am fishing. There are however a few situations where I will make exceptions, and line choices with streamer fishing is one of them. I’m sorry, but one line can’t do it all, and there is nothing worse than being on the water and wishing you brought that other line with you as the one you are currently fishing with sinks too much or isn't the right fit to anchor your fly in the zone where the fish are. If there is one often overlooked aspect to streamer fishing, it is your line choices. This is the one facet of the game that I cut no corners on and will take up space in my pack to make sure I have what I need at all times. I never leave home without an aggressive weight forward floating line, an integrated sinking line and some sort of compact or integrated intermediate. I’m almost certain some of you are rolling your eyes, but trust me as I know you’ve been there when the waters lower or the fish are positioned in water measured in inches, not feet, those integrated sinking lines are only gonna get you caught on the bottom and not to a fish. For a more detailed list on some of the lines that I prefer, check out the blog post on Grain Weights.
5. Slow Your Presentation Down
Finally, I get asked this question more so than any other in regards to fly presentation and that question usually goes something along the lines of “what is the best retrieve for fishing streamers”? Although there is no hard line work all the time retrieve, success usually prevails when the angler chooses to mix the retrieves up until they find out what is getting a positive response is usually the best answer. What I will say however is the retrieve isn’t always one that requires a tremendous amount of speed, often it is the complete opposite. Recently while fishing together with friend and fellow T&T Advisor Lance Wilt, we managed to boat several brown trout on a short float just by slowing the presentation down to give the fish enough time to respond. Often I see anglers make the same mistake over and over again, casting perpendicular to the bank over and over again without controlling their line. As soon as the fly hits the water they begin to work a retrieve and the fly is barely in the fishes window long enough for them to react. This is usually the case when the rivers are swollen and the water is moving a little faster than normal. The fish may be pressed to the banks tight, but because of the velocity of the water, unless the angler makes a correction, the fly is quickly swept downstream by the current. On a 6 mile float, you might pick up a couple fish this way, but if you make a simple change in your line and rod position you can often double or triple your success. Next time you're faced with conditions in this manner, quickly mend your line upstream as your fly hits the water and then keep your rod upstream of your initial flies position as you start your retrieve. By keeping your rod upstream and not immediately downstream as the fly works through the water, you can actually slow down the speed at which the fly tracks through the water column, and often this will result in more hookups and strikes.
Pair these tips from Rich Strolis with the Exocett SS for ultimate success on the water. Designed specifically for streamer fishing these rods make short work of lifting sinking lines and big bulky flies from the water. The exceptionally low swing weight of Exocett SS rod series amplifies the sensation of hooking and fighting fish, while the Strato-Therm resin construction provides the strength necessary to pry a monster from the depths.