Written By T&T Advisor Richard Strolis
Well, it’s almost that time of year again; days are getting shorter and the temperatures will begin to dip down into that comfortable zone. It is also the time of year that many trout fisherman refer to as “streamer season”. Pre and post spawn brown trout become highly territorial and will chase and eat streamers on a much more regular basis. Although there is some truth to that phrase, the reality is that trout will chase and intercept streamers all season long if you are willing to put in the time and effort. I fish streamers year-round but realize that most do not, and although streamer activity may very well be higher in the fall, you can experience good streamer fishing any time of the season if you’re willing to put the time in. If the fall is your “streamer season” and you're ready to get your fix on, no worries, here are some tips to make sure you maximize your time on the water while pulling the big bugs.
- Organize your gear. Now is the time to organize, or in my case reorganize my gear after the 2/3 point of the season. Boat bags, packs, vests can all become a dumpster fire in short order regardless of which way you choose to fish for trout. But, I would argue that a streamer angler’s gear can become quickly disheveled after one of those days that proves to be a grind. Now is the time to check your leaders, the integrity of your lines and most importantly those suitcases of flies, as they are most likely an inevitable mess. Nothing like maximizing that investment and getting organized for what lies ahead. Check your leaders and lines for nicks, abrasions and pigtails. If you find any of the above they should be cleaned, rebuilt or replaced. Take those streamer boxes out and give them a once over, looking for any corrosion, damaged flies or stuff that might inhibit their ability to catch fish. If you don’t already have one, invest in a hook hone and check all those points on any of the flies in that selection that you know have been used before. I have a hook hone on me at all times on the water and will often sharpen hooks multiple times in a day while fishing.
- Carry a drying box. A very often overlooked piece of equipment that I see many streamer anglers neglect to carry is an extra box just for those flies that have been used. It sounds a bit trivial but in all actuality can really prolong the life of your streamer arsenal. You see, if you're having one of those days where you are struggling to figure out exactly what the fish want, you will be cycling through patterns until you find just what works. That leaves you with a handful or more of wet patterns. Sure, you could toss those in your fly box, but the reality is by doing so you quickly will decrease the longevity of your streamer patterns, and most likely will compromise the integrity of the others that come in contact with that wet mess you just put back. Hook corrosion and color bleeding are two of the biggest byproducts of doing this. Save your investment and get another box to put those wet offerings in. At the end of your trip bring that box in the house and remove all those wet flies and lay them out to dry somewhere. I run a dehumidifier in my fly shop as it is located in my basement. I typically bring my used flies in there while it’s on, as it drastically decreases drying time. Once they’re dried out it's safe to put them back in the box they came from. Streamers are like lures to the gear angler, they are typically more labor intensive to tie, cost much more than the average fly pattern thus making them a greater investment. Take the time to do this and you will increase the life of your investment greatly
- Clean those fly lines. This is another rather elementary concept, but one that I would estimate less than 20% of all anglers actually do. “It’s just easier to buy a new one” I hear all the time. Well sure I guess, but you’d be astonished at just how long your fly line will last if you actually take care of it, even if you are one of those types who is on the water more than the average angler. An easy way to tell if your line needs cleaning is just by running your fingers across the finish or by simply looking at the coating. If it is discolored in any way, it needs to be cleaned. Cleaning your lines will make your day on the water much more enjoyable, as a dirty line will not shoot as well as one that has been cleaned. I have even cleaned lines while out fishing as once you’ve done it a couple times will only take you about 5-10 minutes. Keep a cleaning kit in your gear and break it out when you need it, or clean your lines frequently at home.
- Get the twist out. And while we are on the subject of line, let something get ingrained into your mind every time you head out there to streamer fish, regardless of whether or not you're fishing from a boat or on foot. Streamer fishing puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your gear, most notably your fly line, which arguably is your most important piece of equipment. Repetitive casts with integrated lines and larger flies will inevitably put twist into your fly line. Line twist will eventually cause knotting, and knotting results in the angler untangling those knots, and they never come at a good time. Usually right when you get to the juiciest piece of water when you’re floating and you end up missing a prime lie because you didn’t take the time to square your gear away. Before you even start fishing for the day, let all of your line out into the river and let it straighten out downstream of your position. Make sure you cut off any flies from the end of your line and let the current straighten your entire fly line out. This should only take a couple of minutes but will make for a much nicer day casting those big bugs. You can also stretch the line out in your hands once you start winding it back onto your reel. If you are fishing hard all day and those troublesome tangles start to show up again, simply repeat the process and you will be right back in the game again.
- Have a selection of flies that cover the water column. I am of the mindset that variety is often better than quantity in a streamer selection. Granted, I fish streamers on a regular basis and find myself fishing a small handful of patterns regularly, but I believe that having a wide selection of patterns rather than a large quantity of the same fly is much more beneficial. To be regularly successful as a streamer angler, you need to be adaptable and not predictable. If you fish the same thing the same way all the time you will quickly learn that some days you win and many days you will lose. A nice selection of neutrally buoyant swim flies, heavier weighted flies that will drop fast in the water column, and a mix of some that lie in the middle of the two will cover a wide variety of situations. As for colors, a wide spectrum of colors to choose from will suit you better than just a few, as conditions change - including water clarity and light - which all play a factor into what the fish may eat. If you don’t know what colors to have, look at the stream bottom next time you're out on your favorite stretch of water, and have a selection of flies that come close to the colors you see there. Then add in some bright and dark colored flies to those and you should have a nice color pallette that will cover a pretty wide spectrum of situations. And lastly, have a variety of sizes in your arsenal as well. In my experience, the sweet spot in terms of fly size in most locations where trout can reach 20 inches or more is generally 2-5 inches, so be sure to carry flies that fall into that zone, with a few outside both ends of the range for that unique situation that you may encounter.
Converting follows into eats. I could write a book on this topic alone, and if you have spent time fishing streamers then you are all too familiar with those days when you might get a lot of fish showing themselves but refusing to commit to your offering. More specifically I will address one situation that can occur, the follow boatside or within 10-15 feet of where you’re wading. When you get a fish that is interested in your fly but doesn’t seem charged up enough to eat it, there are several different techniques you can employ that will often result in an eat. One that I like to use (when you can remember to without getting buck fever) is a speed up and stop technique. This takes a little practice because we all have seen what happens when a large fish presents itself to your fly. Often anglers just continue to retrieve and pull the fly out of the water and away from the fish, or the ugly trout set which isn't always the best when fishing streamers. If you have a fish honed in on your fly and following, quickly stop your fly for a brief second, then with a faster sweep of the rod speed the fly up really quickly and then stop it abruptly again. One of three things will happen: either the fish will continue to have tunnel vision (kinda like what you had if you were the guy pulling the fly away from the fish) and will immediately speed up and strike; or they may chase and veer off at the last second; or they will speed up and chase and then pounce on it when you stop it abruptly. The only caveat to this whole endeavour is you may run out of line or room and will have a difficult time setting the hook. I would argue that it also depends on where in relation to your position the fly is that this will work best. Typically your fly will be slightly or directly downstream of you in moving water if wading, or directly perpendicular to you in a boat, sometimes slightly downstream. This maneuver is easier to accomplish when floating but you can also have some success with it on foot.