Fish any of these patterns to find the big fish

By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

As the morning frost thickens when September passes and October begins, a die-hard group of anglers grow increasingly excited.

Junkies, addicts, thugs and strippers show their true colors. I’m not talking about criminals, gang-bangers or folks breaking the law. I’m exposing a sub-culture of fly fishing—the committed streamer angler. These anglers are devoted to matching two things: big fish on big flies.

“Streamers” is the common term used to describe flies tied to imitate other baitfish or larger food, such as crayfish and baitfish. This is not a new concept in fly fishing; using large flies to catch fish has roots with the birth of fly fishing. The first anglers to use feathers on a hook to catch a fish did so by tying their flies to imitate other fish. Many of these original baitfish patterns were longer than 4 inches.

Today’s streamer junkies and tug thugs may think they have broken new ground in fly fishing with the creation of several new streamer patterns, but they’ve simply re-purposed old hits into new ones, à la Dr. Dre and Diddy. Here’s my list of the best streamers to have in your box and their pattern of origin.

The Conehead Muddler Minnow. Rooted in a traditional sculpin pattern, the Conehead Muddler Minnow took an oldie and turned it into a chart sensation. The conehead adds weight to the fly to help it get down, and the flash in the body and wing imitate a myriad of baitfish. Because the fly is not articulated, it can be fished as a lead fly on a two-fly rig and tangles less. Locally, this fly tied with a smaller nymph as a trailer is a fish-catching machine on the Lower Madison.

Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow. Tied with lots of flash and with marabou as its key element, the Sparkle Minnow owes its lineage to the Wooly Bugger. Using ice dubbing in flashy colors and adding a conehead, the Sparkle Minnow imitates other baitfish. Best fished stripped or swung, this pattern helps many young guides rack up Facebook likes.

Sculpzilla. This is my favorite pattern for streamer fishing on smaller waters. Its origin is a partial hi-jacking of the Zonker and the Wooly Bugger, but it’s so much more than those two now. With a heavily weighted conehead containing oversized red eyes and an articulated body, when stripped in the water the fly imitates an injured sculpin or baitfish. Predatory trout actively search for injured prey…fish a Sculpzilla and you’ll have plenty of stories to tell. My favorite colors are black and white. A Sculpzilla is best fished single as the articulation creates havoc for trailing flies tied to the bend of the hook.

The Circus Peanut. Name recognition on this enlarged streamer is easy. Tying it is another story. With either a spun dyed deer hair or chenille head, articulated body in multiple segments and hooks, this fly is not one you give up easy if snagged. With articulation, large dumbbell eyes, stinger hooks, and rubber legs the Circus Peanut has roots in a variety of traditional patterns. The Circus Peanut is surely responsible for many damaged egos of hundreds of large brown trout.

Clouser Crayfish. A list of top streamer patterns is not complete without a true crayfish pattern. Many exist, but my favorite is the simple Clouser Crayfish, created by Bob Clouser. Clouser also created the Clouser Minnow, a great pattern for saltwater species. The Clouser Crayfish is best fished dead-drifted, drug along a bank, or swung up at the tail-end of a deeper run. Rooted in a variety of crayfish patterns, this streamer can be tied with a foam back or a turkey quill back. Most are tied with lead on the hook shank to help it reach maximum depth.

If there is one thing a streamer addict can be accused of it’s a commitment to the game. Casting large flies for long periods of time takes dedication. Creating unique streamer patterns requires patience, time at the vise and refined fly tying skills. Choosing the right waters at the right time with the right fly takes knowledge. All this means that streamer fishing ain’t easy, but, when it all comes together the rewards can be worth the effort.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly“ and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.