By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
There is indeed frost on the pumpkin; fall colors have peaked; and armchair anglers have gone back to suburbia and their 9-to-5 commuting gigs. It’s time to get serious about fishing our local waters. But haven’t we been serious for six months now? Mother’s Day caddis, salmon flies, spruce moths, and epic hopper fishing—for those in the know, it can get better—and if you refine your streamer fishing game, it will.
This happens frequently in my boat:
“I love to fish streamers,” Client One says. “Is that a good way to fish?”
“Great. I love to fish with guys who love to fish streamers,” I reply. “And it can be a good way to fish, but it takes commitment.”
“Great, let’s do it,” Client One says.
I change over his rig and we begin fishing a bulky, heavily weighted fly. From the single dry fly we just cut off, this is like going from trying to parallel park in Manhattan with Mini Cooper to a Suburban. We strip it for a while, we drag it for a while, and we dead drift. An hour or so later Client One asks for the single dry-fly rig back.
Here’s some advice to get more out of your streamer fishing.
Adjust your attitude. Fishing streamers requires a higher level of patience and commitment. You are going to catch fewer fish than while nymphing or fishing dry flies—but the fish you do catch on streamers will be bigger.
Improve your cast. Casting heavily weighted flies all day is hard work, so improve your basic casting stroke. Learn a double haul and perfect it, so that you can generate higher line speed and load the rod sooner. Master the tuck cast and you can fire that size 2 big-eye bugger under over-hanging branches. Learn a water haul to help you begin a cast with less effort. Improve the relationship between your rod hand and your line hand, so that your line hand is always ready to strip or haul immediately.
Choose a fly with eyes and contrasting colors. Eyes allow for a predator to focus on something, and contrasting colors create a variation on which a larger fish can target. Most trout have a variety of colors on their bodies, and trout eat trout. So, choose a fly that imitates the available food source.
Think like a predator. Fall is the season when our rivers’ largest trout shift from gatherers to hunters. With lower flows the available water for smaller fish to escape to is limited. But just as a little fish feel like there is always something bigger than them in, or above, the water, bigger fish feel the same way—and you are that bigger fish.
Approach the water slowly, walk softly on the bank, and be aware of your shadow and whether it casts onto the river. Look to fish areas where a larger trout may be waiting to ambush your fly—drop-offs, cut banks, bankside structure, or even a shallow riffle.
Learn all of the ways to fish a streamer. Stripping is the most obvious and most used, and you want to strip slightly faster than the pace of the water. Experiment with slow strips, then fast strips and twitches. After a strip or two, twitch or jig the rod tip so that movement is transferred to the fly—twitching or jigging can imitate an injured baitfish. Drag a streamer off the bank or off a drop-off by letting the current pull the fly along with the current. Cast upstream, add a very small downstream mend in the fly line, creating an elongated curve in the fly line, and allow the current to provide the downstream movement.
On a rare early October day that I’m not guiding, I’ll fish a day with a fellow guide. We fish streamers all day. We each catch one fish, but combined they total nearly 50 inches. That’s a pretty special day. And that’s what streamer fishing is all about—an intrinsic reward of quality over quantity.
Pat Straub is a 20-year veteran guide on Montana’s waters and has fished the world-over. The co-founder of the Montana Fishing Guide School, he’s 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.