I had a couple of guys come into my fly shop in Hamilton a few days ago and ask for streamers. That’s what they intended to fish.
I didn’t have to dampen their excitement and tell them that the good dry fly fishing was not quite here yet. That was a relief. They came with a mindset to do what worked.
One of the fellows was fairly new to the sport but could cast. His host was the more experienced angler of the two, and knew where to take his friend fishing.
They both knew from fishing they had done in other places that trout do about seventy to eighty percent of their feeding under the surface. That too was a sort of relief for me. I didn’t have to sell the program, so to speak, of why to fish streamers. They agreed, with big grins, when I repeated one of my favorite axioms: “Big fish eat little fish all the time”
Their questions went right to which streamers, where and how they should be fished.
Slower water, slower retrieve
This time of year, I told them, the water temperatures are just beginning to move into the range where trout will be marginally active. The big brown that might chase a minnow across a gravel bar for ten feet in midsummer might move only ten inches now to take it. And the smaller baitfish will be moving slower as well.
The slam-the-bank and jerk-it-out streamer method that might trigger an attack from that same territorially aggressive big brown trout in the fall might not work right now. If all else fails you might give it a try – but I wouldn’t start there.
Start instead, I told them, fishing the insides of the bends and pools, looking for water that is moving at about two feet per second or shows a sparkling chop on top. You might find fish at the edge of the fast water but not in it.
Place your casts where they won’t spook the fish holding in that calm water – stay out of their range of view, and don’t push a wake when you wade.
Comb the water, and if you can, cast quartering upstream and retrieve the fly so it will move broadside to the fish. Let them look at it, and sidle over to where they can chomp it for an easy meal.
And as usual, vary your retrieve speed and length of pull according to the water you’re fishing, the type of fly you’re using, and your instinct. Don’t be too analytical about it – just try, a little more with each cast, to get the feel of it; get in touch with it. When you find something that works, dial it in.
The guys seemed to have a good handle on that part of it – one from his experience with lures in rivers for other species, and the other with streamers for trout.
They both knew that you have to make the fly swim. The best way to teach that part, I found with clients, was to have them stand in water about a foot deep where they could see, and cast toward them and move the fly past their feet. “You know what a minnow or a fish in an aquarium looks like when it swims, right?” I would ask them. “Make your streamer fly do the same thing – make the fly swim. It’s a little fish, not a torpedo.”
Don’t overlook small streamers
They asked which flies would work best. Among my recommendations, while we’re waiting for more skwala stoneflies to emerge (and the salmonfly and golden stone nymph that are staging up behind them,) I suggested #10 and #12 Olive-bodied Black Wooly Buggers.
Lightly weighted olive or brown Wooly Buggers in #8 on up, or, when you can get them, Seal Buggers in the same colors, are favored by some of the best streamer fishermen that I know. These flies are weighted, but aren’t as heavily as the Conehead Wooly Buggers in the same sizes that are standard fare all year long.
“Stonefly nymphs swim,” I told them. “Find one sitting on a rock and poke him in the tail. He’ll swim about eight inches or so, almost as fast as a small fish. Fish the edge water, retrieve back toward shore, and move this little Olive-Black Wooly Bugger about eight inches a pull – The trout are already keyed on the nymphs – you might surprise yourself.”
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