Salomone: Streamers in springtime, go big with a purpose. |

Salomone: Streamers in springtime, go big with a purpose.

Michael Salomone
Sculpins are the perfect foraging fish for hungry trout after winter. A wooly bugger is one of the best flies for imitating these thick baitfish.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

Streamers in the springtime are not the giant, articulated swimming beasts we huck in the autumn for fired up brown trout looking to stock up before winter. In the fall, trout rely on vision, tracking and distance to commit to a streamer. It takes some coercion to sell it. Not in the spring — we want big but with a purpose.

Sculpins are big-headed, dark-colored baitfish. Broad pectoral fins lay out to the side, increasing their width. Sculpins have a flattened out head and big tail.

A prime food source for trout, sculpins are found in the Eagle River, living along the river bottom. While their presence in the Eagle River above Avon is sparse, they continue to repopulate with an increased regularity. Below Wolcott they possess a different size and importance, especially to the river’s large fish.

The thick baitfish will glide along and flatten out when they stop on the bottom. Dark coloring blends the fish with the substrate. Wiggling into crevices, sculpins try to avoid predation with camouflage and stealth. When high water arrives, however, they get pushed around, washed up in heavy currents and tossed along uncontrollably. Here is where swift-swimming trout pick them off in the tumultuous currents.

In the spring, it is the big trout that are looking to recover weight from the lean winter months. The best way to obtain the nutrition necessary to replenish depleted trout is with big protein. Sculpins are that type of big protein.

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One of the best flies anglers can tie for imitating sculpins is a wooly bugger. Wooly buggers should be tied with a distinct flair using a broad hackle, behind the conehead. And yes, tie them with a cone. They can be tied with heavy barbell eyes but the cone seems to work well for the shape and weight.

Thick, heavy hackle will imitate the wide, pectoral fins of the sculpins. Weight incorporated into the body drops the streamer more evenly rather than with an up and down head motion. Long marabou tails buckle and fold in the current and during the retrieve. The properties marabou has when underwater breathe life into sterile streamers. Strive to design a tail longer than usual to accent the swimming motion in a heavy current, like a slowly waving flag on a breezy day.

A sculpzilla is a perfect example. This fly is bulky and heavy. A short trailing hook in the tail catches those trout that like to swipe at a streamer. This fly has a heavy silhouette. It is the large, moving object that trout key in on in the spring.

Water clarity during high water does not assist feeding opportunities, but movement of your fly and proximity to the river bottom do. The sculpzilla performs all of these tasks perfectly. While I have this pattern in many colors, the dark olive or black are the go to colors I reach for in the spring.

Use a slow retrieve with streamers to ensure trout have time to pounce.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

On the retrieve, a misguided, side-to-side retrieve assists in selling a streamer as a sculpin, but slow. Let the river current create the illusion of swimming rather than angler-induced action. Slow retrieves give trout time to pounce. The streamer strike in spring is an ambush hit, not a long following where motion and action attain the bite.

Present the fly around structure such as large, current-breaking boulders, logs river-stripped of bark and branches and bottlenecks where river water is forced through tight, pinching conditions. Trout will set up below pinch points and current seams waiting for helpless baitfish to be haphazardly tumbled downstream. An appearance of struggle or disorientation in your fly results in powerful strikes.

Sidewater feeder streams are pushing more water now, too. The baitfish offerings are small trout in the alevin, fry or fingerling stage. None of these are large. Their appearance is very slim but displaying trout markings.

Tungsten beads are small in diameter but heavier in weight and create a slim streamer that mimics an immature trout. Vail Valley Anglers guide, Tom Gibson, ties a special small streamer just like this. If he opens his box and offers, don’t question; just hold out your hand.

Slow it down on the retrieve, let the fly sit in the rocks. Forage fish are found hiding on the bottom. Give the browns time to pick it up or pin it down. In the springtime, go big but with a purpose.

A perfect string streamer — go big, but with a purpose.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

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