Vail Valley fly-fishing: Streamer fishing, aka the art of throwing meat to large, aggressive trout
August 24, 2017
Streamer fishing has a special place in the hearts and minds of many guides and seasoned anglers.
There are also countless anglers that just don't understand the enjoyment and pleasure of throwing giant flies at trout. I, for one, didn't understand the streamer game until I started feeling the tug. The saying in streamer fishing is "the tug is the drug," and I'm addicted.
I think the streamer game is so appealing to anglers because it is such a departure from watching a strike indicator or dry fly making precise drifts. Don't get me wrong, when the conditions are right, I love to make finesse casts with a small dry fly to rising fish or drifting a nymph rig over a pod of fish feeding subsurface. However, if it is a overcast day or if I'm standing in a drift boat, I am most likely chucking meat to large, aggressive fish.
On a boat
Streamer fishing can be a very exciting way to fly-fish. It can be done while wade fishing, but it is most successful from a boat while floating. Casting flies that imitate baitfish or sculpin (a small fish that lives along the bottom of the river) close to the banks and stripping the line to give movement to the flies is one of the most productive ways to streamer fish.
The strips or short pulls on the fly line give the streamer the illusion that it is an injured or confused fish — perfect for a hungry trout to pounce on. A standard strip is about a three inch pull on the fly line followed by a two to three second pause. The pause is very important because this give the fly time to sink. Fish tend to strike the fly on the pause and the next strip is when the angler connects to that fish.
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If the standard strip isn't doing the trick, then try changing it up. Shorter or longer strips, quicker strips between pauses, two short strips and a pause, the options and ways to do it are endless. A general rule of thumb is faster strips in warmer water and slower in colder water. Fish are more lethargic in colder water and are less likely to attack a fast moving target.
The hook set is different when streamer fishing. The common lift of the rod tip only pulls the fly out of the fish's mouth when fishing with streamers. The proper way to set your hook is to strip set. As I mentioned before, trout tend to strike the streamer during the pause in between strips. The angler will feel the bump or tug of the fish eating the fly, this is when you give the fly one more strip to set the hook in the fish's mouth. Once the hook is set, you can rise the rod tip to keep tension on the hook and fight the fish.
In the water
If streamer fishing while wading, there are a couple of ways to attack the fish. One is to cast across from you and strip the line in as the current takes the streamer downstream. Another technique is to cast slightly downstream from you and let the current swing your fly across the river and then stripping the line when it is below you in the river. While streamer fishing is much more productive from a boat, you can still hook into some of the larger fish while wading.
There are a lot of different streamer patterns out there and more are created by fly tyers every year. Some of my favorite patterns are the ones that imitate sculpins such as the Baby Gonga, Sculpzilla, El Sculpito, and the Muddler Minnow. You'll find that some of the names of streamers are downright comical.
When picking a color, use the saying, "Dark days, dark flies, and light days, light flies" as a general guideline. I typically will throw black streamers when there is heavy cloud coverage or if it's raining. For sunny days, I cast brighter flies or streamers with natural colors like tan and olive.
Lastly, when fishing streamers, you don't need to use light tippet to fool the fish. Trout will eat a streamer out of aggression and will usually chase a streamer down, therefore not seeing the leader. We like to take older trout leaders, that we have cut back to the thicker section and repurpose them as streamer leaders. Three to four feet of leader is all that you'll need. I usually will attach a short section of 1x tippet to the repurposed leader to tie my fly on. This is a great way to get more out of your trout leaders.
With most techniques in fly-fishing, there is a great deal of trial and error. Some styles work on some days, while others work the days inbetween. So, if you have never tossed meaty flies at trout, go out and give it a try. You never know if today is the day you catch your largest fish.
Ray Kyle is the shop supervisor and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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