I remembered this write up I did a few years ago for another website on my drive home from Arkansas. After spending many more years guiding on the White River in Arkansas, I look at streamer fishing a little bit differently than I did. Fly patterns and retrieves have changed a bit, maybe I should say vary more now, but many things are still the same. Now in Michigan we find ourselves rolling into a great time of year to streamer fish. Looks like 1 more week of winter…hopefully we will be safe after that. As for my schedule, I’ve got plenty of dates in April, just a handful of trout dates open in May and June but a few bass dates open those months. I’m looking forward to it!
The Streamer Game
Streamer fishing is one of the most exciting forms of fly fishing. The streamer junkies I know rarely carry a floating line, they are addicted. It takes a determined soul to pursue trophy brown trout (and perhaps a bit of insanity). Bites can be few and far between on many days but when a big brown comes to a streamer, it can change how you look at fly fishing. Brown trout are the apex predator in the rivers they live; therefore they are pursued in a different manner. Think of it as musky fishing for trout, big baits, big rods and heavy leaders. Some days fish come from every log or hole in the river, we call that the suicide bite. Other days the fisherman needs to use a little finesse to catch fish. Where, when, water conditions (clarity, levels and temp), weather conditions and the fish’s mood all play a part in activity. I have seen days where the biggest fish in the river will chase 4” flies but touch nothing bigger. I have seen days when 4” flies won’t turn a large fish and they only seem interested in 8” flies.
Knowledge of the water you are fishing plays a major role in catching fish on streamers. Knowing the pockets and deep water cuts can pay dividends when the water is high and dirty and those spots are unnoticeable. Most brown trout are caught in low light situations when seeing structure and the bottom of the river is nearly impossible. By knowing the water you will know when to stall a fly, strip fast, aim for a mid-river pocket or a submerged log, all likely spots when streamer fishing.
The mindset of a streamer angler is critical. You must grind to have success. Physically it is demanding and you must be ready for the bite at all times. A brief lapse in concentration at the exact moment the fish of your dreams shows up, and heartbreak sets in. It usually takes hours of casting for that moment to occur so focus is imperative. The best streamer anglers I fish with will cast from sunrise to sunset without wavering.
Another characteristic of good streamer anglers is high conversion rate. Most anglers can move and see fish but landing them is another story. Many factors go into your conversion rate but most importantly it comes down to hookset and fish fighting technique. Managing your slack to maximize action, while being prepared for the hookset is a must. A good hard strip set or two (depending on amount of slack line out) must happen to penetrate the large hooks streamers are tied on. Once the fish is hooked, you should stand your ground while fighting the fish with the bottom third of the rod. I’ve seen many fish lost when anglers try to move the rod overhead and the fish is fought with the rod tip. That is how fish are fought on light tippet with fine wire hooks, not how big fish are caught on heavy tackle.
I could go on for pages about small details that good streamer anglers do each cast. Do you have to do everything correctly to catch fish on streamers? Definitely not. But doing the small things will result in more fish, which in turn results into bigger fish. Success streamer fishing depends on the angler in large part. A guide can put you on the fish and many times the fish will come to the fly but once the fish eats it’s all up to the angler.
Streamer fishing isn’t for everyone, in fact many anglers and guides don’t like it. It takes accomplished anglers, long days and lots of rowing to be successful. But it’s about the process. The process of streamer fishing is not only fun but it consistently produces the biggest fish of each season. When an angler catches the streamer fishing bug it can become as addicting as any drug. The next bite is like the next hit for a junkie…..and there’s never enough.