Fly fishing is like anything else in life, the more you learn, the more you realize how little you actually know. At FlyCast, it is our number one priority to help anglers of all skill levels to do just that and we’d be kidding ourselves if we told you that we have nothing to learn. Although we are comfortable with our streamer game as a supplement to our dry fly and nymphing tactics, we recognize that streamer fishing is the one method of trout fishing that we have the most to learn about. So in an effort to better ourselves as streamer fishermen, we hit the water with AvidMax Fly Fishing and Outdoor Shop as well as streamer enthusiast/FlyCast ambassador, Max Pavel. While mother nature was working against us, we had an incredible day on the water and learned a few tips along the way that helped give us an edge. The following tips are just a few of the many lessons learned from our time on the water with AvidMax. While these tips/lessons learned are geared specifically toward Colorado rivers and streams, they can be applied to similar drainages and aquatic ecosystems across the world.
Photo Credit: Max Pavel @pavelosophy
Understand Conditions for the Day: Fishing streamers can be effective just about anytime of the year. However, it is imperative to understand what you’re up against before you even hit the water. The following are a few questions you should be asking/researching before you even hit the water. While we enjoy the research, we understand that not everyone does. You can find all of this information and more for the various major Colorado rivers and streams at flycastusa.com
- What is the river flowing at? If flows are low, you’ll likely be up against skittish fish in clear water. In this case, you’ll need to do your best not to spook the fish and put yourself in a position to make a precise cast. Additionally, you’ll want to go with more natural colored flies. Conversely, if the water is high, odds are the clarity is off and trout will not spook so easily. While you always want to practice stealth, you can take more risks and put yourself in the best casting position. In this case, you’ll also want to go with flies with a little flash.
- What is the barometric pressure? Ideally, air (barometric) pressure will be low and trout will feed more opportunistically and aggressively on bigger bites. In times of low air pressure, trout will hold relatively idle and attack their prey at a moments notice. Conversely, if air pressure is high, trout will be less inclined to feed on streamers and will feed more selectively on smaller bugs. As such, presentation is key and you’ll want to focus on faster water where trout have less time to decide whether or not they’re going to attack.
- What is the air temp? In general, trout will feed more aggressively in mild weather (i.e. not too cold and not too hot). This is what makes fall streamer fishing so productive. In the fall you can usually get away with fishing streamers all day, but in the shoulder seasons you’ll need to pick your timing wisely. In the summer, you’ll want to fish the morning or evening when air/water temps are lowest and trout are the most active. In the winter/spring, you're better off waiting until midday when air and water temps are highest.
- What are the sky conditions? Cloud cover/overcast skies are ideal when fishing streamers as it gives trout a sense of protection, allowing them to move more freely across the water and to feed more aggressively. Under these conditions you’ll want to focus on darker, more natural colored streamers. Whereas, bright (white) flies will be more effective in times with sun exposure.
- Ideal Conditions = Slightly off colored water + Low Barometric Pressure + Mild Air Temps + Cloud cover/Overcast skies
You’ve Got to Have the Right Gear: There are so many nuances to choosing the right gear. However, it is fairly simple conceptually. The following are our top priorities when it comes to gear and streamer fishing. That being said, we understand that fly fishing gear, particularly streamers, can come at a cost. So in an effort to help lower the barrier to entry for what is arguably one of the more fun ways to fly fish, we've teamed up with AvidMax. For the month of October, AvidMax has been so generous to pass along a 10% off promotion to FlyCast followers. See below for more info!
- What type of fly rod? First, and arguably the most important thing to consider when thinking about the right gear, you’ll want to ensure you’ve got the right type of fly rod. While length and rod action (fast, moderate, stiff) can be fairly preferential, a stiffer action 6, 7 or 8 weight rod will treat you right. Not only will it allow you to make a precise cast with those heavy flies, but it will ensure you are in control of the fish when you’re hooked up.
- What type of reel? We’ll spare you on the various preferences around reels as there are several schools of thought, but in general you’ll want something sturdy/reliable with an adjustable drag mechanism. Like your rod, a 6 to 8 weight reel should do the trick.
- What type of fly line? While a full sinking line is effective, particularly in deep and slow water, a sink tip or floating line will be the most versatile when it comes to stream fishing. A sink tip line will allow you to better control your flies not only when casting, but when submerged in the water. Sink tips come in various grain weights. However, as long as the line is designed to drop your flies down anywhere from 2 to 8 feet, you’ll be in good shape.
- What type of leader? There are countless streamer leaders out there that are designed to hold up to aggressively feeding trout and heavy flies. There are even leaders designed with the intent to help sink your flies. However, we’d argue that this is something you shouldn’t think too hard about. In fact, we prefer to ditch the leader all together and go with 3 to 4 feet of 12 to 15 pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon. In theory, a longer fluorocarbon leader will disguise your flies better. However, when trout feed on other fish, they are tapping into their predatory instincts and tacking swift/aggressive action. If you’re going to get fancy with it, we recommend starting with a piece of 15 pound test fluorocarbon to a micro swivel or saltwater tippet ring. From there, attach a piece of 12 pound test fluorocarbon tippet. If you’re going to splurge on anything, do it on fluorocarbon. Again, the entire set up shouldn’t be longer than 4 feet. Shorter leader gives you more control of your flies and allows for a better presentation.
You’ve Got to Commit: If you’re going to be successful fishing streamers, you’ve got to commit. At this point, you understand what gear you need and what you’re up against as far as mother nature is concerned, but now you need to decide whether or not you’re going to commit. Streamer fishing is highly rewarding, but can often take some time to hone it in. If you give up too quickly you might miss out on a fish of a lifetime or highly productive window of fishing. As such, we like to commit before we even hit the water to fishing streamers or not. This way there is no FOMO and the expectations have been set, giving comfort in your decision. You don’t necessarily have to commit to a full day, but rather have a plan. If you’re fishing from a boat, you might tell yourself that you’ll fish streamers while floating and nymphs from the banks. Or, if you’re wading, you might decide to fish your nymph rig or dry fly set up upstream and fish streamers downstream when you are ready to start making your way back to the car. Either way, come up with a plan that works for you and commit!
Forget What you Know About Finesse and Slap the Water: This was particularly difficult for me to adapt to. After years of fishing microscopic flies to selective tailwater trout, I have drilled into my brain the importance of light and clean casts. So, you can imagine that it was difficult for me to physically abuse the water. I understood that you really can’t avoid making a splash when fishing streamers and that by doing so you’d get the trout's attention. However, I didn’t realize that it is in your best interest to really lay your flies down hard. While trout will watch for aquatic insects floating down the water, when it comes to nourishment that is higher on the food chain, like baitfish, their reaction is more predatory by nature. Instead, trout use their lateral lines to detect these vibrations or changes in movement about the water before their prey becomes visible. By hitting the water hard, you’re signaling this predatory instinct and effectively drawing their attention. From there, trout will physically locate your fly and attack.
Embrace Irregularity and Mix Up your Stripping: It isn’t uncommon for a novice or beginner streamer fisherman to put more fish in the net than their expert counterpart. A common mistake that even the best of anglers make is stripping a consistent amount of line at the same rate through the water, cast after cast. Newer anglers are prone to irregular or inconsistent strips which, in reality, is what you want. While most walks of life will reward consistency, the opposite is true when it comes to stripping streamers through the water. As a rule of nature, the strong prey on the weak and trout are no different. Irregular or inconsistent strips through the water will imitate a stunned or struggling fish giving trout the impression of an easy meal. Vary your retrieval speed, length, timing, and direction to try to find the right combination the fish prefer. Once you find that productive combination, stick with it! Chances are, the movement and action you are giving your streamer, closely resembles the larger food sources the trout are looking for.
Be Patient: Like any form of fishing, you need to be patient. First off, don’t give up on fishing streamers if you aren’t seeing results right away! Think back to the aforementioned tips and make adjustments as needed. Additionally, it is imperative to give the trout a chance to take your fly. You’ve gotten their attention by hitting the water in which they are holding and the trout begins to chase your fly. Don’t jump the gun and start stripping faster. Stick with the plan and focus on presentation through varying retrieves. If you feel a subtle tug, don’t yank your flies out of the water just yet. Oftentimes, trout will stun their prey, by giving it a quick bump, before making their final move. Once you’ve ensured a take, it's time for a strip set and it’s off to the races.