As the high country gradually defrosts, you would think that there is nothing to look forward to in the near future for the stream-starved fly fisherman. But nothing could be further from the truth. Now is the time to get ready for those warm spring days that come every so often and take advantage of savage trout as the ice starts to melt and springtime starts to emerge in the Rockies.
There are two parts to spring fishing, both of which you can take advantage of here: “pre” and “post” melt off. Right now, the pre melt off spring fishing will soon be underway. There will be warm days with open waters before the torrent of melted snow starts to blow out the rivers. Tactics on the river are pretty much the same as those you’d use in winter fishing. Egg patterns, annelids, midges and streamers are the pattern de jour. Drifting eggs and worms are pretty straight forward – but when you tie on a streamer, a whole new world of technique and opportunity awaits.
Streamer fishing is ideal during both before and during spring melt off for a couple reasons. One is that the larger size and movements of streamers more closely mimic the prey that are readily available; the clouds of hatching caddis or salmon flies are still months away. Also, the large bulky streamer will attract fish during the high melt off torrents, while a smaller presentation will often go unnoticed. While any size fish will go after a streamer, you would be imitating a primary source of food for larger trout that require more protein – so your chances at a trophy go up as well.
The first step to setting yourself up for success is to gauge the water temperature. You can usually guess, but you can also stop by the shop and purchase a thermometer to make sure you are accurately taking the water temperature. If the temperature is between 50-65 degrees, you can proceed with a traditional streamer tactics: casting across the river, usually 45 degrees upstream or so, letting it sink and then stripping it in varied styles back across the river. Fish are more active in these temperatures and will chase a streamer and be more aggressive on the whole.
The next decision will be selection of the fly itself. Should you go brightly colored or black and brown? Lords know some streamers look like they could up and fly south for the winter they are so big and colorful, but when is the best time to try them? There is a lot of science to selecting the correct color, but the research suggests bright golds and silvers in clear water on bright days and favoring a fluorescent if it gets cloudy. By contract, black, brown and olive work better in murky waters. Of course, I’ve caught plenty of fish on a bright blue day with a black woolly bugger, so if it ain’t working…. science shmience.
If the temperature is below 50 degrees, the fish will be much more reluctant to go out of their way to chase down a streamer. You have to be much more strategic and make sure you are getting your streamer to where the fish are rather than the other way around. This means you can go with a sinking line or a combination of other techniques to get to where the fish are. In these colder waters, you should try dead drifting the streamer into the deepest holes to get a strike.
If you are dead drifting streamers on a floating line, you are most likely not getting deep enough. Even with a heavy tungsten head on the streamer, it’s not going as deep as you think. There are a few things you can do to get it to go deeper. Additional weight can be useful, but if you have weight in addition to a tungsten bead head, you will have a tough casting day. You can use a thinner and longer leader so it can cut through the water more easily, but depending on your streamer, the cons of a long leader may outweigh the benefits. It’s a general rule of thumb to use shorter and stronger leader for most streamer situations – but all rules are meant to be broken!
You can also employ the “Tuck” cast. There are a few ways to complete the tuck cast effectively. But if you are a serious nymph or streamer fisherman, this is a great cast to master. It involves manipulating the line so that the fly shoots down into the water first so that it gets into the water column more quickly. Here are the two best examples I found.
You can see that there are two versions that accomplish the same goal. I’ve employed the overpower technique with better success, but that is because I typically go for the shorter and stronger leaders while using streamers. In the end, this is a personal decision and I recommend you explore both techniques and how they work with different leader types.
The last tip I found involves the best knot you can use for streamer fishing. Because the action is different, a loop knot makes a lot of sense. It allows for a bit more freedom and some fisherman swear by it as stronger than your typical fisherman’s knot. Here is a diagram on how its tied. Because streamers can be so heavy, you need to make sure your knot is perfect, as a mistimed cast could snap it off in a hurry. Try a double haul and being extra patient on your back-cast to ensure you have the proper transfer of power to your forward cast. This is a personal bad habit that I’ve been working on for years!
To me, streamer fishing has been a lot of fun—it’s like a bonus level to the kind of fishing I had been doing all my life. I’ve enjoyed the newness and the learning involved in addition to the fact that it gives you another tool you can use in case the conditions don’t work for the more traditional dry fly or nymphing techniques. I hope you stop by Cutthroat Anglers on your way out to the river to pick up some streamers or get some information on local conditions. Springtime is right around the corner, but you don’t have to wait to get a tight line!