by Charlie Downs
Hopefully the winter months will bring some much needed precipitation in the form of either rain or snow, a welcome change from the low water conditions and spooky fish we’ve been dealing with for the past several months. The lower water temps and increased flows should help the trout to shake off their lethargy and become more aggressive. The higher flows mean water that is less than clear, resulting in a tendency of the fish to accept larger flies on heavier leaders. This can be an excellent opportunity to pull out the old streamer box and prospect for the big boys.
In fast, dingy water fish have to make feeding decisions quickly and respond to motion and vibration more than sight. A large streamer such as a Muddler Minnow or sculpin pattern with a big head of deer hair or wool will push water ahead of itself causing vibrations in the water which the fish then “feel” along their lateral line. Under these conditions, the outline of the fly is probably more important than specifics such as color or size. I like a good old Wooly Bugger for just this reason. Depending on how it’s tied, it’s a pretty good representation of a number of common fish foods, such as leeches, crawfish, large stoneflies and most bait fish.
Fish aren’t inclined to fight the currents associated with heavy flows and tend to hunker down behind a rock on the stream bottom or tight up against the bank. It’s critical under these conditions to get the fly to the fish. Right to the fish. “Close enough” won’t be close enough. Decide where you think the fish is holding and get your fly there. I usually prefer to fish streamers by casting across and slightly downstream, twitching the fly as it drifts with the current and using my rod tip to “steer” the fly to precisely the location where I believe the fish is holding. As the fly drifts into the strike zone, I’ll use both the rod tip and my line hand to move the fly somewhat more aggressively as if it’s a baitfish that’s just realized it’s in danger of being eaten. If this presentation doesn’t result in a strike, I’ll pick the fly up, make a single back cast and put the fly back on the water, working it into the next likely lie.
Fishing with streamers in heavy water may not result in large numbers of fish but the ones you do catch tend to be bigger, so adjust your leader length and tippet size accordingly. A 6’ 3x-1x leader and tippet will allow you to more easily cast a heavily weighted streamer and handler a large fish in fast water.
So take your heavy rod, big streamers, and short leaders out of the closet and head down to the river for a shot at “the big one”. C.D.