Streamer Caught Trout

Streamer Fishing For Trout

What is streamer fishing?

Here in the UK people think of streamer fishing as either a last chance method or a lazy cast out and let the fly swing around in the current style using still water flies – which is very far from the truth! In fact, using streamers is a very technical style of fishing which takes a lot of research and time on the water to master.

In this article I’m going to try to explain my thought process and provide a more in depth look at this exciting and often productive way to catch a fish of a lifetime (and hopefully a second and third!).

I hear all the time “there’s no need to fish massive flies to catch big trout, I catch loads of big fish on dries and nymphs”, and that is true, you can catch big fish on these methods but by learning to fish streamers you will up your chances of catching those big fish the nymph and dry fly anglers missed and spooked.

These trout I’m going to talk about aren’t the ones feeding on the dries and nymphs you see rising – they’re the ones feeding on the rising fish! These fish have turned to a mainly protein based diet to obtain a lot of calories quickly.

Fish in every body of water are different, and what I mean by that is in a body of water where there’s great breeding but poor feeding a big fish might be 15” but in a water where there’s great feeding but poor breeding a big fish might be 30” long, this means that you do not need to fish these huge flies you see on the internet all the time but fish suitable flies for the situation.

Streamer Caught Trout

How do I find these big fish?

This is the one-million-dollar question!

To start, my first experience of a big cannibal trout happened by complete accident on my local river about 19 years ago. While fishing in a heavy March Brown hatch with dries, I was working my way up a long flat pool picking off individual rising fish and while a beautiful little 6-inch brown trout was splashing its way into the net a massive trout came up out of nowhere and grabbed it. It put a huge bend in my little 3 weight as the fish tore off down the pool with the 6-inch trout t-boned in its mouth, as I palmed the reel to put some pressure on and slow it down it let go never to be seen again. That little trout had teeth marks down both its flanks but it still swam away strong but I don’t know who was more shaken, me or the trout.

This got me thinking about big fish more and how do I go about catching them?

I do know one thing though, and that is it’s not in that pool any more, because for the past 19 years every time I walk past that pool, I always fish it and have never seen a fish like that since.

Unlike trout which normally stick to a lie in a pool these big fish act more like pike in that they move up and down the river depending on food source. The smolt run is a good example of this.

The next thing to think about is a trout can and will eat something up to a third its body length, so a 4-inch trout or grayling is an easy mouth full, and it doesn’t take many of them to fill up a fish, so most of the big fish you will be targeting will be full up and resting. They might only feed for an hour either side of dusk and dawn which means the window of opportunity to target feeding fish is greatly reduced. If we’re not fishing for feeding fish this means that these fish are attacking the flies out of aggression and instinct rather than hunger. When these fish are resting they’re not sitting in the fast current, they’re tucked away in a big slack or an undercut bank, or more often than not the shallow water in the inside of bends. They’re not fussy as long as they get peace and quiet, they sit wherever they want. Due to their size, unless otters or pike are present they’re not scared of much. When people fish dries and nymphs they normally wade where a lot of the big trout rest up, so before they have even had their flies in the water the biggest fish in the pool has been spooked.

I’ve found big slacks on the inside of fast runs very productive and also the slow tails of pools just below the fast current but this is not a guarantee. The best way to find them is simply just to cover water fishing every likely looking spot. I can cover a good 3 or 4 miles in a day searching for them.

Streamer Caught Trout

What Tackle Do I Need?

Rods

It’s not essential to rush out and buy a set up just for streamer fishing but as with nymphing or dry fly, it makes it easier and in turn makes it a lot more fun.

When I started dabbling in using streamers, I used my 9ft 5 weight dry fly rod with a floating line and a 5ft fast sink poly leader on the end and, while it did work, with larger flies it was hard going. Once I started catching more and better fish, I upgraded my line to a very aggressive front tapered line which made casting at close range and turning over these big bulky flies a lot easier.

I soon invested in a specialised set up which consisted of a 9ft 6 weight and a 9ft 7 weight fast action rod, a streamer sinking tip line and heavy fluorocarbon leaders.

If you’re mostly fishing dries or nymphs but want to try streamers there’s no need to buy a new set up but if you want to get into it for catching big trophy trout more often, I would highly recommend this fast, aggressive style of fishing.

You don’t need to go and order a custom-made blank there’s plenty of off the shelf rods suitable for it. I use fast action 5 – 7 weights. You are looking for a blank that will cast sinking lines, a sink tip, some specialist tungsten heads and on a rare occasion a floater with minimum false casts easily and accurately. It needs to be light enough to fish all day but also powerful enough to set the hook when striking, twitch the fly in the current and play a big fish quickly in the fast flow to release it unharmed. The rod that suits best should be a fast action for lifting heavy lines and flies. I like a full wells handle, and a fighting butt comes in handy to rest against your forearm during the fight.

Rod length is a personal preference but I like 9ft rods. I do sometimes use a 10fter if I’m high sticking heavy streamers in deep pocket water.

 

Reels

I do advise a large arbour with a disk drag for this style of fishing, when you hook your pb trout you do not want to be having to think about what the reel’s doing, i.e. no drag or palming the side of the reel trying to slow the fish down. Also, I hear “why do I need a fancy reel? I have landed big trout on my three weight no problem” – well think again! These fish aren’t sitting relaxing sipping duns or midge. They are very aggressive and they’re not used to prey fighting back so they will run if they have the space and that’s when you will realise that you needed that backing and smooth drag.

There’s nothing worse than not having a good drag and a large arbour when a big fish runs down the pool only to turn and head straight for you at full speed and your reel over spools because you can’t retrieve the line fast enough leaving you with a load of out of control line, a big fish trying to kill the streamer all while you’re trying to hand line it in – that fish will be gone for good!

 

Fly lines

My go to line is an aggressive taper weight forward sinking line with a floating running line. An aggressive taper makes chucking big flies at short range easier. A fast-sinking, short head with a thin floating running line is ideal. The floating running line is important for two reasons, firstly when casting you don’t need to try and lift a long length of sinking line out the water and secondly when wading wading since the running line floats your loose line doesn’t sink at your feet catching on everything below the surface.

The reason for a sinking line is on the retrieve it keeps the fly at an even depth, this is important because most of the time trout are looking up for food and most baitfish are on the bottom hiding so if a small bait fish or sculpin is mid water to feed, or in a sculpins, case is injured or disoriented, it’s going to be an easy meal.

When fishing I want to keep my fly mid water so it has a good silhouette from below and is not far away from the fish. It’s easy to keep your fly mid current by either slowing down of speeding up your retrieve, it’s important to know the sink rate of your line so you can count it down to the required depth before the retrieve starts.

I normally also carry a sink tip line especially when fishing skinny water between pools. This water would be called spider water but a black woolly bugger with an orange cone head stripped fast through these areas always banks a few fish. It’s also useful early season when fishing fast pocket water with heavily weighted flies. This style of fishing is called jig fishing because after the cast I lift the rod up and down so the fly jigs along the bottom.

Leaders

The trout we’re fishing for aren’t intimated by leaders so there’s not need to go long and light. Again, these fish are aggressive and because you’re fishing big flies fast, they see the fly and will charge it down before it swims past.

My leaders are a salmon tapered leader cut down to about 2 feet then two feet of 15lb fluorocarbon attached by an Albright knot. This leader set up will push a big bulky fly through the air and turn it over with ease. The tippet section is still fluorocarbon so when the cast is made the transfer of energy along the fly line is transferred all the way along the leader to the fly ensuring the flies turn over every time. The leader also acts like a shock leader for when that big fish hits

Streamer Caught Trout

Flies

I put my flies into 5 categories: baitfish imitations, sculpin/crayfish, jig flies, surface flies and attractor patterns

Baitfish– this is the most common form of streamer and it’s probably the easiest to get started with. Flies like woolly buggers, shuggies, Martin’s minnow and muddler minnows are all very effective patterns and can be fished pretty much any style you want. As long as a 2–3-inch fly is in the water it will be eaten by almost anything. If you do any type of Stillwater rainbow fishing there’s a fair chance you will have a few flies that will get you started.

What you’re representing with these flies are sticklebacks, juvenile trout, grayling, salmon parr, small course fish and fry. Fry are present in nearly every body of water, as soon as they get to a certain size they start feeding on insects, they will break the cover of the river bed and become a food source. Fry are an easy high protein meal for a trout to find without expending too much energy.

Sculpins/crayfish – I use a lot of sculpin patterns throughout the year mainly because it’s a great fly to tie and fish. The sculpin or bullhead is present in most river system in the UK and the range in colour and size depending on the colour of the river bed. Sculpins and crayfish are mainly bottom dwellers and what I mean by that is they spend their life hiding under structure found on the bottom of the river, they generally are hard for the trout to find but when they leave the cover, they have a big silhouette and are an easy target

With these fly patterns there’s no need to tie them nice and slim because of the shape of the naturals you can get a load of weight on the hook to make the desired shape leading them to be fished on a floating line with ease. I tend to fish these high sticking or Czech nymph style in fast pocket water letting them track around boulders and structure in the fastest of currents.

If I’m fishing them on a sinking line I use unweighted flies and get the shape of the pattern using shaped deer hair or wool heads which in turn gives them the desired swimming action. I’m fishing these upstream casting to likely looking lies and tracking the fly down stream by mending the line on the track I want the fly to go

Jigs – Jig flies come into their own at the start of the season then the water’s still cold from snow melt and heavy rains. These are normally tied with heavy dumbell eyes so the fly jigs up and down through the water column, just like fishing jig head lures for pike and perch.

Flies like a clouser minnow are perfect for this and are very effective.

At the start of the season things are just starting to get going so these flies main purpose is just to wake them up and get them thinking again after the long cold winter, even if they’re not feeding yet a trout’s wired in instincts will kick in and make them strike. Elastic legs for vibration and rattles work well with this style of fly, the kicking noise must wake them up because some days they go crazy for it

Surface flies – These flies I save for the warm summer nights and fish them through the hours of darkness. There’s not much to say about them other than trout love a mouse pattern. My top patterns are a full deer hair mouse or a master splinter which is a gurgler style wake fly. The takes are very aggressive again with the style of fishing and seem to be even more aggressive when its pitch dark.

Attractors flies – These are my what I enjoy fishing the most, they are a killer to fish all day but great fun. They’re big, flashy and move a lot of water. You need to fish them hard and fast a lot like fishing for pike when they’re smashing into baitfish. What we’re trying to do here is trigger a strike from a resting fish, using flies that are big to try to make the trout feel threatened and feel like its getting pushed out its lie. I use a stiff 7 weight for this style of fishing because throwing a 6-10 inch fly all day is hard going and the takes are insane.

The areas I like to target are the slacks at the side of runs in shallow water, the inside of bends, the tails of pools and drop off’s, most of the time I’m fishing in 2-5 ft of water and the fly is mid water. When using flies in bright colours like white, yellow and chartreuse you can track the fly and watching the fish hunt it down and crush it that is one of the most exciting parts! You won’t get 100% hook ups whit this style but it will show you that stamp of fish in the water and spur you on to keep at it. Remember the bigger the flies you use, the less fish you will get but that’s trophy hunting!

Trout Streamers

 

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