Do you know what your fly is doing? (Streamer Edition)

Do you know what your streamer is doing? I mean, do you really know how deep it is, how fast it’s sinking, how fast (or slow) it’s moving, and in which direction(s)? I think many anglers don’t. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, but there’s a clear way out of it.

Many years ago I tied up a streamer called the Hi-Liter. Part of its raison d’être was to be easily seen (its colors are hot pink and chartreuse) not just by the fish, but by me. I used the Hi-Liter to get a better visual handle on where the streamer actually was. A few years later I was interviewing George Daniel, and I was pleased to discover that he was doing the same thing. I’ll let George pick up the story:

“Take your favorite streamer, tie it in a bright, obnoxious color and fish it. You’ll be amazed to see what level and direction your fly is moving. You’ll learn a lot by changing the leader length, retrieve, and type of fly line — and that will allow you to really dial in your presentations.”

I spent a good chunk of time yesterday on the Housatonic, perched above the water on a rock, doing just that. The water was low and exceptionally clear, with none of the normal tea tinge that river usually displays. Not only did I get to observe and experiment with presentation, I also got to witness how smallmouth attack a streamer.

I used a white tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger for my experiments. The closing and attack speed of smallmouth is astonishing. One moment, your streamer is in isolation. In the blink of an eye, a shadow materializes at lightning speed out of nowhere. Smallmouth are classic ambush predators, attacking from below, behind, from an oblique blind side — or any combination thereof. You cannot strip a fly faster than they can swim, although they do not always want to chase and eat. I had several tremendous hits after I performed a combination of rapid long strips, then let the streamer begin to settle. WHACK! Where you cast is also important, as I had a good half dozen takes moments after the streamer hit the water.

Fun with Barr’s Meat Whistle

Barr’s Meat Whistle is another streamer pattern I’ve known about (and been meaning to tie) for years. But never got around to doing so until 2020. What I’ve tied up is actually good friend Tim Flagler’s variant, and I’m including Tim’s fine video tying lesson here. Tim calls the Meat Whistle “functional and adaptable” and I couldn’t agree more.

The Meat Whistle does double duty for trout and smallmouth (and dozens of other species) but I’ve only had the chance to use it as a smallmouth streamer. If you’ve been paying attention to my Instagram feed (stevecultonflyfishing) you know it’s been a challenging year for smallies. I haven’t done really well with it as a traditional streamer — its creator loves to hop and drop it along the bottom. But I had an eye-opening experience using a different method on Sunday.

The mark I was fishing was low and deep and at these low flows, not moving very fast. I knew the pool held a good number of fish, but they would not commit to surface bugs or a stripped or swung streamer. Given the amount of crayfish in the area — and the way crayfish scuttle along the bottom — I decided to try the Meat Whistle dead drifted along the bottom under an indicator. (Cue “ding-ding-ding” — or should that be “TWEEEEET!” sound effects here.) The takes were incredibly subtle, but I stuck and landed a decent number of bass. Man, this is one old dog who loves learning new tricks!

John Barr’s Meat Whistle (Tim Flagler Variant) in rusty crayfish colors.

“Streamer Kings” by Steve Culton: inside tips on how to catch big trout on streamers

“Streamer Kings — Three Big-Fly Gurus Explain How To Catch More (And Larger) Trout Using Meaty Patterns” first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of American Angler. For this piece, I interviewed George Daniel, Chad Johnson, and Tommy Lynch. The result is a masterclass on streamer fishing. Many thanks to George, Chad, and Tommy for sharing their expertise. So…what’s a good, all purpose streamer rod? How important is color? If you could fish only one streamer for trophy trout, what would it be? For these answers and more, click on the pdf link below.

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Somebody was ringing the dinner bell…

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Steve Culton’s Countermeasure featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

The Countermeasure, my favorite smallmouth bass bug, is the featured pattern in Tony Lolli’s “Guide Flies” column. It’s in the current (April 2020) issue of On The Water. Here’s a link to my original post on the Countermeasure. For bonus material, you’ve got a photo of the column and a pdf. Please support fishing magazines and writers by reading and subscribing. Without readers like you, we are nothing.

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Big Tailwater Brown on the Countermeasure

The Countermeasure strikes again, this time on a fat tailwater truttasaurus. Look at the fins on that beast of a buck! Many thanks to currentseams follower Ken for sharing his success. You can read more about the Countermeasure pattern here.

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Smallmouth candy

I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to share a concept/work-in-progress. What do we know? The Hous is high and it’s loaded with rusty crayfish which smallies eat. I’ve done precious little bottom bouncing with crayfish patterns, and I want to explore that. So: dumbbell eyes, inverted hook, lots of marabou = lots of motion, rusty/orange/red/brown/green colors, a little flash. We’ll see what the focus group thinks.

No name yet, not even the final materials and colors, but if I were a smallmouth, I’d chow down.

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The Countermeasure: a smallmouth bass and trout bug

The Countermeasure is a riff on a bunch of proven patterns. It’s basically a Deep Threat in crayfish colors with a deer hair collar and head tied Zoo Cougar style. Bite triggers abound: a seductive Zonker-like tail; hints of flash; flowing soft hackles; dangly legs; bulky head. It’s a surface and film fly that you can land with a loud splat!, then swing, wake, strip, and/or dangle. (I’ve had smallies try to pick it out of the air.) There’s really no wrong way to fish it.  It shines on a floating line, but it also ventures into neutrally buoyant territory if you use it with a full sink line.

I’ve been field testing the Countermeasure for three years now, and rarely disappoints. There are times when the smallmouth can’t keep away from it, and will bull rush it the moment it hits the water. And did I mention it’s a killer pattern for those big malevolent Farmington river browns?

The Countermeasure smallmouth bass and trout bug

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Hook: Daiichi 2220 size 4
Thread: UTC Rusty Brown 140
Tail: 8 strands green Krystal flash on both sides of the shank; next, a crawfish orange rabbit strip, fur side down, leather section 2″ long
Body: Rusty brown Ice Dub palmered with fiery brown schlappen
Legs: Golden yellow/pearl flake Barred Crazy Legs, 3 on each side
Collar: Rusty brown deer hair, top of shank only, extending to hook point
Head: Rusty brown deer hair, moderately packed, trimmed flat
Fly length is 4″

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A closer look at the head, viewed from above. It’s not a super-tight pack; two pencil-sized clumps of hair spun on the shank usually do it. I start shaping it with a razor blade by trimming the bottom flat, then the top at gentle upwards angle. Scissors do the rest. 

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It took me a long time to come up with a name that I liked. Then, few weeks ago, I was watching The Hunt For Red October for the millionth time, and I saw the Dallas release these brilliantly devised gadgets that churned and boiled and made the torpedo think they were the intended target. Then I thought about how the smallies would rather kill than critique this bug. And there it was. So, Red October fans, repeat after me: “Release Countermeasures, on my mark!”

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The Countermeasure Rogues’ Gallery:

Housy smallmouth, August 2016

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Housy smallmouth, August 2016

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Farmington River brown, August 2017

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Housy smallmouth, July 2018

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Housy smallmouth, July 2019

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Big tailwater brown, August 2019

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Some Mini and Micro Buggers for the Small Stream Box

‘Tis the season for replenishing sections of the fly box that have been found wanting. The past few days I worked on streamers for my small stream box. While I like to try new flies, I’ve decided on a simple approach this year: proven patterns that will have me covered in variety of situations. So, here we have small Woolly Buggers and variants, sizes 8 and 12, with tungsten and brass beads (and some thread heads) in three basic colors.

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I’ve color-coded the tungsten beadhead flies with red thread — you can see that on the black bugger in the front right. It’s a simple way to keep track of what’s heavy and what’s not. I’ve also swapped out chenille for Ice Dub on the body. You can find the basic recipe for these small buggers here.

The olive flies on the left are Tim Flagler’s Squirrel and Herl Bugger. The original is un-beaded, but I added tungsten heads to two of them. Hopefully Tim is not too horrified. You can find a tying video for this buggy pattern here.