The Soft Daddy is an impressionistic, soft-hackled streamer that imitates the rusty crayfish. It’s currently featured in On The Water magazine‘s “Guide Flies” column, written by Tony Lolli. (Thanks, Tony, for letting me play!) The concept of a guide fly is twofold — it’s a pattern that is typically simple to tie, and is also a consistent producer. Like most of my flies, The Soft Daddy starts as an idea; is rendered on the vise; and goes through extensive field testing. Tweaks are made as needed, and the end result goes into the rotation. Like many of my patterns, you can see the wet fly influence in its construction. Smallmouth eat this fly like candy…or is that crawdads…or crawdaddies…?
When there’s an abundance of leaves in the water, conventional wisdom holds that the best streamer colors are black or white. The logic is easy to understand. Those colors are unlike any that the fish are likely to see from dead vegetation. I find that of the two choices, black provides an even more dramatic contrast than white. Of course, everyone has their personal theory and opinion about streamer colors, and at any given moment, someone can prove yours wrong.
But I don’t really want to talk about color. I want to talk about motion, movement, and presentation. Take a look at this very short clip. It’s an underwater shot of a white micro bugger dancing through a leaf-infested pool.
As you can see, the leaves have a very distinct motion as they move through the water. They slowly tumble and glide. If they move laterally or horizontally, it is at the pace of the current — in this case, somewhere around languid. The streamer moves quite differently. It is faster than the leaves. It jerks, shudders, and sharply rises and falls. Yes, the white helps it stand out. But for me, what creates the greatest differentiation between it and the leaves is its movement.
Shelf ice can be a problem when you’re out on a river — NEVER walk across shelf ice — but it can also be a difference maker when it comes to catching, especially on a river like the Farmington. The Farmington River has hatches of W/S (Winter/Summer) caddis. These bugs emerge, then scoot across the surface of the water towards the shore to mate. Trout know this — not in a cognitive sense, but rather in a programmed-by-nature way. If the water is deep enough, and there’s enough current, you can often find Farmington River trout hanging out near bankside structure in winter, especially ice shelves.
That makes these areas a priority target when I’m winter streamer fishing. If I find an ice shelf over deeper, moving water, I like to pound that water with my bugs. Sometimes I’ll even land the streamer onto the ice shelf, then gently pull it off into the water. The trout will tell you if they want the presentation to be a dead drift, slow retrieve, fast(er) retrieve, or swing.
You can’t really see it in this video, but I’m actually landing my streamer on top of an ice shelf that extends several feet off the bank. On this day, the only hits I had came from using this tactic.
You’re now at Countermeasure Central on currentseams! Here you can watch the tying video (below); see the original post/recipe; and read the Guide Flies feature piece from On The Water magazine. In case you’re new to this pattern, the Countermeasure is a riff on several proven streamer designs (like the Zoo Cougar and Zonker). It’s loaded with bite triggers, and it’s one of my favorite smallmouth bass bugs. Oh! Big trout love it, too.
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.
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 — 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.
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.
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.