Currentseams Q&A: streamer fishing for trout

Today we have two questions about streamer fishing.

Q: I am not strong on streamer fishing. Do you have any quick hints on how to improve?

A: It’s hard to offer suggestions when I can’t see where you’re “not strong.” Here are some observations that may help.

 When you’re streamer fishing, you’re targeting aggressive fish. If you’re not catching, and you know there’s a candidate nearby, change flies, change presentations – say, from fast strips to slow strips, or to a swing and dangle – and if that fails, move on. Cover water. Cover water. Cover water. The spot on the Hous where I caught a bazillion trout on streamers last month is a submerged rock field that stretches about seventy-five yards. I got nothing in the upstream fifty yards. The lower twenty-five was loaded with trout. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Fish will move as the seasons change. As winter approaches, trout often transition from faster water to slower, deeper pools. Having said that, I have caught Farmington River trout in January in brisk currents as well as languid black water.

 Bigger streamers often mean bigger fish, and fewer smaller fish.

Don’t get caught up in streamer hype and jaunty names. Many of the streamers I fish are semi-haphazard creations I make up as I’m tying them. Articulated streamers are all the rage right now. They work. So do unarticulated streamers. A lot of people get amped up about streamers that “push water.” Those streamers work. So do ones with slim, non-water-pushing profiles. Find your own truths.

This streamer doesn’t have a name like “The Dominatrix” or “The Skull Crusher.” It’s just a cone-head soft-hackled streamer in Mickey Finn colors. Trout don’t read magazines or hang out in fly shops, but they still manage to find plenty of things in the water that look good to eat regardless of nomenclature.

10:14 Housy Raindow

When the bite is on, I have yet to find a color (or colors) that the trout won’t hit.

 Know where your fly is. Does it need to be deep? Or near the surface? This is a good segue into question two:

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Q: I wondered if you had some streamer fishing tips i.e.: weight /sinking line?

 A: Let’s start with some more questions. What do you want your streamer to do? Do you want it to sink to the bottom of the river and stay there? How fast is the current? How deep is the water? Are you performing a strip retrieve? Answers to questions like these will help determine your setup and presentation.

I have a traditional saltwater/striped bass streamer background. I draw upon those roots when I fish streamers for trout. Many anglers mistakenly think a sinking line is the big answer to presenting deep. Not so fast. We need to take into account the effects of current.

 Even with a full sink line and a weighted fly, the fly will plane up near the surface at the end of a drift on a strong moon tide current. I can see the splash of the striper’s take before I feel the tug. So while part of the drift is deep, not all of it is.

 I have a Jim Teeny integrated sinking line – I lost the box, so I don’t know its name or model number – that I use on the Farmington, mostly in the winter, sometimes in the summer when the river is high. It has, say, thirty feet of full sink (7.0ips sink rate?) at the head, then a floating running line. That is significant, because you can mend a floating line. And mends help to sink your fly, and keep it deeper longer.

 My fondness for traditional streamer presentations – mending to sink the fly, mending to perform a greased line swing – is why I use a floating line for the majority of my streamer fishing. Even at 1,000cfs, I was scraping the bottom of the Hous after a few strategic mends with my floater. (I was streamer fishing for stripers today with a floating line in a fast-moving estuary. Moon tide. The fish were hugging the bottom. So was my fly. A beautiful thing, mending.)

 I usually incorporate weight into my trout streamers, whether with brass or tungsten cone heads, heavy wire along the shank, or dumbbell or bead chain eyes. How much weight depends on when and where I’ll be fishing. Faster winter water means a heavier fly. Summer, maybe it’s just a brass cone.

 If you’re using a sink tip or a full sink line, make your leader short. Two to three feet is plenty. Otherwise you’ll negate the effects of the sinking line. Conversely, use a longer leader with your floating line to sink the fly. I think my leader this fall was between six and seven feet.

 Hope that helps.

Becoming an instant expert

I stole that phrase from Grady Allen, who used it to describe fishing on the Farmington after the stocking trucks had done their work. For a shining hour or two, it’s a fish on every cast. You can do no wrong. You savant, you.

It’s kind of the same with early season stripers. The water temp shoots up 10-15 degrees in the course of a month. The fish are on the move. And they’re hungry. All you need to do to catch bass is find them and put a fly in their area code. Find a big enough school, and your arm can get tired right quick. And the thumb on your landing hand looks like someone took a belt sander to it.

Like casting to freshly stocked trout, the fishing isn’t very technical. But for the first few trips, Lord is it fun.

Friend Todd with one of his 400,000 stripers. Dusk can be a magic time.

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Six of us ventured out to an old stomping ground to catch the bottom of the tide, which conveniently fell at dusk. We quickly found stripers, and the fishing was stupid good for several hours. I was using my 10 and 1/2-foot switch rod with a floating line and a 4-foot T-11 tip. Fly selection was irrelevant. I fished a Ray’s Fly-like bucktail till it was ground to kibble and a September Night. Everyone else used their own favorites. I caught them on the strip, the swing, and the dangle. Wonderfully easy to please, this lot. The only negative was a 10-15mph wind out of the northwest. But that’s the price of admission along the shore, isn’t it?

My original plan was to fish until full ebb, then seek my striper pleasures elsewhere. But the wind had picked up. And I had had my fill.

Besides, It’s good to go out on top.

Two-handed casting practice.

You don’t know if you don’t go, so this morning I headed to Ye Olde Spring Striper Spot to see what the outgoing would bring.

I can’t remember the last time I saw ice in saltwater, but there it was, a hoary reminder of last night’s unseasonable cold.  Water was slightly off-color and a sparkling 41 degrees. A most unbenevolent 10-15mph wind lashed at my face, turning the water into a frenzied chop that made riplines hard to see. The four fly anglers who had been fishing were retiring for the day, and the two spin guys weren’t very far behind.

Yup. Didn’t look like it was going to be my day.

On the plus side, I got to re-acquaint myself with my old friend the sea. My morning cigar was splendid, though the wind made short work of it. And I got to shake some of the rust off my two-handed casting (to be fair, there was enough oxidation there to want a wire brush). I test-drove the four-foot T11 sink tip I made over the weekend, and discovered that I could easily get my fly to the bottom in current  with some strategic mends. Best of all, I had the whole place to myself.

So, not yet. But soon. And, like Ah-nold, I’ll be back.

Peepers. But sadly, no stripers.

I usually fish for stripers twelve month a year, but somehow January and February escaped me in 2013. March nearly got away, too. But I took care of that last night.

Met old fishing buddy Dr. Griswold to catch the bottom of the tide at one of our old haunts. The conditions were certainly favorable. A strong moon tide, good water level, and a water temp of 46. But alas, no stripers for either of us. I swung. I greased lined. I nymphed. I stripped. I jigged. I fished deep, on top, and all points in between. But, you can’t catch what isn’t there.

On a positive note, Bob didn’t lose his Christmas gift. Every year I tie some flatwings for friends as a present, and every year Bob loses his fly on the bottom or in a tree within the first five minutes of fishing it. Not last night. Well done, Bobber.

What Santa brought this year: the Rock Island flatwing

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I was also able to coax ninety minutes out of an E.P. Carillo Golossos while on the water. Terrific cigar.

And when I got home, the choir was singing. Spring peepers. Their first performance signals that the over-wintering bass in my local rivers are getting ready to move.

Not tonight. But soon.

Steve Culton’s The Fisherman LLC Guide Service

My name is Steve Culton, and I’ve been fishing Connecticut’s Farmington and Salmon Rivers for over 40 years. My areas of specialization include wet fly fishing, dry fly fishing, streamer fishing (fresh and salt), and indicator nymph fishing. Small streams are also a passion, as they give us an opportunity to catch wild trout in a natural, more intimate setting. And let’s not forget those cantankerous Housatonic River smallmouth bass. My approach to fly fishing for striped bass is quite different from most other anglers’: I use a floating line, traditional trout and salmon presentation methods, and sparse, impressionistic flies like flatwings and soft hackles.

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I am what you’d call a teaching guide. (I have had many clients ask me if I am a teacher for my regular job. The answer is no, but I am flattered by the question.) We all like to catch fish, but if your main goal is sheer numbers you’ll probably be happier with another guide. If you’re interested in learning new methods, fishing new flies, expanding your general knowledge base, or exploring a river, small stream, or salt pond, I might be the right guide for you. Of course, I will do my best to put you onto fish. I think you learn more when you’re catching.

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My fly fishing philosophy is pretty straightforward. There are no experts. We all put our waders on one leg at a time, and we all still have something to learn. I’m just a guy who loves to fly fish. I’ve done a lot of it, read a lot about it, written a lot about it, and I’m very enthusiastic about sharing what I’ve learned with others. There are many, many ways to catch fish on a fly rod. In my experience, people fish best when they use methods and flies they have confidence in. Since I am a self-taught fly fisherman, I know the struggles of learning the game. When you’re fishing with me, there are no such things as dumb questions – or for that matter, too many questions.

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Above all, we’re out to have fun. James Leisenring wrote, “We fish for pleasure; I for mine, you for yours.” It is important to me that you enjoy yourself during our time on the water. Before any outing, I like to talk to my clients so I have a clear understanding of what their goals and expectations are.

So – let’s go fishing. You can reach me at 860-918-0228 or at swculton (at) yahoo.com.

Due to other commitments, my weekends are almost always booked. The good news is that weekdays usually mean far fewer anglers.

2018 Rate Schedule  (Does not include gratuity.) Rates may vary for non-Farmington River outings. Clients are responsible for their own gear (rods, leaders, waders, boots, etc.), food, and drink.

                         Half day (4 hours)                   Full day (7 hours)

One person                $200                                       $300

Two persons              $250                                        $375

For client testimonials, click on the comments button below.

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