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.

Dr. Deeplove, or: How to stop worrying and learn to love the full sink line.

I was fascinated by a recent fly fishing forum thread that warned of the dire consequences of using full sink lines for streamer fishing in rivers. What perdition awaited those who had the temerity to throw the heavy, thin line?

Hard to cast.

Always getting snagged on the bottom.

It was like re-imagining the opening of “The Right Stuff” with a fly fishing bent. “There was a demon who lived in the water…” But, that’s a movie for another day.

Nonetheless, I found it disappointing on a number of levels, among them: sinking lines are only hard to cast if you do it wrong; I don’t get hung up on the bottom any more with a full sink line line than I do with a nymph rig (probably less); internet forums can be a minefield when it comes to getting good advice.

Most of all, when you’re asking the question, “What do I want the fly to do?” sometimes a full sink line is a critical part of that answer. Here are a few quick tips to help you navigate the waters with a full sink line on your next streamer outing. For our purposes, I’m using a Teeny T-Series Integrated Line, and I’m fishing in a river.

One good false cast, and boom, out she goes. As Dr. Strangelove asserted, “It would not be difficult!”

ShootingSinkingLine

Casting. The key to casting a full sink integrated line is to get the full sink part out of the water. I strip line in (whether I’m using a strip presentation or not) so the head is at the rod tip. A roll cast to get the line out, a backcast to aerialize the line, then bombs away. Maybe a couple false casts. Because of their head weight and thin diameter, I find full sink lines fairly easy to cast. You’ll want to use a shooting basket for the running line. And of course, match the grain weight of the line to your rod and casting style.

Snags (or not). Every day is different, but the last time I used my full sink line on the Farmington River I didn’t get terminally stuck on the bottom once — and I was using a weighted fly. Current speed, depth, mending, retrieve speed, sink rate of the line, fly profile and weight — all are factors. The lower and slower the water, the greater your chances are of getting stuck. So pick and choose your water and conditions. Pools and runs with submerged logs, branches, sharp-edged rocks, and boulder fields are often bad places to throw the full sink. If you do get stuck, try this trick: don’t try to horse the fly out. Come taut to the fly, then do a few roll casts. Often that’s enough to free the fly. Finally, if you’re trying to present along the bottom — as with nymphing — touching the bottom is part of the price of admission. The false positive of a snag is confirmation that you’re getting deep. And remember to check those hook points. Sticky sharp!

What do you want the fly to do? This is the million-dollar question that many anglers never consider — but should. I’ll pull out the full sink integrated line for streamer fishing when:

  • It’s summertime and the river has come up and is off color, and I want to get a neutral buoyancy effect from the heavy line (consider it split shot) and a deer hair head fly. (Leader length would probably be around 7 feet.)
  • The water is cold and I suspect the the fish are holding close to the bottom. (Shorter leader, usually no more than 3 feet.) Check out this streamer leader diagram.
  • I want to get the fly, even if it’s weighted, to sink as quickly as possible. This usually indicates a very deep hole as the target zone. Again, shorter leader.

High late summer water, full sink line (weight) + Zoo Cougar (wants to float) = neutral buoyancy. Oh. And this trophy trout, too.

DCIM100GOPROG0013068.

I hope that helps, and as always, if you have questions I’m happy to answer them.

 

 

 

Tip of the Week: Change it up

One of my favorite old saws from my days in advertising creative was, “You cannot bore someone into buying your product.” The same could be said of fly fishing: you cannot bore a fish into eating your fly.

I was recently reminded of this — twice, actually. Both times I was fishing over water that I knew held good-sized fish. Streamers was the method, and although I had induced some bumps, there were no wholesale takes. Even a variation in presentation or resting the fish did not produce. In both cases, what did produce was changing the fly. Fish are curious, often to a fault. Off with the old, on with the new, and Ka-POW!

Sometimes it’s the simple, little things that make the difference between fishing and catching.

I’m giving the above advice an enthusiastic striper thumb’s up.

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Farmington River Report 11/30/16: What’s all that wet stuff?

Not since the heady days of July have we seen this much water in the Farmington. 240 cfs! I fished in and out of the permanent TMA for 3 1/2 hours today. The water was somewhat stained — the closer to the Still, the greater the color — and 40 degrees. I saw midges and some really small BWOs, and even a few risers in some of the classic dry fly water. Streamers were the plan today, and things began well with several bumps and one mid-teens wild brown to hand. Then it got slow. Real slow. The last three places I fished were all blanks. I must confess to being a little surprised, given the warmth of the day, the height and color of the water, and the deep overcast. But such is life on the streamer edge.

For those who care about these things, I celebrated blowing off responsibility with an El Rey Del Mundo Flor de Llaneza. Like the fishing, it did not suck.

More rain is on the way, so whatever rain dances you’ve been doing, please carry on. I had most of the water to myself, but I would think that will change this weekend.

Excuse me, do I have something on my lip? The Deep Threat in olive/grey comes through again. The trout hit the fly three times over the course of two casts before delivering the kill shot.

DCIM100GOPROG0013600.

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.