Seductive Streamer Strategies
November 22, 2011
I confess, I am married to an extremely attractive female. She was both the prom and homecoming queen, and still is the most beautiful creature I ever laid eyes on. My friends tell me I'm in a relationship with a woman way out of my league. A valid point. Not too long ago I finally asked my wife why she ever accepted my offer to go on a date. Her answer was simply, "you seduced me with your humor and charm."
This same relationship exists when you are using streamer strategies. Even good-looking patterns are ignored by trout until they move in a manner that triggers a response. You not only need the right pattern, but you need to move the pattern in a manner that seduces the trout to the point where they inhale your presentation.
Sure, the pattern itself should possess a few attractive characteristics, but what you do at your end of the line—after you cast it—is just as important. Your streamer must move through the water with an attitude that says "come and get me."
Along with the right technique, you need to find a river system where trout feed on a forage base of large food items such as sculpins, leeches, crayfish, and juvenile trout, suckers, and whitefish. This list of rivers is large and includes the Bow, Madison, Missouri, Sacramento, Roaring Fork, and my favorites the Delaware, White, Penns Creek, and the Manistee.
Manistee Case Study
The Manistee River flows approximately 232 miles through Michigan's Lower Peninsula, originating near Mancelona and eventually dumping into Lake Michigan. The river below Tippey Dam is famous for salmon and steelhead, while above Tippey Dam, the river is one of my favorite places to fish streamers. The flies-only section between M72 downstream to the CCC Bridge is where I spend several vacation days every year while attempting to seduce hook-jawed brown trout with meaty streamers.
The Manistee is a streamer addict's dream come true—large deep runs with bottoms filled with silt and sand, deep undercut banks, lots of submerged timber, and a healthy population of large, predatory-minded trout willing to chase down exceptionally large food items.
Coming from the smaller limestone streams in central Pennsylvania, where smaller is often better, it's my opportunity to use large flies on heavy tippet, cast fast-sinking lines, and push fast-action rods to the limit.
Also, because of the sandy bottom and clear water, it's common on the Manistee to watch large carnivores chase your pattern from a distance—which can be just as exciting as watching a trout inhale your dry fly. It's visual paradise for streamer junkies.
My first education in "streamer seduction" came from my friend Russ Madden in 2003. Russ is an innovator, a fantastic fly tier, and was gracious to introduce me to what is now my favorite streamer river. He shared with me what he has learned after spending thousands of hours on the stream. These tips to taking large trout are essential on the Manistee, and they work just as well on other great trout rivers around the world.
Gear. Fast-action rods rated for either 6- or 7-weight are essential for dealing with fast-sinking lines and larger streamer patterns. A delicate dry-fly rod has no business in this game—you need a rod with backbone to deal with heavier lines, larger flies, and larger trout. Just picking up a sinking line for a quick re-cast requires a different kind of rod, one that can pick up and shoot again quickly and efficiently. Also, a fast-action rod is critical when implementing the strip-and-twitch retrieve discussed below.
For wade-fishing the Manistee, a type 6 (drops 6 inches per second) full-sinking line is a great tool when working the strong flows. All 90 feet of this line sinks at the same rate (from tip to the running section), so your flies swim parallel to the stream bottom, rather than up toward the surface. The key when fishing long undercut banks is keeping the fly at the same feeding level as the trout.
One issue with sinking-tip lines is that part of the line remains floating on the surface during the retrieve, while the sinking section is below the surface. This creates an upward angle from the tip of the sinking section to the floating portion, which is the same angle the flies will climb during the retrieve. Sometimes this upward lift or jigging action triggers strikes, but more often than not, a long deep retrieve is better for keeping the flies down in the strike zone in the long deep pools of the Manistee.
[For streamer fishing from a boat—especially when "pounding the banks" as shown in the accompanying photo—a sinking-tip line is best because you cast near the bank, and only strip-twitch for a few feet before you pick up and quickly cast again into bankside structure. The Editor.]
As for leader/tippet lengths, Russ and many of Michigan's other great streamer sticks follow the same rule as British loch anglers: "The faster the sink rate, the shorter the leader."
When using a type 6 line, a leader shorter than 4 feet keeps the fly at the same depth as the line. Although many patterns have a dumbbell eye or other weight, bulky materials slow their descent. A long leader creates a situation where the sinking line is several feel deeper than the pattern, creating a bow in the line and a loss of contact with the streamer.
A short leader ensures the fly and line are both at the same level, which creates tension, better line control, and moves the fly more actively. My leader is 2 feet of 25-pound-test Maxima Ultra Green, and 2 feet of 15-pound-test Maxima Ultra Green.
Patterns. Russ introduced me to articulated streamers about a decade ago. The first two patterns he showed me were his own creations: The Circus Peanut and The Kraken. With a heavy dumbbell eye, articulated construction, and materials like marabou, schlappen, crosscut rabbit, and long rubber legs, these were the most lifelike streamers I'd ever seen. [Kelly Galloup's Sex Dungeon and Charlie Craven's Double Gonja—featured in the Fly Tier's Bench department of the Oct-Dec 2011 issue—are recent patterns cut from the same mold. For specific instructions on tying jointed flies see "Chain Reaction" in the April-May 2011 issue. The Editor.]
Tactics. The large trout inhabiting the Manistee are spread widely. As a result, floating the river and covering the water is often the best strategy when searching for large trout. Wade-fishing can provide excellent results, but a boat allows you to show your fly to more fish over the course of a day.
Russ showed me his strip-and-twitch retrieve—a stripping sequence where the line hand strips line while the rod tip simultaneously pulls downstream away from the fly. With an articulated fly, this retrieve creates a wounded minnow appearance—a trigger for opportunistic trout. Fast-action rods apply more power to the twitch. Soft rods and slack in the line reduce the movement and action of the fly.
The key is to begin the strip with both the rod and line hands close to the body. This allows the rod hand to fully extend outward and away from the fly as the line hand strips line. A longer pull of the rod tip, along with a fast strip, creates the maximum amount of fly movement, and maximum seduction.
Just as golfers have their favorite golf courses, the flies only section of the Manistee has become my favorite streamer course. As I drift its snaky path past countless patches of prime real estate—in beautiful natural surroundings—it gives me the hope that a large predatory trout will eat the fly on my very next cast.
St. Croix Bank Robber $400
He started by designing some of the largest and most humorously named flies imaginable— he Butt Monkey, Conehead T&A, Sex Dungeon, and others—and then Kelly Galloup needed a rod capable of quickly lifting the heavy flies from deep turbulent water and shooting them back into tight bankside cover with one backcast. Our tester dedicated a full day to fishing only this rod—and used the Galloup-designed Streamer Express Line and Galloup flies—on a local tailwater: "I was most impressed with the rod's ability to pick the sinking line off the water and quickly deliver the large articulated streamer tight to the bank. While this rod was designed with streamer fishing in mind, it would also excel at big-water nymphing in the event you only bring one rod, and the streamer bite slows down." The rods have two Fuji K foulproof stripping guides, built to prevent the lines from jumping up, and noosing themselves around the foot of the guide. The rod blank extends all the way through the grip down to the end cap of the reel seat. Because of the vented design of the reel seat, you can see the rod blank inside, firmly positioned with St. Croix's urethane shim. The oval reel seat vents act as fly keepers for big hooks. Bank Robbers are 9-foot, 4-piece rods for 6- and 7-weight lines and use the best of St. Croix's technologies, including IPC tooling for smooth, continuous rod tapers, ART reinforcement, and 3M Matrix Resin. stcroixrods.com
G.Loomis Max GLX $655-$665
OUR TESTER recently spent two weeks fishing the Italian Alps planning to catch large grayling on CDC caddis, but the dry-fly fishing was drowned by excessive runoff, and streamer fishing with the Max GLX 9-foot 5-weight saved the trip. "After arriving early one morning on the Isarco River, I strung up a 250-grain Streamer Express, along with a meaty articulated streamer. Ideally, I would have had a 7-weight for those conditions, and I was concerned the 5-weight couldn't handle the line and fly. My concerns were quickly erased as the rod handled short casts to pockets, and still had reserve power to throw the long ball in the large, deep pools haunted by marble trout. The fighting butt on the 5-weight was an added bonus when applying pressure to large trout in fast current. You can tell this is an extreme rod built by an extreme angler, Steve Rajeff." gloomis.comBoron II-MX $675-$735
If you enjoy the traditional soft feel associated with Winston rods, then you'll need to look elsewhere. This is by far the fastest rod Winston ever constructed, and one of the lightest rods in this category. Our tester used this rod exclusively during a four-week fishing trip to New Zealand. "The rod performed brilliantly stripping large leech patterns on sinking lines on North Island lakes but was still the perfect companion for someone traveling light, and encountering a veriety of fishing situations," he said. The 4- through 6-weight rods are built with trout fishing in mind, the 7- through 12-weights have saltwater components and are better suited for steelhead, salmon, and saltwater species. winstonrods.com
Scott S4s $725
This is technically a saltwater rod, but our streamer tester says it "handles any freshwater streamer with ease. It has a stealthy nonglare finish, and it excels anytime you need a long cast or are fighting strong wind. It's the perfect rod for heavy sinking lines and large streamers. I used the 9-foot 6-weight on the Roaring Fork near Carbondale, just as the runoff was beginning to build. While wade-fishing in rising water, casting from the bank was the only option. The powerful taper allowed me to make a long backcast over bankside vegetation and land the streamer near the opposing bank. The rod never collapsed during the pickup, even while the raging current had hold of the heavy line and fly." Four-piece 9' rods come in 6- through 12-weights. scottflyrod.com
Sage TCX $780-$815
A few years ago, Sage rod designer Jerry Siem tweaked the original TCR (Technical Casting Rod) to create a super-fast-action rod with greater sensitivity, and better fishing performance at shorter distances. But let's not fool ourselves—the TCX is still a rod best suited for long casts, and powerful, well-timed strokes. Our tester regularly uses the 9', 7-weight as his go-to streamer rod, but sent a report from left field after taking it to North Andros for bonefish. "My most memorable impression came after I noticed a large shadow lurking near the mangroves, and changed to a long, oversize barracuda pattern. The 'cuda was 60 feet away but the TCX overcame a 15-knot "breeze" and delivered a perfect cast to a moving target." Our testers have also used TCXs for largemouth bass, Deschutes steelhead, Atlantic salmon in Iceland, and trout in Chile and Colorado, demonstrating impressive versatility. It's obviously not just a streamer rod. TCX 4-piece rods are available in 4- through 10-weight single-hand models and three two-hand models. sageflyfish.com
Airflo Streamer Max $80
There is no loop at the tip of Airflo's Streamer Max fly lines because the lines are "open ended" to allow you to customize the line to match your rod, your casting style, and the rivers you fish. The heads are 13 to 18 feet of dense, T-7 to T-10 sinking line backed up by 9 feet of blue floating transition line, and a floating .038" diameter Ridged running line for low-friction long shots. Built on the Airflo PowerCore, this line has massive hook-setting power. Our tester experimented with the line, cutting it 6 inches at a time until he found the perfect weight. "You could also cut it down over the course of a spring/summer as the water gets lower and clearer, and you don't need to dredge the bottom," he said. rajeffsports.com
Textured Streamer Express $70
Kelly Galloup throws pike-size flies for trophy trout everywhere from Montana to Wisconsin. His theory? Big meals delivered on time and on target catch the biggest fish. He designed the Streamer Express taper for quick shots to get big streamers where you need them, but Scientific Anglers never came out with a Sharkskin version to zip the line in there a little quicker and easier. The reason? The constant stripping associated with streamer fishing would likely cut your fingers. The gently dimpled Textured Streamer Express gives you the extra shootability and durability any streamer fanatic would appreciate—without the sharp edges. scientificanglers.comRIO StreamerTip $75
Spring and early summer in the Rockies means snowmelt and high water that pushes trout to the river edges and increases their appetites for big meals. It's when driftboat fishing is at its finest—if you have a good oarsman and can make repeated quick shots among the boulders, sod clumps, downed trees, and other bits of structure along the bank. The new StreamerTip line is based on the profile of the popular Outbound Short line, which is already popular with driftboat guides for "pounding the banks." The aggressive, front-loaded taper makes it easy to turn over even wet, heavy conehead rabbit-strip flies. The 10-foot clear tip sinks at 1.5 to 2 inches per second so you can easily pick up the line and make another quick cast after just a few pulls. rioproducts.com
George Daniel is the author of the upcoming book Dynamic Nymphing (Stackpole Books, 2012).