Feels like a long way from home – Charles Jardine
River angst. I give you streamers and the British river fly fisher. We do seem to be in denial.
No other country has the “hang-up” of fly size that we seem to be mired in. It’s just a fly, for goodness sake…fish feed on food items the size we are imitating, life just does not cosily fit into fly sizes below say, a standard 10 or 12 . Shock and horror, they might just stray above that size group (and Psst.below 16, too)…
As river fly fishers, we in the UK remain stoically – and notoriously – inflexible, it seems. Not all: most.
Weirdly, we have the reverse horror of going much below a size 18. Mad.
Don’t go to Colorado – or the California Sierras, for that matter. Actually, don’t stray, too, far from the UK.
Why? People use streamers – sculpins – Bullheads, to the UK fisher, – Minnow imitations, heavens above, Crayfish designs, too. Anything, that conveys food for, and too a trout. And guess what other anglers in these far flung countries they are not frightened of using size 18 or 20 nymphs and micro dry flies down to 28 on the same day (just with a different outfit, of course).
The case for streamers is simple: trout eat the things that streamers imitate (note the word imitate)… and in a bewildering scope of sizes. Including some colossal ones.
I found myself throwing “junk” ( the colourful term used for throwing flies the size of house sparrows at unsuspecting trout) with the best of them, on Colorado’s Yampa and Elk rivers, the other week. Conversely on that same visit, on another occasion, I ended up trying to seduce some heavy fall browns and rainbows sipping Tiny Western Blue Winged Olives (and they are – were – indeed, “tiny” ) on the upper section of the Yampa on flies the size of pinheads. That is the fishing lore of the region: versatility. Then, a week later, I found myself barging low hanging branches and almost impenetrable bank-side vegetation out of the way to reach the serpentine and brutally clear rivers of the Sierras in California; difference again – and very un-British like using subsurface midge’s in sizes below 20… and as for dry flies… I was back to pin heads and grains of sand sizes.
Designs and sizes that are habitually used – on rivers like the Upper and Lower Owens, Size Matters. As does construction. The trout are fussy, see huge angling pressure and act accordingly (read: like nervous kittens). To be successful you have to meet the challenge full on – or do something different entirely. Like use grayling bugs. Yes, folks, this niveous trout were not expecting the designs that we reach for to seduce the lady of the (UK) streams (Pretty much anything in the Fulling Mill Tactical Nymph Range undid the preoccupation of the Owens river trout… they had just not seen them, I guess. Great for me: a learning experience for them. Hurrah !)
Right, here and now I am going to give a very bias “Shout Out” for Fulling Mill… You might argue, that writing a blog on a site dedicated to that same company is going to offer a hint of commercial bias. Indeed… but… and it is a big “but”… I come across a vast assortment of fly patterns globally, and from a myriad sources. Some are good, Some ghastly, some are superb – and their cost is ultimately reflected in their construction – or lack of it.
Rarely – and I mean this – do you find quality marching hand in hand with affordability. With Fulling Mill you do. Currently a steamer in the USA – a good one that is – is going to set you back about a fiver. That is a fair price to leave up a tree, round a rock, or some other sunken debris let alone the jaw of a big Fall Brown trout.
That is not the case here… affordability is key.
I am straying.
I have a confession, not every fly that I carry in my various fly boxes (and I DO carry way, too, many for sanity) is lovingly constructed by yours truly. Given my lifestyle (read: Chaos), I simply haven’t the time to devote to create every single pattern that I carry – a majority “yes”; all : “no”.
If I want effective streamers – and I did for this trip – I would look no further than the current catalogue (or online) for a cornucopia of cast’able concoctions.
Between the two designs, they both provided the depth, movement and “suggestion” of a wide variety of prey species that seemed to be “hunted-down” by hungry fall rainbows and browns fattening up for the harshness of a Rock mountain or High Sierra winter.
Quite why, we in the UK, are so squeamish about streamers – as I have already mentioned – is beyond me. Odd, because the same fishers that denigrate the use of designs specifically imitative of river prey – and one might argue matching-an-alternative-hatch – will quite happily use gargantuan Minkies, Blobs and other concoctions when fishing Stillwater… and lets not get bogged down on that chalkstream dry fly of infamy – the Dry Daddy Longlegs – in April? May? etc… etc…).
- I am happiest when imitating little insect fragments on the surface, and then pursuing the cautiously sipping trout with tiny flies and fragile tippets – it is what I love to do. But I am not averse to bombarding those same trout with heavy metal Junk, if the situation calls for it. To be in denial would be mad.
Having both options, the tiny dry fly and the big streamers, is a invigorating option and experience.
If a river near you is enlightened to the streamer option, go for it… The whole feral world that style unfolds and is a delicious counterpoint to the usual river faire.
I thought I would never write a kind word about using a streamer on a UK river. Now? I am looking for options.
Does this make me a bad person? Quite probably.
See you in fly fishing “hell, purgatory and damnation”… I have a feeling we will not be alone.