Streamers – Winter Fishing Tactics
Good friend and ambassador of Fulling Mill, Brian Lynch gave me a ring and told me that the “Streamers bite was on fire” on his local river. For the better part of a week, I was tied to my desk but, managed to get away on a Friday and met up with him for what would be a truly epic day.
For many of us, winter means “tying season” which is fair, not all of us can juggle the constant strain of tying and fishing all the time! For me, I love fishing through the winter… temperatures permitting of course. I thoroughly enjoy the solace and serenity of being on-stream while the snow falls. Usually, nobody else is around and you’ve got a shot of dissecting that piece of water you’ve been thinking about for the past couple of weeks or even months. Now was my chance…
When I think of fishing in the winter, my mind goes to a couple different things. Midge fishing, nymphing (deep and slow drifts) and streamers. I’ll admit I love nymphing but, there’s just something about fishing streamers after the post spawn that gets me going. In my opinion, here in the East this might be one of the best times to score serious points in the length and weight division. Of course, I’m not stating that midge fishing and nymphing aren’t viable means of catching fish in the winter. In fact, I recall excellent days nymphing up nice holdover fish and some wild ones as well on crane fly larva and tiny size 22 zebra midges. There really is something about drifting, swinging or stripping streamers through water that can entice some savage strikes.
I arrived at Brian’s around 11AM, no point starting any earlier when the high for the day was hovering in the mid-twenties. He said he wanted to take me somewhere, where, in the previous days his friend said he hooked into a fish that he quoted “If it wasn’t 30, it was damn close”. Obviously, my ears perked when he said that, anyone’s would! I knew these fish were going to be looking for a meal having come off redds a couple weeks back, so we sat down and loaded up on some streamers, hopped in the truck and went down the road. We came upon this stretch that I’ve never seen before and start rigging up in what seemed like an ice age due to the wind howling… great! I have a low tolerance to wind chill and today was around 10 degrees! We walked upstream and got started at “the spot” where his buddy only a couple days back hooked into this mammoth fish. We threw everything in this run, streamers, double stonefly rigs, eggs, squirminators… nothing was happening. After recouping on the bank, I said, “I’m going down to the big riffle to see if I can pull anything” This riffle was huge, shallow but, pushing some serious water and it quickly tailed out into a nice pool with a large back-eddy that just looked way to fishy to pass up.
I approached the run/pool immediately at the top and made a long cast directly across stream into the rapids and let the fly wing down and around to below my position. With a slow hand twist retrieve I brought my Heisenberg Baby Bow streamers back upstream through the eddy in hopes of something lurking. First cast… nothing, second cast same outcome… On the third cast, I repeated the same thing and sped up my retrieve this time and bam! Fish on. This fish took my fly so hard I thought it was going to double over, I quickly got the fish on the reel and then it dawned on me… I forgot my net! I had a minor freak out and thought I’ll call Brian, he’s just upstream! I looked upstream and could barely see him but, I saw a silhouette standing there with his arms above his head like he was fighting a fish, sure enough, he was! Thankfully our buddy and net-man who accompanied us for the day (he’s going to hate me for saying that!) Justin came to my rescue with the net and a huge relief came over me. We looked at each other and he says, “Get that fish out, we need some pictures!” What a great looking brown, nice golden belly, perfect fins and not a mark on the fish. I was elated, to say the least.
After the release, we continued to fish out the remainder of the pool and downstream to the next run, nothing seemed to be interested. Then again, I would’ve been happy to just call it there and go home, my toes and hands were frozen, even with hand and toe warmers! We head back to the truck and Brian says, “We got about an hour left until the sun sets if you boys wanna head over to another run”, I turned and said, “Hell yea I do, I just gotta get warm real quick before we make the move”. We stuffed the gear into the truck and slowly climbed in, basically frozen solid and blasted the heat while we made our way downstream some ways. While driving, I thought about the fish I had just released. I thought about how I swung and stripped my fly through the exact same place multiple times without any response but, as soon as I sped up my retrieve rate on the last cast, I got results. Just goes to show, change up your presentation when things are slow, and you might just get a different outcome.
A related article written by Eric Kelley: River Itchen Madness!
Unfortunately, the ride to the next run was a bit shorter than I hoped it would be… I was still pretty frozen! Regardless, fish needed to be caught and we were determined to put a full day in. I was still riding pretty high and wanted to get down there to see what else we could get into. We walked down a trail through some high grass as Brian was telling us “I hooked into the biggest fish of my life here on the far bank where that slab of concrete comes into the water” He said the position he had on the fish wasn’t ideal and when he hooked into this beastly brown, it just peeled off downstream and pinged him. So, the layout of this pool was interesting, the top portion of the run seemed to be somewhat shallow with lots of pockets below an overspill. During certain times of the year, I’m sure that would be heaven for pocket picking with small nymphs, dries, and spiders, I’ll have to go back in the spring I thought to myself. Anyhow, the run dumped into a pool that was fairly short, but seriously deep like 8ft or thereabouts, with grassy overhang and high banks on both sides if there was going to be fish hanging out here… it would be somewhere in this pool. Immediately, Brian rigs up a Squirmy/Stonefly rig (A solid choice for this time of the year) and fishes the top section where the riffles meet the pool, a couple of casts in he gets a take, misses it and throws back in, fish on! A nice little brown around 12-14 inches on a golden stone pattern. He proceeds to catch a couple more while I walk down the bank and look the situation over.
I grabbed my nymph rod and tied on a small conehead sculpin pattern I’ve been tweaking this season (a quick and easy way to throw streamers if you’re in a rush!), it’s tied on a shank and has a small trailer hook on 30lb braid, the hook is our barbless Bonio Carp hook. I noticed another small but deep eddy at the end of the big pool which quickly picked up speed and tailed out into another big pool. I thought, “Man if there’s a fish hanging out in here it has to be either around this slack water or up under the bank”. The first cast in I drifted my sculpin through the pool and swung it into the undercut bank and this monster fish just came out and smoked that fly. Even though I thought there might be a fish here I was not ready for what was about to happen. I set the hook and looked up at Brian and just said, get the net, now! He literally threw down everything and seemingly flew over to me to help net this fish. In the time it took him to do that, this fish was very unhappy as it came out of the water and gave us a tail dance that would rival a tarpon! Ok, maybe not a tarpon but, it did put on quite an aerial display for a brown trout! Brian almost falls in while simultaneously netting this fish… it slips out of the net and he makes a second attempt at it and grabs the fish, we’re all in disbelief just looking at this hog! Handshakes and fist bumps followed by loud “Woo’s” filled the air, this fish was something to be excited about. Luckily the net had measuring increments on the handle and we taped it out to just around 27”. A quick couple of pics, short video release, and back into the water. What a fantastic day, I managed to pull two quality fish, one being a personal best and was in great company the whole time. Thanks, Justin and Brian for helping on the net jobs!
Reflecting back on this fish and what method I used, you could say it was essentially a swing through soft pocket water. I never turn down pocket water, and neither should any angler, it’s a great safe haven for fish to get out of the current and not expend too much energy. This fish took up residence under this bank in a small back eddy because this is where the tail-out of the pool was being filtered through – if any food source came through there – this fish was willing to eat it. I just happened to be there at the right time and present the fly in a manner that made this fish eat. As they say, “The tug is the drug” or something like that…
Gear Overview for fishing Streamers
The gear I used for this outing was really quite simple. For my streamer set up, I used an Airflo V2 10ft 7wt rod, matched up an Airflo Camo Intermediate to about 5/6ft of Fulling Mill Masterclass 2x – My favourite tippet for Streamers. Rigs for streamers don’t need to be complicated. On my nymphing set up, I had my Greys XF2 9”6’ 4wt with a French leader set up to varying lengths of 5x Fulling Mill Masterclass Fluorocarbon that I fiddled around with throughout the day. Oddly enough I found myself trading out nymphs for sculpins on my nymph rig as the day progressed. This proved to be very useful! I’m very partial to slow controlled drifts using heavy sculpin patterns during this time of year simply because, most of the time fish won’t move to take a fly unless you put it on their nose!
Find out more about fishing the Euro Nymphing Technique