Streamer Green

You wont find it at Ace, or Sherwin-Williams. It’s not a recognized color on a mixing wheel, and it varies from angler to angler. But it’s a color, all right. When the water isn’t brown, but it isn’t clear, it’s Streamer Green

Trout have an IQ of 4. Don’t tell anyone, we can look foolish enough on our own without that info getting out! It means trout can’t do two things at once. The rivers are full of food right now, and the fish are out feeding like crazy. Get so focused on your food, and the next thing you know, you’re dinner! Big fish eat little fish. Lots of food makes little fish get bigger. It’s a risk/reward type of thing, and sometimes the risk is substantial. Add the dropping water, which is moving the fish from place to place in search of new homes. The fish are displaced, vulnerable and trying to feed. All this screams streamers to the angler.

If you have a dedicated 7 or 8 weight streamer rod, you already know what to do! Bang the banks with a big fly, like the Beastmaster or Hop Scotch Sculpin. The big heads push a lot of water, so the fish can find your fly more easily. Work the shoreline, work the structure. Use a short leader on your sink tip, so the fly gets deep and stays there. Use the big stuff, 15lb Maxima. These fish aren’t leader shy, and heavy tippet has saved many a $6 fly from dangling in a tree branch. If you really have to reef on the fly to get it free, check the hook and make sure it’s not bent out. Then cast it out again! You know the drill.

If you don’t have a dedicated streamer rod, there are ways to handle the bigger, green water with a streamer. Use the heaviest line weight rod you have- it helps to control the bigger, heavier flies A long leader and a well weighted fly will help you attain some depth. We often recommend a Bonefish leader 12’ long with a 12-16lb test. The big, stiff leader helps turn that heavy fly over, and again, trout eating streamers aren’t leader shy. The trout doesn’t have a lot of time to make up its mind to eat or not, so leader thickness is not an issue.

There are two schools of thought on fly size. One says to use the largest fly you can throw, and get it close to your target. The other school says use a smaller fly, and be more accurate. Big fish are where big fish are. If you land a 5 inch fly 2 feet away from a trout, it might eat because the fly is big enough to risk coming out from cover and expending the energy to eat. If you drop a 2.5 inch fly 6” from the trout, it might be an easier choice. Both methods work, and both have their adherents. It’s good to know about both!

If you don’t think you’re getting deep enough with a long leader and weighted fly, you can purchase sinking leaders. They come in different lengths and sink rates. You can get a few and experiment, but we often find the longest and fastest sink rate you can handle is best. We stress that you can handle. Use a short leader (2-3’) off the end, as the mono leader doesn’t sink as fast and if it’s too long, the leader is way deeper than the fly. Keep in mind you’ve added a lot of additional weight to your fly line when you add the sinking leader. It’s like casting a 7-8 wt line on a 5-6 wt rod. Make sure you bring the fly close to you before starting your backcast, or the cast may fail. Worst case scenario, the rod fails! Depending on how deep the fly and leader is, you may need to roll cast the fly to the surface, and then pick it up. Sink tips work a little differently than a floating line, so be ready for some changes to your casting stroke.

With the rivers so big, you’re going to want to work the banks. 80% of all trout are found within 10’ of the shore, so let your cast swing all the way out if you’re wading. Work the soft water and any structure you find. If you’re using a bigger fly, make a couple few casts and then move on. If the fish was going to eat, it would have already. Streamer fishing isn’t like nymphing. Continuous presentations aren’t always what is needed. If you’ve gotten good casts to a likely spot, and seen nothing, move on and find a new spot. Plenty of fish in the river! If you’re floating the river, this is all built in. Bang the banks, and be ready for a fish off every shelf and behind every log.

On general principles, the more off color the water is, the darker a fly you should use. A dark fly creates a better silhouette than a light colored fly, and in murky water that’s a big plus. If the water is light green, you can start with a lighter color. Vary your retrieve. Let the trout tell you if they want the fly subtly moved, or violently stripped. Always keep in mind you can’t move your fly fast enough to keep it away from a big trout bent on eating, so if the slow strip isn’t working, start to move the fly with some speed. Vary the flies entry into the water, and use aerial or water mends to give the fly line some slack, which will allow the fly to sink. Be ready for a fish on the flies first movement, as many large fish will take a dead drifting streamer as an extremely easy meal.

Streamer can be boom or bust. When you’re throwing a big fly, a lot of fish aren’t capable or willing to attack something that large. But the fish you do take on a streamer can be significant. Streamer fishing isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of effort to throw the big rod and sink tip all day, especially if the fish aren’t cooperating as you think they should! But if you love streamer fishing, or are ready to check out what all the fuss is about, take advantage of the off color clarity that is Streamer Green, and get the big bug in the water!

Clark Fork River Brown Trout

Streamers in Missoula – Big Fish Business

The first rule of piscatorial predation. Big Fish eat Little Fish. The first rule of Missoula’s Piscatorial Predators. Big Streamers catch big fish!

There’s never a wrong time to throw a streamer. Unlike grasshoppers or Salmon flies, which appear at specific times, small fish are available to larger fish 365 days a year. There are many winter streamer fishermen in our area, and while they may not catch as many fish as a cold weather nympher, total weight may be a close contest. When the weather breaks in March, smaller fish migrate to the warmer shallows. The big fish take advantage of this migration and streamer fishing rocks. Rising and falling river flows surrounding run-off also kicks off excellent streamer fishing. Flow change displaces all fish, and big fish take advantage of disoriented smaller fish seeking new homes. The streamer fishing will be strong through mid July, and then it tapers back to normal.

Missoula’s largest fly selection and guides favorite.

The Missoulian Angler Fly Shop has the largest selection of streamers in Missoula, for very good reason. We have streamers for all water and all line weights. The big articulated streamers, like the Articulated Kreelex, need a 7 or 8 weight to effectively handle them. We have highly weighted streamers, like the Sculpizilla, for use with floating lines. And we have a large selection of Galloup’s neutrally buoyant streamers (Butt Monkey, Tips Up) that work best with a sink tip 7 or 8 weight.

We also carry a wide variety of flies handled with a 5 or 6 weight like the Clarks Rat. These are by necessity lighter and smaller than their grown up cousins, but still move big fish. From a biological standpoint, it’s conventional wisdom most fish will not attack anything that’s bigger than 1/3 it’s size. So if you fish a 3 inch streamer, you can expect to catch nothing smaller than a 9” fish. Put on a 5” streamer, and now you’ve weeded out all the fish below 15”. This is one reason some anglers feel streamers are less effective, because a dry fly angler or nympher makes his living on 8-13” fish. (Hey, just being honest) Tie on a big streamer, and 80% of the river’s trout population is now untargeted. No wonder streamer fishing can feel slow, when so many fish aren’t even in the mix.

When choosing your fly, line weight isn’t the only factor. In late June, when the water is high, the size of your streamer doesn’t really matter. Even if it hits the water with a thud, the big water masks it’s landing. But throw that same fly in late August, and it will move fish- all away from you! Skinny waters need skinnier, low impact streamers. Especially if you’re wading. Streamer fishing is the most intrusive form of fly fishing, with dry flies being the least intrusive and nymphs falling in between. If you’re fishing a spot with limited wading opportunities, run your dries first, then a nymph, then streamers. Because if you rip a big streamer through the pool first, the fish may not be as amenable to rising after that! In a boat, it’s not that critical. You’re always moving to new fish, so it’s not important how you attack specific spots. You’re just going to move on! You can also fish a bigger fly in skinnier water, because the splash will be in one spot, and the streamer will be fished in another.

We’re big fans of fluorocarbon for streamer fishing. We all know Fluorocarbon is invisible in water, but it’s also much heavier than standard leader material. On a sink tip, a 3’ leader of 10 pound fluoro keeps the fly down at the level of the sink tip. With a floating line, a full Fluorocarbon leader helps the fly gain a little more depth. Invisibility is just an added bonus, it’s the higher specific gravity that’s more important.

We have enough streamers that it can sometimes be a bit of an adventure filling your fly box! We recommend, when getting started in this, following this old adage. Light day, light fly- Dark day, dark fly- Bright day, bright fly. With that in mind, make sure to vary your fly size, always remembering what line weight you’ll be using. If you use sink tips, weight won’t be critical. Floating lines might require you to look for flies with a little weight on them, like a conehead or smaller dumbbell eyes. One of our favorite weighted flies is the Sculpzilla. Others are the Skullhead Super Tinsel and the Baby Gonga. These flies can be thrown on a 5 weight with some concentration, and larger rods handle them with ease.

Classic streamer fishing while wading utilizes a cast quartering downstream. Fish the cast out, and then take 3 steps and do it again. We would amend that to consider water clarity. In stained water, you may only take one step. In clear water, you may take four steps. What you’re trying to do is give every fish within casting range a chance to see your fly, without throwing over stale fish. From a boat, the classic streamer technique is hammer the bank, the closer the better most of the time. But keep your eyes open for mid river structure like rootballs and boulders. These hold fish as well. Don’t neglect the riffles. Two feet of moving water holds more big fish than you think, and are well worth running a streamer through.

No matter where you’re fishing or what your fishing for, listen to the fish. They’ll tell you what they want, and how to present it. We often start with a very gentle stripping action, but if that doesn’t move fish, we get continuously more aggressive until we’re stripping with the line hand and pushing the rod forward with the other, moving the fly as fast as possible! Don’t worry. If a trout wants your fly, you CANNOT strip it faster than the trout can swim. Varying your retrieve allows the trout to respond to the action it prefers.

Stripping Streamers on the Clark Fork River or Bitterroot River often comes with a few surprise pike.

There are three types of strikes to a streamer. The type A strike is a killing strike. The trout is eating, and your streamer is dead. You almost can’t miss this type of strike. The Type B strike is the action of a fish defending its territory from an invasive presence. The trout will lash out and chase the intruder away, but is not as interested in feeding, and you may not gat a take to this movement. The Type C strike is asimple curiosity. The trout will follow the streamer out, slowly, making making light nips on the tail in an effort to find out what this thing is. This fish is not actively feeding, and may be enticed to strike, but it’s definitely not a given.

From a boat, the Blackfoot River may be the best streamer river in our area. Strewn with boulders, and a gradient that keeps the water moving, the Blackfoot is streamer paradise. Lots of places to hide, and your fly is moving fast enough that fish don’t get a long time to look at it. Rock Creek holds awesome streamer fishing for the wading angler, because its smaller size allows working both sides of the river. Smaller streamers, like the Sparkle Minnow, are often more effective on Rock Creek, due to the average size of the fish.

As an aside, yellow streamers seem to be a clarion call to the Northern Pike Minnow. So while trout are also attracted to yellow, you will see way more than your share of the NPM if you go lots of yellow. A black streamer seems to perform all the time, as does white in our area. Special mention should be made of the Kreelix. Made from Kreinik sparkle material, this bright fly pulls fish out of places they don’t normally leave. All of our staff and guides are streamer junkies, so if this has raised any questions, call 406-728-7766 or email [email protected] for more information!

Additional Streamer Resources