Streamer Fishing – Bighorn River Primer

Streamer Fishing – Bighorn River Primer

October 16, 2010 11:43 am Published by


Streamers –  This is a favorite way to fish on a guides day off and also one of my favorite things to introduce anglers to who have not tried it before.  Streamer fishing is one of those techniques that is hard to have confidence in, until you have been successful with it.  While anglers often streamer fish to go after some of the largest trout, streamer fishing at the right times can bring quantity as well as quality to the net.  On larger rivers such as the Bighorn and Yellowstone a certain level of casting proficiency tends to be necessary in order to be successful while fishing streamers. 

At times hitting your spots and placement of your fly is key to motivate a trout to chase.  Whether fishing the banks or mid river structure your abiltiy to place your fly in likely holding areas is going to be key to your success.  And more often than not the more spots you hit the more fish you will have come to your fly.  

People often consider streamer fishing to be a less technical form of pursuit while chasing trout.  However matching your streamer technique and fly patterns to variables such as river type, water clarity, weather and water temperature will have a significant impact on your success rate. 

Equipment and Rigging: I typically streamer fish with a 9′ 6 or 7wt rod with a matching weight line or one line size higher than the weight of the rod.  My lines typically have quick loading front tapers that are ideal for throwing short sink tips.  I typically always use a sink tip around 7 feet in length.  The tips from RIO come in sink rates ranging from 1.0 ips(inch per second) to 7.0 ips and can cover a wide variety of streamer fishing conditions and can match well with many different rod actions and weights.   I do not use full sinking lines for my river fishing because they take longer to load and are difficult for non advanced fisherman to pick up off the water because of their length.  Off the end of my sink tips I fish heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon in 2 foot to 4 foot sections to my fly.  There is no need to go light here 12 to 20 pound test is ideal and you do not want to use to long of a tippet section off of your sink tip.  If you use to long of a tippet section your fly will not sink at the same rate as your sink tip and your fly will stay up in the water column. 

Streamer Technique & Fishing Conditions:   There are many many ways to present your streamer from pounding the banks, slow and deep, long strips, short strips, strip-strip-pause,mend & twitch, dead-drift and swing. With the equipment and rigging style I presented above you can use several techniques to present your streamer to the fish.  A little common sense goes a long way when deciding which method will work best the day you are on the river. Here are a few expamples. I tend to fish slower and deeper during the winter and late fall or when a significant temperature change has occured. At this time I typically incorporate longer and slower strips, many times in the deepest and slowest part of the run.  When water temp’s  and the trout’s metabolism are low being methodical in your approach is key, hit the trout on the nose. 

When fishing the banks, I like to key in on structure, seams and drop offs within five feet of the bank.  I typically do the best pounding the banks when water temperatures are ideal for trout in the 50’s or so.  Your strips are typically fast and erratic and your arm should be thoroughly worn out at the end of the day.  This fishing is not for everyone but can certainly be exciting.  When fishing banks as an angler I am trying to appeal to a trouts opportunistic feeding behavior, where as a predator the trout can not pass up an easy prey.  This is when we typically get the most explosive takes and what I call kill shots.  There isn’t any chase to the boat, just hit your spot with the fly, line goes tight and fish on.  If you are getting several chases but no kill shot then first change the pace of your strip and if that does not work change your pattern. When a river rises and clarity diminishes the fish will move to the banks. Prime streamer fishing on the banks often occurs when a river is dropping and just clearing.  Just as visibilty improves is the time to pound the banks hard.  The trend is very evident on river such as the Yellowstone.

Another technique I like to use is a dead drift and/or mend & twitch approach.  This approach is fished slower and works well in pocket water, around mid river boulders and fishing runs out of a boat.  For example when you come upon a mid river boulder you will have deeper holding water in front of, on the sides and most of all behind the boulder and in the accompanying downstream seam. Fish in all but the most ideal conditions will be unwilling to elevate to a streamer just below the surface, in a short deep hole. Your ability to manipulate your line through mending will allow you to get your fly deep in the hole and most importantly keep it there.  Once it’s in the strike zone you can impart action to your fly in association with the plunging action of the current thru short twitches.  This technique is valuable in sculpin rich waters.  Sculpins hold tight to the river bottom(hence the shape of their body) and keeping your fly sliding across the rocks using a dead drift technique will increase your catch rate. 

Pattern Selection 
If there is one rule to streamer pattern selection it is to fish the fly you have confidence in.  We all tend to have a fondness for that one fly that caught that one 20+ inch fish on that one day when all the stars aligned and that big beautiful trout ate your fly.  Go with your instinct it worked well once why not again.  I always enjoy changing flies and trying new patterns but I do have have certain trends I seem to follow when it comes to streamer flies

A couple things I look for are this:  movement of the fly in the water, silhouette and color.  I have a thing for flies tied with rabbit strips and marabou these materials move or “breathe” extremely well in the water.  I also like deer hair heads, they not only imitate sculpins but deer hair on the the front of your fly pushes water which is picked up by the lateral line of the fish and I find this is key when fishing dirty water.  One of my favorite patterns also incorporates lead in it’s body, which allows the fly to wobble in the water making the fly act as if it’s injured.  Carry a wide selection of flies in various silhouettes and colors.  There is nothing wrong with trial and error.  Keep your hooks sharp and fish hard. You will discover patterns you regularly rely on and be presently suprised when a new pattern moves fish.

Streamer fishing is an effective technique throughout the entire fishing season, not just in pre-spawn times when many anglers target fish with streamers.  If you havent experienced the rewards of a lights out streamer fishing then fish them until you do it will change your angling life.  And to all of you dry fly purists, your missing out.

Categorised in: ,

This post was written by Bighornangler

Comments are closed here.