Tuesday Tip: Big Streamers for Big Trout

Big Streamer Fly 1

This big brown trout coughed up a 6-inch, half-digested rainbow during the fight–a
reminder that your streamer probably isn’t as big as it could be.

photo by Simon Perkins

Last week, a good friend flew in to fish with me in Montana for a couple days. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in an eddy behind one), you’re probably aware of the water situation in Montana and other parts of the west. June has been crazy. Record water levels are being registered across the state every day, many rivers look like their water has been replaced with chocolate milk, and therefore most anglers and guides have been forced out of their normal routines. We knew we were going to have to explore some “Plan B” options.

A number of fisheries were starting to come into shape (the late-summer and fall fishing should be epic), but I was feeling restless. So I hooked up my drift boat, picked up my buddy at 6:30 a.m., and we drove 3-1/2 hours north to a river that a fellow guide had told me “looked decent.” I had been told that streamers were our best bet, so I rigged up a 10-foot 4-weight with a sinking-tip line and opened up my bugger box.

Before I continue, I need to offer a quick disclaimer: I grew up fly-fishing for brookies in the Northeast, using tiny tippets to facilitate delicate presentations. Thus, when choosing the size of my fly, I always went smaller as opposed to bigger. This tendency has followed me throughout my career as a guide and angler, even when I moved to Montana, where big flies rule the rivers. Often, in both the Eastern and Western fisheries, “going smaller” has proved very successful. But I digress…

I grabbed a flashy, brown, size 4 streamer with barbell eyes and tied it on to the end of the 0X tippet.

To summarize: we had a killer day. My friend swam about 30 fish on the streamer, we shared a lot of laughs, and we only saw one other boat on the river. But the most interesting part of the float came right before lunch. Just above a riffle, my friend hooked into a 22-inch brown and his rod doubled over. The fish made a couple deep, long runs, then rose toward the surface before screaming upstream. Twenty yards upriver, the brown stopped for a moment and shook something out of its mouth. The “thing” floated down alongside the boat, and I grabbed it with my net before setting it on the cooler. We turned our attention back to the brown, landed it, took a quick picture, released the fish and then inspected the unidentified object.

Big Streamer Fly  2

What looks like a huge streamer to a trout fisherman often doesn’t even come
close to the size of the fish that a big brown trout can really eat.

photo by Simon Perkins

It was a partially digested 6-inch rainbow trout–still with part of its skin on one side of its body–which the brown had regurgitated halfway through the fight. I was shocked by its size, both the length and girth. The little rainbow dwarfed all the streamers we had been using that day. It made sense. Trout like to eat BIG. We had caught several 8-inch rainbows on the same streamer that the big brown had taken, and I’ve heard of many anglers using mammoth streamers to catch average-size trout. I guess I just needed to be reminded of this fact. Next time I’m going to use the biggest streamer in my box.

But here’s a caveat: Using big flies can be a very successful technique and will often lead to big fish. However, anglers should be aware that big hooks with wide gaps can be quite harmful to smaller trout. If you’re fishing in an area with a big population of smaller trout, choosing a large fly with a smaller hook or hook gap will often ensure that caught fish can be released unharmed.

Simon Perkins is a filmmaker and guide at PRO Outfitters in Helena, Montana.

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