Written by: Tommy Lynch
because they think it’s worth the effort.
There is nothing more intense than casting large flies over and over, waiting for the big payoff, like putting coins in a slot machine. Then, finally, “Here he comes!” The wolf shows himself coming out of deep dark to launch a campaign of pain against your fly. A couple of twitches and a pause, and you have made an idiot out of an otherwise wary, unapproachable, double-digit toad brown trout.
Big-streamer fishing is for those anglers who would rather tango with just one toad than catch big numbers of cookie-cutter trout. A large brown must be hunted and not just fished for. Those who would fish an 11-inch streamer pattern aren’t looking for “teeners”—heck, the fly is almost that big— they are looking for Neo himself—“The One”! We don’t have a ton of trout in Michigan, compared to the western states, but our big-fish-to-fish ratio is fantastic if you know where to look.
The dandy shown above, a 28-plus-inch wild Michigan brown, was a victim, like many others the last couple years, of a giant streamer fished with a lot of action. This past winter, on the White River in Arkansas, we started increasing the length of our otherwise great smaller-water streamers, from 4-7 inches to 7-11 inches— the size needed to turn the real predators, who are looking for a lot of payoff in one punch.
Big-streamer fly fishing isn’t for everyone. If you’re just looking to catch fish, a nymph or dry will serve you much better. This big-fly type of fly-fishing is for those of you looking for a certain kind of trout, a fish of a lifetime—a “unicorn,” if you will. Endurance casting, quality line control, proper fly movement, placement, and even fly selection all play a huge role.
Only Dead Fish Go With The Flow
Start with an idea of how you want your flies to be seen. Understand that we look at our flies totally differently than the fish does. They look up at whatever fly we have presented, with a lightened sky behind it, whereas we look directly down at the fly on typically a dark river bottom backdrop. All strikes from predatory fish are triggered by movement, much like a cat and a ball of yarn; color, speed, size, and even texture all play a roll in how a predator chases down and kills.
Never give up on a cast until the bitter end; more big fish come right at the boat than don’t, much like musky fishing. I think that the reason for this is that, as the fly is exiting the water, the predator feels a need to speed up and spring the trap before the opportunity has passed. This response is no different from pulling a string over the back of the couch and watching a cat crouch into position getting ready to pounce on the evading target. You’ll often notice that the cat will wait until the last possible moment before launching its assault.
Strip your fly downstream, which goes against conventional wisdom. All injured minnows, trout, crawfish, etc. move downstream because they can’t fight the current. And don’t make your strips too fast or long, as this depresses the action of the fly and pulls it from the “sweet spot” prematurely. Instead, use a fly with flash and lifelike motion in the water, so a fish can attack it in the safety of his haunt and not out on some bar where he may feel vulnerable and visible.
Break up your rhythm of strip, pop, drag, or whatever your bug fancies. Nothing that is injured exhibits a steady rhythm. Fish or prey in trouble tend to pop, twitch, dart, quiver, with each movement looking different than the one before. There are so many big flies out there, and each one should be fished differently. When you change flies, change your retrieve, as well. You wouldn’t show up to a golf course with a bag full of clubs and swing them all the same way would you?
Faith catches more fish than any one fly in your box, so I believe that presentation trumps color and style. That said, I would also say that if you have a high-action fly coupled with faith and a good presentation, this makes you a force to be reckoned with. When a streamer is working right the fish miss it, not once, but twice, and still come back and get the hook on the third try.
Tommy Lynch is a fly fishing guide who operates The Fish Whisperer Guide Service in Baldwin, Michigan.