Streamer Fishing for Big Trout
by Steve Clark
I debated titles for this piece.
It is said that ten percent of fishermen catch ninety percent of the fish. If that is true, then I respectfully submit the following - ten percent of successful fishermen must be streamer fishermen!
Fly fishing is a wonderful method to employ for trout fishing. Dry fly fishing is said to be the most “pure” method with which one can fool his quarry. I love nothing more than to watch a trout rise to my properly presented dry fly and then gently sip it in. The visual aspect of watching the rise to the imitation is the most rewarding feeling most fly anglers can experience in their quest for trout. Although it's true that you may take a trout measured in pounds, rather than inches, during a heavy hatch of well-sized insects such as Hex, Brown Drakes, Terrestrials or some of the other larger bugs that hatch for a couple weeks of the year, it is the exception, more than the rule.
Big trout (especially Brown Trout) don’t get that way by mistake, and they do not get that way on a diet of only tiny mayflies. A large trout uses up a lot of energy during the course of a day, and to feed that energy it needs protein. LOTS of protein!
Put yourself in the trout’s position for a moment to understand the way a carnivorous predator works. If you are sitting in your easy chair and a single french fry rests on a plate ten feet away, you are not likely to expend the energy to walk over to pick up that french fry, correct?
Why is that? – because the reward is not worth the effort. If someone were to bring it to you, then you would eat it.
Let's suggest there's a juicy steak on the plate instead. Now would you get up and walk ten feet to the plate? Certainly, because you know the reward is greater than the energy expended.
Congratulations – you just learned the driving force occupying a trout’s mind ninety-nine percent of the time!
Transfer what you just learned over to trout in a stream. If a large trout is holding in its feeding lane and sees a tiny mayfly drifting by several feet away, it senses the reward may not be worth the energy expended to intercept it (getting up to get the french fry.) If the fly drifts directly over its head, most times the fly disappears (someone bringing the french fry to you.)
If that same trout is holding in its feeding lane or resting in a resting lie and sees a large protein item such as a sculpin, a crayfish, or any smaller fish invade it's territory, it will move to chase or capture that food item based on the sense of increased return I mentioned before.
Here is another example: On a recent fishing excursion to the Au Sable River, I spent the better part of a day fishing dry flies during a heavy Hendrickson hatch to numerous rising fish on a wide, flat section called “Trophy Waters." I was enjoying the day, landing eight-to-ten inch trout one after another as they rose to my tiny Hendrickson dun offering. As I stood in the barely shin-deep water changing my fly I was taken completely by surprise as the water ten feet in front of me erupted in a huge boil, the likes of which I had never seen outside of salmon fishing.
As I stood, slack-jawed at the thought of what could have made such a boil, I soon witnessed the perpetrator in action. Darting past me was a small rainbow about eight or ten inches long; on it's tail was a brown trout of which dreams are made and books are written about. As the tiny rainbow shot past my leg and circled behind me, a brown trout every bit of two feet long (and then some) swam within three feet of me, around my leg in such shallow water that it had to roll to one side to navigate, then just as quickly back out to deeper water where a final boil erupted. I am certain that little rainbow met it's fate in that last boil.
At that moment I realized, as I was casting dries to smaller fish feeding on the surface, there were trophy predators sneaking up from underneath and feeding on the fish I was targeting. It was then I became a firm believer in using streamers for huge trout.
So how do we apply this knowledge to our own application on the stream? That’s an easy answer; we fish patterns of those large protein items - Streamers.
Sculpins, Crayfish, Minnows, Leeches, Mice - even other small trout of six-to-eight inches or more - are all on the menu of a large brown trout. Large trout are carnivorous predators at the top of the food chain in most streams, so we have to understand and use that knowledge against them to have any chance to land numbers of them on a regular basis.
Examples of very productive Streamers for large Trout:
How to successfully fish Streamers
I can not claim credit for this.
This method, otherwise known as "The Jerk Strip" was developed by two very well known and accomplished Michigan anglers, Bob Linsenman and Kelly Galloup; they described their technique in a book called “Modern Streamers For Trophy Trout”. I started using their methods after reading the book and it has proven to be the most productive method I have used for streamer fishing. Again, though I am writing this in my own words and based on my experiences on stream, the general ideas are taken from their methods.
The Jerk Strip method describes fishing streamers to entice an “aggression strike.” To employ this effectively you should use flies such as those I mentioned earlier in the piece, fished on a class IV or class V full-sinking line with a short, approximately 3-foot long leader of about 10 lb. test mono (stiff Maxima works best.) Use of a full sinking line and short, heavy leader will keep the streamer working in the deeper water column, where you want it to be, more consistently than working with a sink-tip or floating line alone.
The idea of the jerk-strip is to get the attention of the fish by slapping the streamer down, hard onto the water, then immediately beginning your retrieve. The retrieve is a fast-paced jerk of the rod tip of about 15-20" (this moves the fly about 8-12"), rapid recovery of (strip) slack line as you return the rod to its starting position, repeat; so on and so on. Yanking the rod tip moves the streamer; stripping line back is necessary because where would it go otherwise, so you can move the fly again. This method moves the streamer very much like a Rapala being worked on a spinning rod. When you fish in this manner you are trying to work the streamer in the top one foot of the water column.
Why is the Jerk Strip so effective?
When you dead-drift or slowly strip a streamer you are searching for any hungry fish willing to take your offering. Sometimes you are rewarded; most times, you're just prospecting. By using the jerk-strip retrieve you're attempting to entice fish that are not even interested (read hungry) into attacking your fly. Here's why-
When you cast your fly and slap it down onto the water, then “jerk-strip” it back, you do so at a feverish pace, and if the initial impact of the fly hitting the surface calls attention to itself or the fast-paced retrieve puts the fly anywhere near a fish, it's a fair bet the fish will react in a very primal manner based on (1) invasion of its territory and (2) the greater urge to disable and consume the smaller intruder.
Here's where this all goes wrong for the aggressive fish attacking your fly.
Your quarry is now attacking it's quarry. It expects to dispatch this intruder and return to the safety of its lie - with no sidetrips or surprises. When the fish inhales the thing attached to the invisible line and turns to swim back to safety and the trip comes to a screeching halt- a defensive instinct called fight or flight (as described by we mere humans) takes over.
Fight or flight is an instinct every living creature possesses deep inside of them and can not suppress. There is no way to turn off a primal instinct that living creatures have used to survive for thousands of years. Example: If you see someone you know walking down the street and you passively walk up to them and tap them on the shoulder (try this and you can only hope they react calmly!), they may calmly turn and face you in relaxed demeanor (passive - such as dead-drifting a streamer.)
On the other hand, you're apt to get a more surprised and defensive reaction (you'd better be quick enough to duck or step out of the way of the wallop you deserve for scaring the beJesus out of your possible former friend. God forbid you jumped out of the bushes screaming like a madman - you'd really deserve what you got then!)
There you have it - Fight or Flight instinct kicking in. And that’s how the jerk-strip works on big fish, prompting the aggressive/defensive reaction.
If a 24” brown is hanging out in a log jam, comfortable in its territory and a streamer goes drifting by, it might attack if it's hungry. If not, you have more casting practice ahead. Slap that fly down over the log jam and all bets are off as the fish comes out gunning for a fight! Fight has kicked in, and your impudent intruder is quickly attacked because it startled our comfy quarry.
If you can handle your fly and line, you know how to finish this half of the equation.
So, using very large streamers representing high-protein items fished on a jerk-strip retrieve, you have a lot of bases covered. If the fish are hungry they'll attack for the food value; if not, maybe it will still attack because the jerk-strip method triggered a “fight or flight” instinct.
I will never give up fishing dry flies completely because I enjoy that part of fly fishing. And, nymphs will always account for a decent number of good-sized fish.
On the other hand, if you want to chance hooking into BIG fish (Trout are my FAVORITE!!!) then apply the methods shared here and you might just like the results.
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