Big fish often live in small places, but they aren’t normally sipping daintily on emergers. They use their lairs as ambush points for large prey, making your close combat streamer strategies critically important. Landon Mayer Photo
We have all been there . . . casting a meaty streamer in narrow water to a dark shape lurking in a deep run. You make what you think was an awesome presentation, and just as the hulking trout speeds toward the fly, it makes a last-second retreat. Frustrated? You’re not alone.
Conventional wading streamer tactics teach you to fan a run with long swings or cover the water by casting toward the center and stripping the fly back toward you. These are great methods to produce results in large waterways, but are ill-suited for small creeks, tributaries, side channels, and the small spots in and around fish-holding structure. Like a quarterback threading the needle with a laser pass between two defenders, catching fish on streamers in these spots requires a more specific approach and delivery, not to mention specialized flies, rigging, and retrieves.
When you’re streamer fishing at close range, you don’t have the luxury of swimming the fly over long distances, giving the trout plenty of opportunity to follow the fly and make a decision. You need to instantly trigger an aggressive reaction, and a good starting point is to use streamers that imitate food sources the trout are familiar with.
In a big, brawling off-color freestone river you’re likely to use beefy black or flashy attractor patterns, but on smaller spring creeks, tailwaters, you’ll often find clearer water, and pickier fish, so imitations with natural, imitative colors work best.
The weight and density of the fly may be even more critical, as controlling the sink rate of the fly—not the fly line—is key. In a larger pool or run you can count on a sinking-tip line to gradually sink the fly to the level of the trout, but if you’re trying to drop your fly into a bathtub-size dark spot between two boulders, you must count on the fly to drop into the target zone all on its own.
In situations like this, look for patterns like Matt Wilkerson’s Lawn Dart or John Barr’s Meat Whistle with tungsten cones to get to the fish in seconds, and give you a chance to add a retrieve before it moves out of the target zone.
And speaking of target zones, don’t forget about the shallow water. Too many streamer addicts associate big fish with big, deep runs but in truth, big fish in low-light situations prefer to hunt baitfish in the riffles and shallows. On waters with a lot of fishing pressure, large trout often…
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The stop, drop, and roll imitates the natural movements of sculpins and crayfish.
Joe Mahler Illustration