Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fishing Streamers on the Delaware?

Part 1  Streamer Fishing an Alternative?
Part 2  Nymph Fishing 

Yes, Yes, I know who wants to fish nymphs and streamers on one of the best dry fly fisheries in the country. With all the hatches and rising fish we get it's tough to convince some to get the nymphs and streamers out. Streamer fishing got a bad name because a lot of people think all you do is chunk a fly down and across and let it swing. Well there is much, much more to streamer fishing that with a little practice will increase your success rate as well as give you a better opportunity to land your fish of a life time. Don't get me wrong I love to fish to our big fish with dries. There is nothing better, but if you want shots at the monster of the deep just bare with me on this. So read on and maybe I can get you interested.
Brown on a Streamer
The Delaware River system is one of the most prolific wild trout fisheries in the country.  Our hatches are second to none and we have opportunities to catch trophy size browns and rainbows on a dry fly right through the summer months.  All we need to do is match the hatch and/or stage of the insect the fish are taking and make a good cast and good presentation to the right fish and usually we can bring some trophy size browns and rainbows to the net. In fact when the heads are popping it doesn’t get any better than that. I'm getting excited just thinking about it. (Come on Spring)
When fishing dry flies, we get our fair share of 20+ inch browns on our river along with 19" and 20" rainbows. But if you want to catch the fish that ranges 24" and over, you will increase your chances with a big meaty streamer swimming through those haunts that the big boys live in. Believe me when one of those guys decide to come out and whack a streamer and quickly head back to his lair you better hold on and react fast. 

Caught during July
Among dry fly purists there seems to be a stigma surrounding streamer fishing. Maybe it has to do with the thinking of needing to fish high off color water, or maybe the thought is that it closely resembles "Spin" fishing. Or maybe, the thought is that it is too easy or single dimensional. Well hopefully I can dispel some of that and provide some old and new information that generates a little interest so that some of the die hard dry fly only folks will give it chance. 

You see as a guide, my job is to ensure that I get you on fish, maybe teach a little, and make sure you have a good time. The problem is, as you know, the fish do not rise 24 hours a day and those of you that have heard me sing certainly know that is not the answer to good entertainment. Although I do sing a mean nursery rhyme. So, rather than listen to me sing I hope to get some of you interested in trying a little streamer or maybe nymph fishing to deal with those times when there is no hatch or there is a hatch with finicky fish ignoring our presentation.

When to fish Streamers
Caught on Streamer (not Delaware)
Years ago when I was a tadpole all we fished with were streamers and wets and we caught lots of fish, hatch or no hatch on the small and large streams in Pennsylvania. Over the years I continued to fish with streamers as well as dry flies and nymphs. My objective was to do whatever it took to catch fish. The point here is that streamers and wets will work and should not be overlooked if you are looking for opportunities to catch some very large fish. 

You probably know that a good time to get the streamers out is in the spring in high off color water conditions, or when things are slow in the middle of the day. Definitely a good time to fish streamers, but there are many other opportunities to bring very large fish to the net with a big meaty streamer.

I'm sure most of you have experienced the time where there are fish rising everywhere and you present your best patterns perfectly to a particular riser to no avail. I have personally experienced this and tried nearly everything in my fly box. Out of shear frustration I put on a streamer and suddenly during a hatch a fish just whacks it.  This happens quite often. You may have to experiment with different streamers just as you would with a dry, but it is definitely worth a try. 

    Fall and winter are great times for streamer fishing as well. While moving down a river hitting the bank and log jams, I look for feeding trout as well. This time of year you will see trout rising to midges and olives. These rising fish will seldom refuse the right streamer. Also these rising fish will give you a good indication where their holding haunts are.  I like to hit these areas because sometimes the big boys are still in hiding.

Slow or no surface activity is another great time to get the streamers out. Big trout are aggressive and don't like intruders and will strike. I like to prospect where the fish are holding. Back in those tough to reach areas like undercut banks, log jams, the head and tails of pools and the deep slot of a pool. Look for drop offs and pockets where the fish would be comfortable and out of harms way. Try fishing the inside seam of a run near the deepest spot. I don't ever pass those up.

When the fish are feeding subsurface is a good time to get out the streamers. I will generally go to nymphs first, but if necessary I will pull out the streamer and swing it to the feeding fish. Sometimes I will dead drift it to the feeders. This also gives you a shot at those big fish that are in the deeper holes or hanging around the boulders or log jams.  This will work and should not be overlooked during the time when fish feed subsurface.

Some Streamer Techniques
I believe a basic and principle technique that breeds success is to keep the fly broadside to the fish as much as possible. In nearly all conditions and regardless of the technique I try to maintain a perpendicular to the current fly presentation for as long as possible. This way trout have a better view of the profile of the fly as opposed to a small swimming away profile.

Another thing to be aware of is that there are times when trout will whack a streamer only to kill it and sometimes come back and eat it. When fishing for muskie or pike with flies we would get that ferocious strike and if you left the fly alone or just twitched it a few times, it would slam it again. Same with a trout. I have caught many trout after they made their initial attack by twitching the fly back to the boat. Make the fly look crippled. I can't say that enough. A crippled easy target will definitely look more enticing to a trout then a fast darting minnow.

Casting is somewhat different and requires a little practice. Your casting stroke should be more open. In other words you don't want a tight loop. I use the water to load the rod on the pick up and try not to false cast, but shoot the line to my target area.

The most common method of streamer fishing is to cast down and across and let the fly swing. This can produce some ferocious strikes, but I feel more success can be obtained by casting more across the current and employing mends to keep the fly swimming across the current not up stream swimming away from the fish.  I usually put some action to the fly as it is drifting down  by mending or applying small twitches using the rod tip or my line hand.

Fishing across the current and allowing the fly to drift along the undercut or drop off is a sure way to take big fish. This is accomplished by casting the streamer upstream a little or straight across with a reach cast and mending along its way down allowing the fly to drift down the drop off or bank with some action imparted to the fly using the rod tip or line hand. As the fly goes by you, mend just enough slack in the line to allow it to travel down through the target zone and still be enable you to detect a strike. As the fly straightens out below you, let it pause for a moment then strip back towards you with varied cadence strips of 10 to 15 inches.

If fishing from a boat the above is the same except I don't allow the fly to swing below me. I will cast to the bank with a reach cast and mend allowing the fly to get down where the fish are. Then, I will continually mend (this also imparts action)  keeping the fly across the current as long as possible. Then pick it up and fire it back to the bank. Prior to picking it up give it 5 or 6 strips of about 10 to 15" each to make it look like a hurt or fleeing minnow. The man on the oars should keep the boat moving slower than the current allowing to cover about every 5 to 8 feet of bank.

I like to pull the boat up on the down side of an island and then walk back up to the head to where the water breaks down over the point. You always have a slack water seam and a deep bucket in or near the current line. Fishing this with a dead drifted streamer twitched as it goes by can pick up some huge fish.   They will lay just in the slack water next to the current seam, or just below where the water breaks over the gravel in the deeper bucket. I do this with a floating line and a 5 to 7 ft 1x leader and a weighted fly.

Of course night fishing with streamers is deadly. This is when these nocturnal monsters come out to play. You need to do a little more stripping and moving the fly at night, but when they eat you will know it. Last year I was within 1/2 mile of the lodge chunking some big streamers.  I cast across as close to the bank as I could in the dark and put some mends into the line then began some twitching and stripping when a big brown slammed my fly and completely destroyed the quiet of the night. He churned up that section of water and got my heart pounding so hard that I was done for that night. What a fish!  J ust a word to the wise. If you are going to fish at night, you should know the water you are going to fish in the dark because it can be dangerous and ineffective if you don't know where you are going.

A Little on Streamer Flies

I prefer large flies of between 3" and 6" long. Sometimes jointed, sometimes with stinger hooks and sometimes long flies with only a single hook. You should have a variety of flies in your box that will imitate the minnows, leaches, helgramites etc. that you that the fish call food on your river. This is not to say that you shouldn't have some "attractor" streamer patterns because I do get the color and flash out when needed.

One of the things that guides me when I'm selecting the fly to use is the type of water and conditions I am fishing. If I am fishing area with almost no current as in lakes or large pools I will not use a heavily weighted fly. I don't see a lot of bait fish swimming up and down, up and down like a weighted fly would. I will use a sinking line with very little if any weight on the fly. 

Another thing I consider is color of the water. If its off color I will use darker colored flies that are somewhat bulky or tied fairly heavy so they would move a lot of when stripped in. 

When fishing water with current I will fish weighted flies to help get the fly down and allow the fly to drift freely with small twitches giving the fly some action. 

Jointed flies are my favorites when I'm pounding the banks from a boat in high off colored water. I like the way a jointed streamer gives the appearance of struggling prey. Again, as I said above in the techniques section, "make the fly look crippled".  Easy prey will entice a strike. 

The pictures in this article are examples of some of the flies that I use. Also in my box are some of the old standbys like the Matuka, wooly buggers, and my own Helgramite imitations along with many attractor patterns with more flash. Having the right streamer is just as important as having the right dry fly, so stock up.

Equipment Selection

Fishing with big bulky streamers not only requires some changes in casting technique, but also some equipment considerations. Yes you can cast a big streamer with a 5wt, but not well and you will be beat up and sore after a couple of hours. Below are some guidelines and equipment considerations if you are thinking about getting into the Big Streamer, Big Fish game.

Lets start with the fly rod. Since we are going to cast big air resistant flies and at times heavy sinking lines, we will need to use a heavier rod and line wt.  I prefer a little longer rod than the standard 9'.  It gives you more leverage when casting a big fly. It will also help you a little while wading water more than waste deep. I suggest trying a 9'6" or 10'  in a 7wt. I can't recommend the fly rod without evaluating your casting style. My advice is to get to your fly shop, ask for assistance and try a few rods that fit your budget and casting style. But if you are ever at the West Branch Resort we will be glad to help.

The reel should be one with a good drag system. I had a friend out fishing streamers when he had huge fish come off the bank, grab his fly and head back to his haunt. When my friend stopped him the fish immediately headed down stream with the reel screaming. The problem was it sounded like gravel. The fish eventually pulled out and we never got a look at him. So I suggest a large arbor reel with a good sealed drag system. 

Two fly lines should be considered. One floating and one with a sink tip. The floating line should be weight forward and matched to the rod that you have or will purchase. The sink tip line should be matched to the rod and water that you intend to fish. If you are fishing high fast moving water or a lake or deep pools you will want to use a heavier wt and longer sink tip. Conversely if you are fishing shallower water consider a shorter and lighter sink tip or your floating line. Leaders are pretty basic. I suggest a strong leader of at least 1X or stronger in the 4 to 7' length. The heavy leader will help the fly turn over,   as well enable you to pull your snagged fly free. It will also help prevent the biggest fish you ever hooked from breaking you off. 

Here's what I use and may be a good starting point for you to test. Get to a fly shop and take a test drive and see how it feels. Then try a few others until you find the one that fits your budget and casting style.

  • 9'6" 7wt Sage Z axis (Sage One is the new one)  and a 10' helios in 7wt.
  • Nautilus reel and Mirage reel from Orvis
  • Streamer express from Scientific Anglers in 250gr and 200gr sink tip with a 26' head for high         or deep water, and 150gr short for shallower or slow moving water.
  • The leaders are 1X or heavier and the length depends on the water I'm fishing. 
There are many options for rods and reels and it can be crazy. Stop in the West Branch Fly shop and we can simplify the whole process.


So, why fish streamers on the Delaware (or anywhere for that matter)?  Because it's fun, something different, and if you want to better your chances to catch those monster that we seldom see and to catch that fish of life time give it try.  Hope to see you on the water.

Good fishing everyone,

Scott McClintock

1 comment:

  1. Good information on rods,reels,& lines,love fish'n streamers,the only line I use here on local river is a tenny mini-tip,the waters not wide enough to fish a bigger sink-tip,but the mini-tip works great,tight lines.