Streamer fishing doesn’t have to be a strip-pause-strip routine. Dead-drifting buggers, leeches, and similar patterns can be deadly on the least likely water.
[by David R. Christensen]
Over the years, streamer fishing has always produced fish for me. However, I’ve tended to use them only when nymphs and dry flies failed to work. Or I fished them at specific times—morning or evening, high spring runoff, or during the fall when brown trout were more active. Even then, I presented them as if I was fishing for bass: cast and strip, cast and strip. Streamers were simply a back-up plan when nothing else caught fish.
That perspective changed several years ago on an August afternoon while my wife and I fished a western spring creek— the kind of spring creek that attracts dry-fly purists who love to ridicule anglers who use streamers. Not only were streamers considered taboo on this stream, but the method we used—dead drifting—was a little unconventional.
Barr’s Cranefly Larva
Hook: Tiemco 200R
Weight: .020 lead wire
Thread: Olive, 70 denier
Tail: Pale olive marabou
Back: Tan Thin Skin
Body: Arizona synthetic dubbing, gray-olive
Rib: 3x tippet
I had seen anglers dead-drift streamers while sight-fishing for salmon or fall-run brown trout, and I learned the skill while fishing for steelhead in the Pacific Northwest. The drift is effective, and when you can present large streamers right in the feeding lane of a specific fish—as if the fl y would bump the fish on the nose—it’s very exciting.
So, I wondered if the same tactic would work on a trout stream that wasn’t necessarily in some far-flung destination or during the spawning season. More precise, I wondered if deaddrifting streamers would catch spooky trout in a spring creek on a hot sunny day? The bushy overhanging banks of spring creeks seemed like perfect locations to put the technique to the test.
My wife and I began the day dead-drifting streamers beneath overhanging banks and trees. The water was approximately three feet deep and moving slowly. Because the streamers were large and the water not so deep, we could see the flies well enough to manipulate them, when necessary, to make them drift naturally with the current to a holding fish or beneath a dark undercut bank. We’d cast six to ten feet above the target area, and that distance allowed the weighted streamer to sink and be moved into position without spooking fish. From our vantage points, we could see everything. The results were astounding! By the end of the day we had caught well over a dozen brown trout in multiple locations using the same method. We never stripped the streamer and set the hook only if we saw or felt a fish strike.
Beck’s Super Bugger
Hook: Tiemco 3761
Thread: Black 70 Denier
Tail: Black Accent flash, black marabou
Eyes: Lead dumbbell painted yellow
Hackle: Black hen
Legs: SILI-legs, Black with red flake
Head: Black Hare-Tron dubbing
With our success, we grew bolder, and began casting to brown trout holding in open water away from heavy cover. At times, we fi shed during hatches when most fish were feeding on emergers near the surface. Most of the trout were not interested in our presentations and moved out of the way when the fly approached. We observed a few other trout, however, that didn’t move—rather, they opened their large white mouths and ingested the streamers. Most of the open-water browns we caught were holding near the bottom rather than higher in the water column. And that made me wonder, Were these trout resting or were they keying on prey near the bottom substrate?
For an answer, I recalled my studies in fisheries management. Several years prior, as a student, I had made a trip to this very same spring creek to collect macroinvertebrates for a course project. I found the typical mayfly and caddisfly diversity common to spring creeks but was surprised at something else I discovered: large crane fly larvae and leeches, at times abundant along the bottom substrate. I also sampled a nearby tailwater where I found that crane fly larvae and leeches were also a consistent part of the benthic community (the bottom layer of the stream), particularly in slower water.
These large organisms often get flushed into the current, and when they do, they roll and bounce near the bottom and are a substantial prey possibility for trout. A weighted dead-drifted streamer may give the same appearance if it is allowed to sink and drift naturally near the bottom. (continued on page 2)