Downsizing your streamer patterns can turn more and bigger fish in your home waters.
By Jesse Filingo
A darkened sky began to take over the dim, remaining light, and the cold air penetrated my skin straight through to my bones. I promised my friend Johan, who called it quits a while ago, that I had only a few more casts in me. He grumbled and started shaking himself warm on the banks, watching with urgency.
I launched my last cast across the river and prepared my cold hands to swing a small, olive Woolly Bugger through the current. Halfway through the swing, I heard what sounded like a boulder hitting the water. But it was a fish— a big fish—and it slammed my bugger.
Moments later, I hefted a powerful, 20-inch-long female brown from the water, and started hooting and hollering into the night sky. I couldn’t imagine what anyone within earshot was thinking. But Johan and I felt revitalized. Lying half submerged in ice-cold water, with a size 8 Bugger in her mouth; she was beautiful.
The fact I caught her with such a fly was the icing on the cake. It’s nothing too large, and nothing too flashy, just a simple, small streamer that often gets the job done when its larger counterparts don’t; which is why I’m such a big advocate for sizing down streamers, especially when you’re in pursuit of pressured trout.
The Big-Fly Hype
It’s my contention that there’s a huge misconception among modern anglers about the best flies for catching the “trout of a lifetime,” especially when the conversation includes streamers. When it comes to streamers, everyone and their brother seems to believe giant, articulated patterns equate to large trout. In a way, the notion makes sense—big flies equal big rewards.
But in reality, it’s not necessarily a hard line. Think of it like this: When bugs are hatching, you do everything in your power to match the hatch with a pattern that replicates the size, color, and profile of the natural. Why wouldn’t you do the same with streamers?
Case in point, one morning last summer I heard two people talking behind me as they crashed through the brush and into the stream. I stopped to talk and noticed two 7-weight rods rigged with six- and eight-inch-long streamers. I was puzzled, so a guy spoke up and said they were hunting for trophy fish with a tactic he referred to as “stripping sirloin.” But it was midsummer, the water was low, and I’d rarely seen a fish over 20 inches long in this water to boot. Maybe they were there to see who could scare more fish? The point is low summer flows are not a good time for what they were doing.
For the sake of argument, I consider a big streamer anything over four inches long, and there’s definitely a right time and place for them, such as during the high, murky flows of spring, when it’s hard for fish to see, or when fish are awakening from their winter slumber, ready to chow.
“The higher flows of early spring, the muddy water after a summer thunderstorm, or when chasing aggressive postspawn fish, are really the only times when I would use streamers considered large,” says A&G Outfitters manager Adam Nidoh.
Large streamers also have their place on big bodies of water—think drift boats and chuck-and-duck casting. Arkansas’s White River is a prime example. It’s big water to support boats and a healthy population of huge, hungry brown trout that love chunky streamers—one of the reasons is because the river has a high percentage of “larger than average” baitfish. Trout in systems like that are more prone to attack a large pattern. Other than that, there’s little reason to always “go big, or go home.