Casting Angles for Nymphs and Streamers

Chase Howard with downstream presentation-parallel to the current. With cold snaps, it often pays to keep the streamer “in the zone” for an extended time period.

Chase Howard with downstream presentation-parallel to the current. With cold snaps, it often pays to keep the streamer “in the zone” for an extended time period.

Stay Within The Lines: Casting Angles for Nymphs and Streamer

 

Winter is upon us, which means I’m fully engaged in streamer tactics. It’s not because streamer tactics are the best approach this time of year -- if you want to catch fish, nymphing will likely yield better results -- it’s more because I love to work streamers, hungry for that elusive tug, even if it means going all day without a strike. I welcome that challenge! In late February/early March, when the first olive hatch occurs, I enter into a different mode, but the tug is hard-wired; I go back to it at every opportunity.

  One cold April morning, trout still positioned deep in the water column and stubborn to any offering, my friend and Master nymph fisherman, John Stoyanoff said:  “You can’t dictate to the trout; you take what they give you.” John noticed that I was casting my nymphs more over and across than up. The result was that drag was setting in early and my nymphs were lifting off the streambed. My presentation was too fast for the lazy trout. John’s upstream casts were more in line with the current, and his nymphs reached (and stayed) deeper in the water column. Eventually, grannom pupa began to emerge, and the trout, now active, would consider my over and across, tension cast.

 The correct angle of cast made the difference. A big difference. Casting in line with the current slows down and deepens the drift. The over and across cast creates almost immediate drag and speeds up the offering. This makes for a long day of presentations to finicky trout. Tensioned casts have their uses, but they are useless to trout holding in cold, deep water. They aren’t looking up until an emergence, some activity, occurs.  

 These rules apply, especially in cold, winter months, to streamer tactics too. Yes, trout will run down a streamer during a polar vortex, but cold water temps often result in less active trout.  So when water temps decrease, so does the speed I work streamers. This means casting more “in-line” with the current. The goal is to reduce drag and keep your patterns in likely “lanes,” where trout will position. The choice of a correctly weighted streamer, or the right sink rate for fly line are important choices, but the angle of the cast greatly influences how slow and how long a pattern remains in a trout’s ambush zone. Remember, let the trout tell you how how active you can fish your streamers. As a general rule for winter streamer tactics, slow your presentation.  I tell my 8 year-old, in his frenzied, crayon sessions, to “STAY WITHIN THE LINES.” Like most parents, though,  I am an infrequent listener to my own advice!

Kris Bretz showing off a health brown, he caught by “staying within the lines.”

Kris Bretz showing off a health brown, he caught by “staying within the lines.”

Streamer Tip: Avoid "Target Fixation" For The Bank

Angler Fred Moy caught this fish  mid stream  on a large tailwater. Remember to scan the water before making the cast. No need to rush your cast.

Angler Fred Moy caught this fish mid stream on a large tailwater. Remember to scan the water before making the cast. No need to rush your cast.

Streamer season has been upon for some time, and I was recently reminded of a favorite streamer tip. I heard  this tip over 8 years ago-during my time as Captain for Fly Fishing Team USA. I’ve had the privilege to work/fish with excellent anglers, and Scott Hunter is another impressive angler I was fortunate enough to spend time with. Scott is a former member of Fly Fishing Team USA and the NC FF Team. Scott is a predator, both as a hunter and fisher, and is likely one of the most well rounder outdoorsman I know. He’s damn good. 

 

Scott is also a former bass competitor, and competed with legendary angler, Kevin VanDam. One of Scott’s most memorable tips he gleaned from Kevin was, “90% of angler’s fish the bank, which only hold 10% of the fish.” While the original discussion may have been centered on lakes for bass, this is also true for river streamer tactics, especially on float trips.  While banks will provide excellent targets to the streamer angler, don’t develop “target fixation” on only the banks. In other words, scan the water, look for better options before casting to the bank.  You have options-use them!

 

Just to be clear, there’s situations where’s banks are the only option. When fishing extreme high water, you may need to focus on the bank. Banks may provide the only resting spot for fish, so focus your fly placement where you’re likely to find more trout. On the flip side, when normal flows exist, greater success may occur when fly placement is focused on prime lies (i.e. areas that offer trout food, protection, and shelter). This often means to make a cast anywhere but to the bank. While some bank locations may offer prime lies, many are only feeding lies. Feeding lies are excellent targets for the streamer angler during off color water, low light, or if you’re the first angler/boat to fish these areas. However, after several anglers have fished a feeding lie-those fish feel the pressure and they often run back to areas that offer protection. 

 

The best streamer anglers I know don’t rush the cast. They survey the field and locate the best target. They wait until to make the cast until they wade into the best position, or the boat moves into the right position. They make less casts, but their streamers spend more time in productive waters. As my friend, Lance Wilt will tell his clients, “cast with a purpose.” Meaning, find a reason to make the cast. It’s not always about fishing harder- it’s about fishing smarter. Pick your target, and attack!   

 

Circus Peanut: A Favorite Color Scheme

Peanut:Peanut Envy.jpg

The Yellow and Gold Circus Peanut/Peanut Envy: A Proven Color Scheme For Higher Water

 

Although I spent part of my earlier angling days with a streamer attached to the line, it was more of a backup plan, when all other tactics, dry fly, nymph, wet fly, failed. I would clip off the smaller dry fly or nymph, cut back into the leader’s thicker section, attach an “old school” Mickey Finn streamer, start stripping like hell, and hope for the best.  Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it didn’t. And why should such a last ditch effort work? After all, it was, like many of my earlier streamer fishing ventures, a half ass plan.

 

Then, in 2003, I travelled to fish with Russ Madden on his Michigan home waters, and he changed my attitude towards streamers. He showed me a game plan that would work as a primary (not last ditch) approach. I’ll be writing about those lessons in future blog posts. Until then, I wanted to share a color variation of his Circus Peanut, a highly effective streamer for the high, dirty water that defined this 2018 Pennsylvania trout season.  Actually, now when I look at it- the pattern is a mix of Russ’ Circus Peanut and Kelly Galloup’s Peanut Envy. Either way, I wanted to share this color scheme. It has been great (personally and with customers) during the last five months.  Happy Stripping!

 

 

Rear Hook:

Hook: Gama B10S (or similar) #4

Thread: 6/0 Light Olive Uni

Tail: Yellow Olive Marabou

Body: Yellow Polar Reflector Flash

Collar: Yellow Schlappen

Legs: Sili Legs Chrome/Pumpkin

 

Connector:

20LB Maxima with Single Glass Bead

 

Front Hook

Hook: Gama B10S (or similar) #4

Cone: Medium Copper Tungsten Cone with 6-8 wraps of .025 lead wire (snugged inside cone to prevent cone from sliding and to add additional weight).

Thread: 6/0 Light Olive Uni

Overwing (i.e tail section hanging over the articulated section): Yellow Olive Marabou

Body: Yellow Polar Reflector Flash

Collar: Yellow Schlappen

Legs: Sili Legs Chrome/Pumpkin

 

 

Staying Streamer Neutral

The concept of neutral buoyancy is something we all learned in high school. However, it wasn’t until I began streamer fishing in my late teens that I found a practical use for this concept. In short, neutral buoyancy means that an object in water will neither float to the surface or sink to the bottom; instead, it will suspend. So why would this be important to the streamer angler? For me, the idea of neutral buoyancy has allowed me to develop a better streamer approach for the waters I fish in central Pennsylvania–home of limestone rivers and spring creeks.

My approach to streamer fishing has changed over the years, from a fast-moving “strip like hell” approach to a drift-and-twitch presentation that I feel does a better job imitating a wounded baitfish. When observing a wounded minnow in the water, you may notice the fish drifting with the current along with the occasionally twitching or kicking. The injured minnow will also drop toward stream bottom in a slow, downward gliding motion and not like a rock. While heavily weighted streamers have their place–and I fish these patterns frequently in pocket water–I rely heavily on neutral streamers when I’m fishing upstream.

One of my first lessons in this approach came from watching my father-in-law fish a live minnow without any weight on the leader in slower moving pools. I observed how the minnow would slowly sink without falling completely to stream bottom. It would kick and swim, staying somewhere in the middle of the water column. Of course, the minnows he was fishing had an air bladder, which allows the fish to increase or decrease its buoyancy. When the minnow died and was no longer able to maintain air in the bladder, it would sink to bottom, and this is the moment a new minnow was placed back on the leader. My father in law felt he had more success while the minnow was drifting a foot or so off stream bottom, giving an occasional kick or twitch.

I ashamed to say that, while I remembered the conversation, it wasn’t until a number of years later that I applied that lesson to the fly rod. Some fly fishers get struck in a rut of fishing only one pattern type, and I suspect that’s what happened to me with heavily weighted streamers. I caught fish, but there were situations (e.g. cold snaps or off color water) where I wasn’t as successful as my fishing partners. Although there were several reasons for my lack of success, after numerous tests, I came reached the conclusion I was fishing streamers that were too heavy. The streams I fish are not deep, and the only way I could keep my dumbbell- and tungsten-weighted streamers off bottom was to maintain constant tension by using a quicker retrieve. As it turned out, this made me fish my flies too fast, whereas some of my fly-fishing friends and father-in-law were often fishing with half the retrieval speed. Of course, a faster retrieve will in some conditions, but when the water is cold or when visibility is low, a slower retrieve works better. When I slowed things down, my success rate immediate went up.

What I’m looking for in a streamer is a pattern that isn’t 100% neutral. Meaning, the pattern has just enough weight where it will slowly sink. I cast the streamer upstream, and then pull it downward into the water column where it will drift at that approximate level during the presentation. I’ll strip in the excess line as the drift comes towards me, with an occasional downward twitch of the rod tip to create a slight kicking action within the fly. My goal is to maintain a slow drift, just slightly little faster than the current.

Good Fishing

This trout was fooled with a neutrally buoyont Drunken Disorderly.

This trout was fooled with a neutrally buoyont Drunken Disorderly.