Little background about me, I grew up fishing trout and smallmouth in the Ozarks of north AR and so MO. Not a lot of bugs, but plenty of big fish to be had on my preferred method, streamers. Just so happened I moved to the Madison River in sw MT, which also happens to be the only river in the world that trout do not eat big streamers on… ironic. I’m kidding, of course. Just because the fish on this river are spoiled on some of the most prolific insect hatches in the mountain west doesn’t mean they don’t still have that predator instinct. It’s a matter of two things, the right day, and the right fish.
Clearly people chucking 5” streamers are targeting the largest, most dominant fish in the river, brown trout, for the most part. They are ever mindful that when hunting a unicorn, catching numbers is a foregone conclusion. What I’ve learned and observed in the last several years fishing the Madison and others like the Big Hole, Jefferson, and Yellowstone, is that the big dominant fish eat smaller streamers, too! In many cases, they will more readily eat a smaller, bite-sized streamer like a Zonker or a Trevor Sculpin then they will their more offensive big brothers like a Sex Dungeon or SIlk Kitty. To move those big fish with the articulated “junk” on the fast strip really takes getting it in front of an aggressive fish on one of those epic days streamer fisherman dream of. Generally not a regular thing.
Time of year makes a huge difference, as well. Springtime is my favorite time to fish streamers. The fish haven’t been harassed much yet and are fairly fresh. They are also coming off of winter dormancy so the clock is ticking for them to get their weight back up. I've had better luck on the fast strip in the spring then I have any other time of year. Until the bugs start showing up to spoil the party.…
Color might be the single most important factor in catching fish on streamers. What color streamer fish prefer varies widely from river to river. Rivers like the Big Hole with tannic or bourbon colored water seem to fish brown and yellow better. I'm a huge fan of white and grey on the Madison. What it comes down to is what the fish want to eat on that particular day, which can take some trial and error. I’ll fish a certain color for 10 or 15 minutes. If I don't incite a chase or roll, I’ll switch it up. What I can tell you is I fish tan in the evenings, everywhere. It produces.
The method of retrieve also dictates success. The fish will let you know how they want to take it. You can vary your retrieves from a slow jig to a gentle swing to a darting fast swim. Pay attention to how you were swimming your streamer when you get an eat. In the spring when fishing to aggressive fish a quick jerk and fast strip can produce chases and eats. In the summer fish are pressured, fat, and lazy and have all the bugs they could ever want to eat. A slower dead drift under an indicator with some soft downstream twitches can be the ticket. Downsizing is also a huge advantage in summertime and late season, when the fish are generally just looking for an easy meal.
I could go on and on and we could get into some highly nerdy discussions about streamer fishing and methods, but i’m going to cut it short. We can visit the more obsessive nerdy points of interest in future blogs! Cheers!
- Pat McGinnis is an avid fisherman in the Madison River Valley. Check back often as he'll be updating blogs on cheapassflies.com and keeping you in the know about the best gear and the best deals.