Winter Streamer Tips
As the snow melts and the bitter cold lifts, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel; this signifies daylight savings time and spring are right around the corner. Nonetheless, we still have a few months of cold temperatures and melting snow to fish through before we will be rewarded with actively feeding fish and the first solid hatches of the year. This article will provide you with some tips for moving and hooking trout with streamers in cold water.
Streamer fishing is a favorite tactic of mine year-round, but the winter months provide some of the most consistent streamer action when nothing else seems to work. Bug activity, both above the water and subsurface is notably decreased, so trout begin to turn their attention to bigger meals that require little energy to obtain and will sustain them for a longer period of time - this means it is time to pull out the streamers.
The Slow Swing: Fishing streamers down and across with a slow swing is a technique that works year-round, but it is especially effective in the winter. When casting downstream in the winter, I focus on slower/deeper runs instead of faster runs (although faster water may produce in the spring, summer, and fall). Cast the streamer toward the far bank and make a quick upstream mend of the line to allow the streamer to dig in and turn to face upstream. Allow the fly to swing slowly across the stream, twitching it ever so slightly during the retrieve. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made in the winter is stripping the fly too fast. I don't remember exactly where I heard this saying, but it has stuck with me because it is so weird: In the winter you want to strip so slowly (while still imparting a twitching action) it is like "milking a mouse". Weird, I know. But the thought definitely helps you shorten those strips (1" or less) while still imparting a lot of action on your fly.
The Dead Drift: Fishing your streamer like a nymph is another effective tactic in the winter. Use a heavy streamer if you decide to apply this technique. Much like tight-line nymphing, allow the streamer to sink to the bottom of the stream and 'tick' along. Keep any slack out of your line and watch the end of your leader. Usually, the take won't be too subtle and you'll notice the hit, but occasionally you'll only see your leader move slightly when a fish picks up your drifting streamer.
The Upstream Cast: Most of the time when you think about fishing a streamer you plan to fish downstream, covering water and swinging the fly down and across (the slow swing). Sometimes; however, an upstream approach is even more effective. Fishing streamers upstream combines a dead drift with an erratic twitch. Since you are required to strip line in more quickly to maintain contact with your streamer as the fly drifts back towards you, your offering will have a very erratic action as it swims. Still, you want to be sure you are allowing the fly time to sink and that you are focusing on deeper runs or plunge pools when using this method in the winter. Some smaller streams, and mountain streams in particular, fish very well with an upstream approach.
The Fast Retrieve: This method is a nod to the co-founder of this site, Frank Young. Frank has always told me that when all else fails in the winter, you should try a fast, erratic retrieve. This retrieve is intended to elicit a reactionary strike from a fish that might otherwise not be interested in eating. Luckily, I don't find too many days where I'm striking out on all the above methods, but when I do I will be sure to channel my inner Frank.
If you like this post or have other techniques that work in the winter, please leave a comment below!