Stripping a thick streamer through a deep pool is one of the great thrills of fly fishing. Streamer fishing is more involved and engaging than typical nymphing tactics and often gives you the chance of landing a larger-than-average fish. This is because your bigger, more aggressive trout are often looking for the biggest bang for their buck and a streamer is usually 20 to 30 times larger than the average nymph. Many anglers prefer streamer fishing because the takes are often hard and dramatic which really sensationalizes the best part of fishing – catching fish!
Another great benefit to streamer fishing is that it is often a great method to employ during the colder winter months here in Colorado. While not the only tactic you should have at the ready – nor is it only effective in the winter months, there are three primary reasons you should be ready to fish streamers in the Colorado winter months.
Low Temperatures & Ice Often Make it The Best Option
When winter really starts to hit in Colorado, many of our great streams will begin to ice over. Plus, your alpine streams become inaccessible due to the colossal snowfalls. You’ll largely be limited to fishing our wonderful tailwaters in their lowermost sections, closest to the dam. Water released from the dam is much warmer and will usually be around 40 degrees in the areas immediately below the damn. Additionally, trout begin schooling up in deeper pools and limiting their movement. This is done to conserve energy, helping them survive the extreme cold and limited food sources in the winter. Streamers become an effective tactic during this time as they are easier to get deeper in the water column and represent an efficient meal – justifying the energy cost the fish will have to wager to get up and get a snack.
Colder water also usually means the fish will be seeing way fewer hatches. Trout become used to seeing less aquatic insect food and start keying in on baitfish, sculpin, and other fish. Since streamers are meant to imitate these types of fish, they are often the best option when the mercury drops.
No Crowds on the River
Many fly anglers write off the idea of fishing in the winter altogether. This is excellent news for the rest of us, especially for streamer junkies, as there will be fewer bodies out on the rivers. You’ll want to plan to get out on the water mid-to-late morning on a section where you think the sun will just begin to be warming up the water. This gives the trout the extra incentive to shake that winter stupor and grab a bite to eat. If you’re confident that you are the first angler through this particular run – streamers are a great option, as they haven’t eaten all night and haven’t had the chance to wise up to any human pressure. Throwing streamers through your first few pools will also allow you to land a much bigger trout before you consider shifting to maybe nymphing small midge patterns.
Different Approaches Without Changing Flies
It’s going to be cold out there. The last thing you want to be doing is changing flies every few minutes, like we often do in the summertime. Fishing a tried and true wooly booger, for instance, gives you some flexibility to vary your approach without having to completely re-rig. First, consider dead drifting that streamer through the big pool, allowing it to sink and hopefully hitting a big brown square in the nose. The easier you make it on these fish who are stuck in energy-conservation mode, the greater chance you’ll have at a lazy take. If that doesn’t work, consider swinging the streamer through the middle of the pool. That swing is a slow, lethargic motion and may convince the trout that this will be an easy meal, worth the energy cost. It will also cover more ground through the width of the pool where different fish may be holding. Finally, if neither approach works, consider some nice measured stripping through the honey hole. Remember that you are still trying to get the streamer precisely to where the fish are holding. Stripping can create a more fishy movement which might be just the ticket to induce a bite.
As always, fly fishing is a problem-solving endeavor, and changing things up and being flexible is part of being effective. Fishing streamers is a great way of catching trout throughout the year. Focusing a bit more of your attention on this during the winter months on your local Colorado tailwater will not only help you be more successful when the temperature drops and the crowds disperse, but it will also improve your skills on a specific methodology that you can have at your disposal throughout the year.