Streamers for trout have come a long way in the past couple years. With the articulated craze still in full swing, it seems the streamer patterns for trout are getting bigger and with much more movement than their predecessors. Kelly Galloup, Mike Schmidt, and Russ Maddin have really been on the forefront of using large streamers to trigger trophy trout. The design of these flies is actually fairly complex and there are a lot of different retrieves you can utilize as well. Here are some design elements, as well as how to work larger flies to get that Brownzilla out of its wooden lair to crush your streamer.
1 - SIZE MATTERS! Many fishermen don’t give trout their due. A lot of people look at all the species of trout as delicate, little, bug sipping fish. Trout are in fact predators, and can be quite aggressive and voracious at times. You can see that in this photo of a gorgeous little Ausable brookie (pictured right). I had on my favorite streamer for the smaller sections of the river, and as you can see the size of the streamer is about 25% of the fish’s size. That tells me that a 25 inch fish will or could go after something that is roughly 6 and a quarter inches. There are always exceptions for time of the year and circumstances but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow when you are tying for water that has a reputation for bigger fish. You should have a wide array of sizes of streamers in your fly box, even a couple big enough to choke a horse. Those just might be the patterns that save you from a tough day where you feel like the fish have lockjaw.
This 24” Brown ate an 8” Dally’s Lap Dancer!!!
2 – DESIGN YOUR PATTERN ON PAPER FIRST: When I first sit down to design a big streamer, I grab my trusty pen and pad of paper. I like to sketch out my designs first so I can get put my ideas together visually. I first think about what kind of movement I want the streamer to have. The type of movement is usually dictated by what the streamer will imitate in the trout’s environment. If I am tying a sculpin imitation, I want the fly to move like a sculpin. Sculpins are primarily bottom dwellers who generally swim poorly due to the absence of a swim bladder. I would not make a fly that is going to have a lot of motion to imitate a sculpin when they just “hop” sluggishly from one rock to another. I may, however, tie a fly that has more of a jigging motion to imitate the movement of the sculpin moving around on the bottom. To achieve this, I will make sure the fly has plenty of weight to get the fly down near the bottom and stay there. If I were tying a swimming type of fly with more action, I would use less weight and balance my materials to maximize movement and the ability to maintain its position in the current. I would also choose materials that will appeal to the senses of the fish. Rubber legs are in constant motion, palmered marabou moves and breathes, and different head materials create different “pushing” factors through the water. When you start to put all these factors together, it’s like ringing the dinner bell.
Satkowski's Damage Plan
3 - USE MATERIALS THAT “BREATH” IN THE WATER: Once you have decided on an idea for a monster streamer, color and materials come into play. I tend to prefer a hybridization of real and synthetic materials. I think the balance created by “fusion tying” is great. Natural materials always move nice but can get heavy when waterlogged. When you mix in some materials that shed water a little better (synthetics), you have the best of both worlds. Whatever your tying style, I find patterns with rabbit strips to be the most productive in terms of more quality fish. Rabbit moves seductively in the water and fish just cannot handle that movement, their instinct kicks in. Fish tend to think economically, especially trout. They want the best deal that they can get. I’m not going to swim a long ways to eat a nymph, but I will gorge myself on them if they are floating by in the current and I don’t have to move much. When a big articulated fly swims by a trout they have to decide whether it is worth swimming after the double bacon cheeseburger or not. If the double bacon cheeseburger has good movement, color, and is holding a sign that says, “Eat me”, your chances improve drastically. Fish want a good rate of return, the least energy expelled for the biggest reward. I think that is why if you have a pattern that looks like it is a struggling or injured prey item, the fish almost instinctively start moving toward it to make that decision.
Satkowski's Bucket Sculpin
4 - OBSERVE EATING BEHAVIOR / FIND OUT WHAT IS ON THE MENU: When you start talking about color and imitation in streamer patterns, especially those meant to tempt the big boy with the bad attitude, you need to observe a larger trout’s diet and the way it eats. When there are smaller trout around you will see the little guys coming up to the top of the water eating insects with small splashes, more gusto, and more surface disturbance. A large trout will float up and sip the insect with very little effort and return to its position. The larger trout figure out how to eat with very little effort and get easy meals. Bigger trout have also figured out that smaller trout are easy forms of prey, especially if they are injured. The fact that trout are cannibalistic is well known, but there are other prey items that the fish may look to first if the situation of a smaller, inured trout doesn’t present itself. Various species of chubs are usually found along substrate and rocky bottoms in many of the same waters that trout are found. Trout will prey upon chubs as they are an easy source of protein and are usually found in decent numbers. The ever present sculpin also can be found in many trout waters and is a tasty snack to especially bigger fish. Big trout will also feed on other aquatic lifeforms and small rodents such as mice or voles. To maximize your time on the water, find out what the bigger trout are eating and then tie something that first moves like the prey, and have a couple different colors of the fly in your box.
Satkowski's Porkchop Express
5 – TIE IN A VARIETY OF COLORS: The color of your patterns can be a tricky subject. I always tend to cater more towards an imitation of their food items, but non-natural color schemes can also yield great results from time to time. I have yet to see something chartreuse and orange swimming by me in a river, but those colors definitely work as a trigger. Colors that I have had luck with in the past and currently are more natural color schemes that could represent one or two things in the local ecosystem. Olive, all black, black and white, and yellow are always good bets to have in your fly box. Certain types of trout also seem to favor certain colors, browns like yellows and orange, brookies like yellow and red, and rainbows like olive and white. I am not sure why certain kinds of trout pick certain colors, but I suspect that it has to do with contrast and the differing environments that the different species live in. Color is not always the most important element but it should be considered as you tie.
6 – LEARN THE PROPER RETREIVE OF YOUR FLY FOR THE WATER YOU ARE FISHING: So you’ve spent all morning tying the articulated fly that you will catch troutzilla on, now you have to figure out its retrieve. Fishing and guiding have shown me that no matter what fly you are chucking, it has to move right per what the fish want. It’s very important to observe your fly in the water and really watch how approaching fish react to it. If they seem to avoid your fly, slow your retrieve down so the fly has less aggressive movements. The one thing I do know is you can never retrieve a fly too fast. When you walk up to a log jam and a trout blows out and rockets rapidly downstream, it illustrates that you will never outrun a trout. Most of my trout streamer fishing is assaulting the banks so my stripping cadence is strip, strip, strip, pause and repeat. You can pull with both hands or do any variation as long as you let the fish tell you what they want.
7 - FISH, FISH, FISH…REPEAT: Now the flies are tied and nestled carefully in your fly boxes to go and fling at that pig. Every time I go out fishing, I see more and more people using bigger streamers. It’s a really good way to target bigger fish and it is definitely more personally fulfilling to stick a monster on a streamer. The excitement factor is also there as you see the flash of a trout and feel your fly get stopped by a freight train with fins. There is almost always a humorous element to ripping big streamers when you watch the reaction of the “traditional” older gentlemen that passes by and looks at your fly and shakes their head. Everyone reading this article who loves streamers can probably recall at least one instance of this situation occurring. It just seems to come with the territory. I ran across one such fellow while fishing in Glacier National Park in Montana that helped convert me more than ever to big streamer fishing. It was as if I stepped into The River Runs Through It and I was staring at Tom Skerritt. Trying to be friendly but not obtrusive I yelled over,”Whatcha throwing?” The man replied, ”Clark’s Stone number 10” and started walking over towards me. The gentleman looked at my fly dangling from my tippet and exclaimed, “What in God’s creation is that mess?” I replied in my usual fashion, “That’s a pair of Gammy B10’s, beads, wire, and enough flash and feathers to make Lady Gaga jealous!” Grumbling under his breath he murmured something about good luck and the old days and lumbered off into the distance. Before he rounded the small bend in the river he glanced back and saw me land a beautiful rainbow with my travesty of a fly. I saw a couple of stones flutter by, but I really didn’t see any in numbers. He could have very well-known something I didn’t about an upcoming hatch, but the confidence I had in my streamer saved the day. I learned that day that tying streamers and having confidence in them can be just as important as knowing both Latin names of an insect. Don’t be afraid to tie some big flies and fish them with confidence. It will definitely improve your odds of meeting the leviathan that is resting in the deep pool face to face.
John Satkowski resides in Toledo, Ohio, where he fishes for all fish that swim in the rivers and lakes of southeastern Michigan and northwest Ohio. An artist, fly tying demonstrator, and fly tying instructor, John shares his love of fly tying and fishing as often as he can. For the last fifteen years, he has focused on unlocking the secrets of smallmouth bass, carp, trout, and northern pike on the fly, chasing after them in the rivers and lakes of the Wolverine state and the glory waters of Montana. John’s patterns often use creative fly materials and unconventional tying styles.