Late to the party? discovering articulated streamers

 

A little streamer eating brown
A little streamer eating brown

Fishing big articulated streamers for trout is a big part of US fly fishing culture. In general fishing big dirty streamers for trout seems to be a visible and vibrant part of American fly fishing culture, complete with die hards who fish very little else. In Australia, streamer fishing, especially with big articulated beasties, doesn’t appear to have quite the same following. While I’m sure every fly fisherman throws wooly buggers and the like from time to time, streamer fishing just doesn’t seem to be as prominent in Australian fly fishing culture. Now there is probably a good reason for that, a lot of Australian trout rivers and streams just don’t hold the biomass of forage fish that US trout streams do. We don’t have sculpins and many of our native galaxias haven’t fared too well in many trout streams. So it makes sense that Australian fly fishermen focus on nymphs and dries and imitating insects and not fish. After all insects make up the vast majority of the diet of a lot of Australian trout, partly because Aussie trout just don’t have the options of the American counterparts in many of our trout streams. Or maybe I’m just late to the party and only now discovering something everyone else already knows… That fishing articulated streamers is fun.

Small chartreuse articulated streamer
Small chartreuse articulated streamer

Damned fun in fact. They have awesome names like the “cheech leech“, “circus peanut“, “lunch lady“, “double screamer“, “sex dungeon” and so on; they are fun to tie and most importantly they work. What more could you ask for? Now I’m only a very new convert to the articulated streamers, heck streamers in general. For most of my (relatively) short fly fishing career streamers have generally been my fly of last resort. I would tie on a dry fly whenever possible, a nymph or two if that wasn’t an option and then only if that failed and I was drawing a blank would I tie on a streamer. That happened a few times this season and almost invariably I’ve caught a fish or two and avoided the ignominy of a fishless session. That success sowed the seed, thoughts like “maybe I should fish streamers a little more regularly” started to become ever more regular, that maybe I should stop treating them as the pariahs of my trout box only to be used in times of dire necessity. So, a few weeks back after a few beers, inspired by some US blogs, I quickly tied up a little articulated streamer the night before hitting the streams. What ensued was silly, partly because I was fishing for escaped hatchery trout and I think partly because articulated streamers are effective fish catchers. You only need to watch their action in the water as they drift through a riffle to be sold on why this might be the case. After my success I tied up a few more and took Nick out to try and catch his first brook trout a week or so later. The fishing was a little more subdued, but it was still hot, we caught loads of brook trout and this time also managed a few Atlantic salmon and a little brown trout. All the fish fell to articulated streamers. I also sent a few up to Perrin in Canberra which he used to great success chasing rainbows on a little stream an hour or two from Canberra (check out our instagram account for those bad boys). The last two weeks of the stream season had quickly turned me from a trout streamer skeptic into a streamer believer and articulated fly nut. The conversion was quick, not just because they are effective fish catching tools, but also because I found tying and fishing them a hell of a lot of fun, even when I wasn’t catching fish. Savage strikes on the swing are addictive as all get out and it was just nice to be doing something different. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

Articulated meat snack
Articulated meat snack
The fly above getting it done.
The fly above getting it done.
again.
again.
and again...
and again and again and again…

So why do they work? Firstly, they have a load of action and just look good in the water. Part of it is also likely to be hardwired trout instincts. The same reason rapalas, celtas and other lures work. That is, they draw reaction strikes, not the calm considered rises to well imitated insects that many fly fishermen (myself included) find so tantalising and beautiful. Fishing streamers is a different kettle of fish entirely, yet it brings its own rewards, it taps into a different part of the many moods of the trout and a different part my own fishing psyche. Throwing meat snacks taps into the prey and territory drives of the trout, luring them into making a split second decision to attack. As a fisherman, its a rawer, less refined experience, akin to tinnies and sport with the boys rather than a glass of champagne and a fine dinner with the girlfriend. Its instructive that its often the first drift through a pool or lie that will bring a savage hit on a streamer. Once they have seen it and had time to assess it, they will often wise up. Its more about tapping into the survival instincts of the trout rather than perfectly imitating a food source. I’ve written about that same phenomenon, with a bit more added science here. There is also the fact that while fish forage may be less common in Aussie streams than in the US, there is always fish forage in any trout stream no matter where it is, trout themselves. Trout will happily eat other trout. So while fish may not make up the majority of our trouts diets, most trout are still tuned in to an easy fish based dinner when given the opportunity. Fishing articulated streamers may not be for the purist and that’s completely fair enough, I get that. For the rest of us, I strongly recommend tying up a couple and giving them a go on your local trout waters, you might just be surprised at how effective they are and how fun fishing them can be 🙂 I look forward to tying up a few more and experimenting with designs (I’m pretty excited about tying some surface patterns) as well as chucking a few at the local bream and flathead in Eden in July and testing some bigger ones on the local murray cod populations.

The fly that produced Nicks first Brookie and first Atlantic salmon
The fly that produced Nicks first Brook trout and first Atlantic salmon
First Brook trout
Nicks first Brook trout
Happy.
Happy. Nick with a gorgeous Atlantic salmon
Landing another of many
Landing one of many meat eating trouts

Remember that the trout streams and rivers in NSW and VIC are now closed, the lakes remain open if you want a trout fix. Until next time good luck on the water or at the vice.

Cheers

Hamish

A selection of meat snacks...
A selection of meat snacks…

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

10 thoughts on “Late to the party? discovering articulated streamers

  • June 10, 2014 at 9:04 pm
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    I’m a huge fan of the meat-snack (choripán?). The action on it is amazeballs and contrary to what you said above, the fish I hooked was in dead calm, crystal clear water and had 3 or 4 very close inspections before deciding it looked too good to pass up on.
    I think you should do a step-by-step now that it’s inside weather and the rivers don’t want you.
    Cheers

    Reply
    • June 10, 2014 at 9:13 pm
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      That sounds awesome 🙂 I’ll do a step by step at some point. Also in Canberra next week I think if you wanna go codding 🙂

      Reply
  • June 12, 2014 at 5:37 pm
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    There are no cod in Canberra. None that Perrin can find.

    Reply
  • September 10, 2014 at 11:37 pm
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    G’day Hamish, I’ve been a long time reader of the blog and your writing has finally inspired me to dust off the fly tying gear and attempt a few articulated mish mashes of my own. So I duly dug through all the old maribou and soft hackles and funky dubbing and tied together a few monstrosities and eagerly hit the water and… well sadly, nothing today. But the thunderstorms yesterday had a few rivers raging like a torrent so I think a lot of the fish were likely in hiding. Still, they’re a blast to tie and great fun to use, too.

    Anyway, I wanted to pick your brains about the sort of articulated flies your tying and see if you had any of the trouble I did, and whether you might have any suggestions. I tried some knock offs of the big US patterns mentioned above – the Cheech Leech, the Sex Dungeon, the Circus Peanut – and they’re all huge. Seriously large flies. I’m guessing too large for any of the small streams I’m fishing, and to be honest, too large to cast on my setup. I think I might have to downsize the pattern but I’m not sure how small will still be viable to tie. Are you tying smaller than the US versions? What size hook would you recommend using? I’m on size 12’s (long shank hooks) and they’re coming out with some serious bulk to them.

    Also I wanted to check how you’re fishing them and what’s worked best for you? I’ve heard conflicting reports about fishing downstream with an active retrieve against the current, or casting across/upstream and dead drifting through strike zones. I’m a complete noob with streamers really so any advice on how to handle these articulated beasts would be greatly appreciated.

    Hope you’ve had a successful start to the season (and great job on the blog).
    Tim.

    Reply
    • September 11, 2014 at 10:31 am
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      Thanks for the reply Tim. I’ve generally donwsized the US patterns. I’ve been using a variety of hook sizes and shapes- depending on the profile your after (I’m pretty slapdash at the vice a lot of the time and often tie loads of variations for the hell of it). So you can use a load of different hook styles (normal streamer hooks (e.g. allen S402BL) for longer thinner flies, hooks like allen b200s (bass bugs) for a wider fatter profile, I’ve even been cannibalising my carp hooks which works pretty effectively (s201)). Overall, most are probably tied with size 7-10 size hooks, but I’ve got a couple tied with smaller hooks and a few tied with bigger hooks size 1, 2 and the like. I’ve got a few really big flies up in the sizes fished in the US (5-6 inches), but most are 2-3 inches. While they are big, its surprising the fish that will hit them, over the opening weekend, I was trying to get past tiny rainbows and ended up fishing a big 5 inch pattern and the little fish kept aggressively hitting it, hook up rate was TERRIBLE, but I did hook a couple on it, which was mildly ridiculous given the fly was pretty much the same size as the fish. I’ve played around with smaller ones as well (1 inch ish), they are a little trickier and you have to play around with materials a bit, but they are easy enough to tie… One thing I would say is that with the smaller hooks (say below size 10 depending on hook style), 40 or 50lb braid works better than the jewellery wire as a a connection, the back hook has more movement, it does mean they foul up a little more regularly but its not too …

      As for fishing them, really depends on where you are fishing. Fishing streamers in general is a bit like fishing a wooly bugger. There are loads of ways you can fish them and whats best on any given day will depend on the water your fishing/conditions etc… On smaller streams, where swinging and across and down presentations are harder, I’ve had most luck dead drifting them, although it is mainly about identifying the most likely holding spots and getting a good presentation to those whichever way is possible (the only decent fish I connected to last weekend was hooked feeding the fly into an impenetrable log jam protected by cover, it was the only possible was to fish the spot. On bigger bits of water, across and down has been most successful (cast close to the bank or bit of structure you want to fish, swing it, maybe add the odd little strip, at the end of the strip, pause it for a little while then strip it back…). But like anything fishing there are many ways to skin a cat, so experiment a bit. I’m no expert and I’m doing a load of learning myself each time I hit the water… Gink and gasoline have a number of good articles about tactics which are a good place to start (e.g. http://www.ginkandgasoline.com/fly-fishing-tips-technique/swinging-streamers-on-big-water-2/ and http://www.ginkandgasoline.com/streamer-fishing/streamer-tactics-for-small-trout-water/)

      Hope that helps and good luck, hope you get into a few soon :).

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
      • September 11, 2014 at 6:05 pm
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        Thanks for the advice Hamish! Unbelievable that those little rainbows were still attacking something as big as them, they’re brave little bastards. And cheers for the tip on the 40lb braid rather than the wire – I had an inkling my boys were a little restricted in their movement thanks to the stiff wire I was using.

        I’ll mostly be hitting up the smaller waters so I’ll have to work on my casting with the heavier type flies. Once they were wet they felt a bit like casting a tennis ball, I thought my rod was gonna snap. Anyway, good to hear that dead drifting wasn’t a complete waste of time, to be honest it was about the only option in water that fast, I couldn’t strip fast enough to keep up.

        I might try a few more experiments at the vice the next few nights and head back towards the Acheron sometime soon… there’s something a bit addictive about the articulated streamer.

        Cheers for the tips mate. Tight lines.
        Tim.

        Reply
      • September 11, 2014 at 11:28 pm
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        G’day Hamish,

        Thanks for the advice, really helpful, I appreciate it. It’s pretty ridiculous that you had rainbows attacking a fly the same size as them. Brave little bastards, they are. Thanks for the tip on the 40/50lb braid too, I had a feeling the stiff wire I was using was seriously impeding the movement on my patterns.

        Also glad to hear I wasn’t wasting my time dead drifting. To be honest, with the water running so high and fast, dead drifting was the only real option since I wasn’t going to be stripping nearly fast enough to give them any real action. And as you say, across and down isn’t often an option on smaller water. I might have to work on my accuracy with the cast too and really try and hit the key spots; but once these things get waterlogged, it feels like casting a tennis ball on my rod. Anyway, practice make perfect.

        I might try and tie a few more then head up to the Acheron or Steavenson some time soon… it’s remarkably addictive, this whole streamer thing.

        Thanks again for the tips, much appreciated. Tight lines.
        Tim.

        Reply
  • September 12, 2014 at 1:29 pm
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    No probs Tim. I’m off to throw some at bass tomorrow 🙂 Hopefully get onto a couple 🙂

    Cheers
    Hamish

    Reply
  • September 15, 2014 at 9:18 pm
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    The advice paid off Hamish – http://i.imgur.com/SPufZmw.jpg

    Took a couple of decent sized bows on a shiny white pattern. Couldn’t be happier!

    Hope the bass went well too.
    Tim.

    Reply
  • September 15, 2014 at 10:03 pm
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    Awesome work Tim! No bass, I did manage a carp on an articulated streamer or all things and we had a fun arvo catching feisty rainbows in a stocked dam in the afternoon, so all in all a good day out 🙂

    Cheers
    Hamish

    Reply

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