It’s becoming a bit of a theme every time I brag on clients, but flexibility really is the best quality a person can have on a highly variable tailwater system like the White. Lots of folks see the pictures, read the stories, and decide the only pursuit worthy of their time anymore is pursuing trophy browns on mega flies. It’s important to remember however that shoving a big fly into the water is not always the answer for turning up quality fish. Trophy browns will attack large flies in the right places under the right water and atmospheric conditions, but you can definitely waste your time by trying to fish big and mean all the time.
Seth and Jake came to me wanting to be introduced to streamer fishing and the pursuit of larger than average trout on a fly. With less than ideal water flows for trophy fishing, I elected to start the pair off with 15ft type 3 sinking lines and 2-3″ streamers instead of the more aggressive 30ft type 6 sinking lines with 6-8″ flies. The shorter, lighter sink tips are a great starting point for beginner streamer fishermen because they are easier to cast and handle, and the more modest streamers catch hungry rainbows while still showing a decent meal profile to peak the interest of an aggressive brown. While day 1 yielded no sizable trout, Seth and Jake got the chance to improve their casting and retrieving technique, and practiced strip setting on the many rainbows that were willing to chomp small stripped sculpin patterns. Day 2 provided poor conditions to start, so we elected to fish nymphs while waiting for the clouds projected in the forecast – again, flexibility of technique allowed us to catch fish and have fun while waiting for big fish conditions to improve. By mid afternoon the wind had laid down and the cloud cover rolled in – the perfect opportunity to break out the streamers again in search of browns. The boys were rewarded, after their long training session, with back to back 18″-20″ browns, and several more comparable fish to finish out the evening.
Though they did not get to fish streamers the whole trip nor did they fling a 6 or 8inch fly, Seth and Jake’s flexibility kept them catching fish, and still resulted in a valuable introduction to streamer technique, practice with sinking lines and retrieving flies in and around structure, and their first browns on streamers. It’s not always about the biggest and the best. Every day on the water is an opportunity to learn and improve – don’t let an obsession with the 1% of trout that are giant ruin your chances of learning and having fun with the other 99% of trout in the river.
Daytime flows are commonly 6-8k cfs, sometimes as much as 10k, and higher at night. Flows under 10k cfs are a great time to play around with more modest streamer patterns, shorter sink tips, and slower sinking tips. This is the kind of situation on the White River where it pays to carry multiple reels or spools rigged with floating, slow sinking, and fast sinking lines to match any situation. Things can change in a hurry out there – flexible anglers change with it. Some shop favorites for the shaved down version of streamer fishing are Galloup’s Barely Legal and Zoo Cougar patterns, BFH Sculpin and Minnow patterns, and Sparkle Minnows. In the nymphing division, Prince Nymphs, Sunday Specials, and caddis pupae are solid bets now through early summer, but weighted egg patterns are still strong and either option is best trailed by a Wotton Super midge or Whitetail midge, or your favorite sowbug pattern.
The wading windows have gotten shorter and shorter, with a more steady one or two units running nearly round the clock. The modest streamer game is a killer over here too, and especially try yellow as the water here is often stained darker than the White. Nymphing with egg patterns, San Juans, Zebra Midges, and Scuds is always a solid bet as well.