TROPHY HUNTING the monster brown trout of the White River system, understandably gets all the headline, the magazine covers and the images on the wall of the fly shop.
But there is another side of the streamer game, perhaps once more popular outside the Ozarks and the big streamer world. Built on low flows, even minimum flow, light rods, and regular size flies small bore streamer fishing is an alternative to watching bobbers.
The catch rate goes up, now you have rainbow and cutthroat trout in the game and smaller browns, it’s the fly fishing equivalent of plinking rabbit or squirrels instead of deer or other big game. Quite a few of our guides, like Chad Johnson, Ben Levin and myself have been playing this game for a few years, to change the mood for customers who have stared at one bobber too many.
And its a technique that works well from a boat or even wading, and with the right approach can be translated to higher flows.
It’s fairly well-known that brown trout on the White River become primarily predatory at 16″ long. What tends to be forgotten is that browns, brookies, rainbows and cutties, at any size, are all suckers for prey that swims injured. Some days out there, the trout will be on a streamer like a pack of kittens on a laser pointer. The White has a big population of minnows, sculpin, crawdads and, the one we forget often, fry and parr of at least 6 species both stocked and native.
Instead of purely looking for dominant fish ambush zones, small bore streamer fishing brings in more mid river feeding lanes _ where you might normally be drifting _ mid-river humps and gradient.
Gradient is the wade fisher’s friend, shoal noise covering the sound of feet on gravel and errant casts. Places like Rim Shoal, Roundhouse, Hurst, Wildcat and the Narrows to name a few are made for this game.
If you are working from a boat the same sort of zones are target spots.
If you want to fish the big flies then go for 6000 cfs flows an, 6 ips sink rate fly line and stiff 8wts to cast them. Small bore streamers means lighter 6wts or perhaps a 7wt and slower sinking lines, your favorite hopper or smallmouth rod perhaps.
TFO BVKs, or Impacts have fans, the Sage Accel, Bolt or X rod, or the Orvis Helios 2 all have fans. Flyline selection and perhaps the ability to change fast is more important.
On minimum flow I like the RIO Streamer Tip with the 10′ intermediate tip, often with a weighted fly, but there is a place for the Streamer Tip with a 15′ type 3, particularly in some faster riffles.
With a unit of water in the system, try an RIO Outbound Short type 3, the 24′ head sinking large flies than the 15′. I also keep around a couple of fast sinking RIO Versileaders, which loop onto the tip of your standard floating line to create an insta-sink-tip.
These don’t cast as well as a true fly line, but are a great stopgap to get you through changes in water flows, or to tuck in your vest when wading.
You could probably do worse than box full of olive buggers, but where would be the fun in that. Like my bigger streamer selections I’ll try to mix colors, weight and action.
- Buggers (size 6 to 10). Mostly olive shades, some black, some white and tan then some oddballs. Majority with a bead but a smattering of rubber-legged coneheads and some beadless.
- Slumpbusters (size 6 to 10): Killer pattern, olive all day but toss in some naturals.
- Sparkle Minnow (size 6 bead head): The bigger heavier coneheads are pretty sexy, but its the small beadheads that rake the numbers. A bugger with some sass. Peacock, Olive, Pearl, even the Pink.
- Olive Matukas: Old school, a pain in the butt to tie, but so traditional and cool.
- CJ’s Mega Minnow: Chad’s sexy single makes you feel like you have a shot at a big fella on every cast.
- Kreelex: Fly fishing’s answer to the flash and movement of a spoon, a simple but global fish getter on conventional gear. The Kreelex, a Clouser style flash fly, has been a revelation on the White and Norfork.
One could start off a heck of a debate by calling this Swing v Strip. Swinging flies is the technique of using the speed of the current to pull the flies across the river from their landing point. Stripping flies involves the stripping hand to pull the fly line and impart speed and action. Swinging moves the fly faster through the water, normally head down and across while stripping flies allows more modern lateral action and fishing deeper than on the swing.
There are combination retrieves and mixed approaches, but basically swinging flies is the best approach when you are wading or anchored in the one position. Stripping works best floating along with the current.
Having both techniques in your arsenal opens up more ways to catch fish. The strip always seems to me to be more active, placing your casts just so, and working the fly back in an “injured manner”.
Stripping seems a little more of an auto-pilot operation but works well for me when I want to cover a lot of water and figure out where the fish are. And doubly so when you pick up a double-handed “Switch or Mini-Spey”: an undersung technique on the lower flows.
Vary the depth, perhaps use some sink tip leaders of different sink rates, when you are swinging, and look at line control to vary the speed of the swing. On the strip the same variables come into play.
Vary the length of strip, and speed of strip, and the depth you are fishing.
As they say “imagination is not a curse”.
Above all have fun.