Fishing Streamers in the Spring
I love fishing streamers… period. I REALLY love fishing streamers in the spring. Many people associate the fall with the best streamer fishing due to pre-spawn browns becoming extra-aggressive and the purported urgency that trout may experience to take in calories before the winter. Although fall is a great time to throw meat, my experience has led to my belief that spring time is the best time to throw those big streamer flies. All trout, including the big dogs, are hungry and breaking out of their winter diet. The water is gradually warming and trout metabolism is on the rise. Small fish fry are swimming everywhere. On many rivers, trout have seen little to no angler pressure during the cold winter months. Snowmelt and spring rains can transform the water from crystal clear to tints of green and tea, which ultimately gives trout the added confidence to expose themselves and chase down a big meal.
Ok, so these are some of the reasons that streamer fishing can be “killer in the spring”. Don’t let me give the wrong impression, however, as streamer fishing is never a guaranteed approach to catching a bunch of fish (but what is?). Below are some variables to consider in order to maximize your chances of getting exciting chases and hard eats when spring streamer fishing.
- Consider the water temperatures – If the weather is more like winter than spring and water temperatures are below 40 degrees, the streamer bite can often be quite slow. That doesn’t mean that streamer fishing is a bad idea, but sticking 15 trout and getting another 15 chases is unlikely. Nevertheless, when water temps are frigid and things haven’t started warming up a bit, slow down your retrieve. In these cold temperatures, trout metabolism is still slowed as it has been all winter. Most trout will be unwilling to chase down a fly for 15 feet then explode on it. Instead, jigging streamer patterns and almost dead-drifting them through winter holding water is a very effective approach. Hard and fast retrieves are less likely to lead to hook ups because the trout just aren’t that aggressive… YET!
- Consider the water clarity – Although I absolutely love watching a trout blast a streamer in crystal clear water, trout tend to be much more aggressive in off-color water. I’ve had some days when snowmelt or rain gradually added color to the water throughout the day… As the color came (and clarity lessened), the streamer bite gradually improved. On some days and on some rivers, having only 12 – 18 inches of clarity as opposed to 30 inches of clarity can make the difference between a couple of fish and an epic streamer day. Essentially, the added cover provided by off-color water seems to give trout the extra boost in confidence to aggressively chase down and attack other fish, sculpins, crayfish… streamer flies. Now, I believe that there can be too much of a good thing. When the river becomes dark chocolate milk, the dark water may actually compromise fishing quality. However, you still might be surprised in how active trout can be in extremely turbid water.
- Consider the water level – If the flows are low, then it’s likely that fish are still holding in their winter water… Or at least just starting to spread out of their winter water. So, fishing deeper pools and slower tailouts is key. Alternatively, if rivers flows raise and get on the higher side, many trout will push tight to the banks. The mid-river tailouts may be moving too fast, while the softer water on the banks may hold tons of trout (including the fatties).
- Consider your streamer patterns – During the spring time there are usually an abundance of active fish fry in many rivers and streams. When fishing during low and/or average flows with normal clarity (e.g., pre-runoff), fishing more natural patterns (especially minnow patterns) is a very logical and effective strategy. I like to rely on smaller to medium sized flies in many cases in order to match the actual food available in the river system. However, as runoff kicks in and clarity becomes compromised, I move to patterns with more flash. When the water gets high and off-color, I like to use streamers that push water (think Sex Dungeon).
- Consider your streamer color – As mentioned above, before runoff starts and when there is good water clarity, I think it’s wise to stick to natural patterns and natural colors. Whites and grays can be great to match the minnows and other abundant fry. Once the water raises and clarity decreases, it’s time to also try the oranges, tans, and especially yellow. I love fishing yellow streamers as soon as runoff starts to become evident. Blacks, Browns, and Olives seem to have the potential to be effective in a very wider range of situations.
- Consider your retrieve – Varying your retrieve when streamer fishing is always an important consideration. In early spring or during runoff when the water is very cold (let’s say, below 40 – 42 degrees) due to snowmelt or air temps, slow retrieves are often needed. Jigging and twitching streamers, and using slow swings is the best way to entice lethargic trout that haven’t yet experienced the boost in metabolism. However, once the water starts to warm up a bit, speeding the retrieve up and making your streamer move erratically is usually much more effective. So, keeping track of the water temperature can be helpful in determining what type of streamer retrieve to use or at least start the day with.
As I’m sure you noticed, I’ve repeated many ideas across the different bulleted points. As with streamer fishing at other times of the year, the best streamer pattern, streamer color and streamer retrieve is dependent on the water clarity, water levels, water temperatures, etc. All of these variables interact in ways that demand that the effective streamer fisherman is “on her toes” and adjusting to the changing conditions. Essentially, we can just blindly guess OR make educated guesses. Considering some of these variables will help the angler make the educated and informed guess (hopefully that makes sense!).