Streamer fly fishing in the Rocky Mountains
Hopper dropper It wasn’t working. Not as it should be. We caught a few trout — mostly on small, shiny nymphs suspended under finger-thin foam grasshopper flies — but the water was supposed to be frothy with hungry browns and rainbows. There had to be crushing superficial strikes. As if the sting was for two weeks, or so we heard. And so we expected.
It didn’t make any sense. It was the middle of summer in the northern Rockies, and the water was so clear that you had to blink twice to convince yourself there was any water at the bottom of the river at all. The riverside brush was crawling with hoppers — trumpets big enough to put two in a hot dog bun and call it lunch. We had five anglers on two rafts, so there were a lot of flies in the water. But on the first full day, the fishing was something of a surprise slow And This is rottenAlthough no one wanted to complain. We had been planning this trip for months, and bringing the rafts, tires and camping gear to the place was an adventure in itself. We were happy to be there, but still….
So, when John asked Andrew to throw him his streaming box, we all took notice. It was bright in the middle of the day. Not a cloud in the sky. The sun was burning the cliff walls, rafts, and water surface like a stone pizza oven. You cannot cut signs in these conditions.
“I thought he was an idiot,” Andrew later admitted.
He wasn’t an idiot.
Certain times of fishing can give you tunnel vision. When the black pack is supposed to come in sheets, but it doesn’t, still try using the black pack. When bluegills are supposed to be on their beds, but they’re not, you still hate bottom fishing. Hopper dropper season can certainly give you tunnel vision, and we were staring into a tunnel the diameter of a toilet paper tube. This had to work. So, we skimmed the water with hopper trains. what is wrong? Why didn’t summer trout give us love? We came loaded with enough foam hoppers in our flight boxes that we could have used them in PFDs. We had traditional nymphs, tungsten beaded head nymphs, sparkling donkeys and perdigon beaded head nymphs.
We’ve tried them all. Trout was: Meh. Maybe we’ll bite into a few. Maybe we won’t.
But it didn’t take long for John’s streaming switch to open our eyes. Shouts and shouts from him and his friend Buck rang up and down the river. “We just ate five follow-ups in a row and then ate!” John called out. “crazy!”
Talk about a quick case of FOMO. For a few minutes, my fellow rafters and I felt like teenagers looking at Instagram posts from a party we weren’t invited to. But soon we were scrambling for signs. Andrew had a mixture in a box that looked like it contained three wet cats. Jack had a box of trout flies left over from his three summers guiding in Montana. It was Sex Dungeons, Galloup’s Silk Kitties, Flatheads and Jack’s Wet Sock fly which looked exactly as you might imagine. Our options have been uglier and uglier, and they are very good options when it comes to streamer fishing.
The streamers flipped the switch. It was crazy, almost instantaneous. In clear water, we can see fish chasing flies 10 feet or better. Even when they weren’t eating, the joy of watching a brown bird sniff a fly for six fillets — every little moment like a snapshot — was heart-racing.
It doesn’t seem to matter where we hunt, as long as we hunt streamers. All the other actors brought a reaction – in the pocket waters, along the banks, in the rocky fields. It has turned into a prototype Orvis rod that will go into production next year. It was designed for this type of fishing. I could rip through 30 feet of line tied to a wet streamer with 20-pound straight mono—hardly a sensitive package—and change directions mid-cast without a second thought. But it doesn’t seem to matter whether the fly delivery is accurate or scattered. Push the bar down like a space capsule falling into the ocean, and here they come. On one cast, I’m pretty sure I hit a fish that was basking on the bank. Instead of frightening, she turned herself into a serious knot that twisted around to strike.
When it works this way, streamer cutting is as close to a spectator sport as trout fishing can get. On the paddles, Andrew was having just as much fun as Jack and I did on the rails. We all howled with every follow-up and smash. We could see the fish coming, we could see the fish following us, and we could see the fish ignoring us at the last minute. In those times, it was a good thing that trout didn’t have middle fingers on their fins. Maybe you hurt our feelings
The fact that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way made it all the more meaningful. We felt like we found a $100 bill in the parking lot.
“You have to earn food”
That night, with tents pitched on a high bluff overlooking the river, we dissected the day. Why this switch? There were strong winds in the afternoon. Big full moon. Hopper weather for weeks. The fish may have finished devouring the crunchy exoskeletons, as if you groaned at the sight of three more chicken wings when you’ve already eaten six too many.
There was a bit of self-recrimination, too. Our tunnel vision has blinded us. We didn’t want to switch things up because, at the end of the day, we knew what we were doing. But that’s not the painful way the hunting world works. I remember one actor using a hopper dropper, on the first day, when we were all a little exhausted by the slow motion. The cast was as perfect as I could produce it. Right off the alder trees, right upstream of a cut bank, a perfect lie. nothing. Squatting.
“Oh man,” Andrew said. “This cast deserves a fish.” It’s a sentiment expressed by most hunters. This dice? This drift? That spot? You know that sawfish fly.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Jack said. He guided me in Montana during my college days, and I learned to listen to him when it came to chasing trout. “No staff is ever worth eating. Fish don’t care what you think. You have to earn food, one staff at a time.”
It was a lesson we had forgotten. A lesson we will all remember.
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