It’s mid-spring and most rivers in the Northern Rockies are in some state of duress. Water is high, off color, and for some fly fishers, seemingly unfishable.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ll confess, I used to be put off at times like these. Long ago I adopted the affect of the dry fly purist. That’s the way I always liked to fish, and being somewhat resistant to change, I never bothered with other techniques.
There are a few problems with being a dry fly purist. You usually don’t catch the biggest fish in a given river with surface flies. And you pretty much limit your fly fishing to the spring and summer as trout are only looking up when bugs are on the surface.
I realize now that this is why I used to get so amped for the skwalla hatch down on the Bitterroot. I could fish dries in March and April, for the first time since August. In the past I’d pretty much shut down my fly fishing when the hatches started to peter out at the end of summer.
That changed when I moved to Wyoming a couple years ago to teach. I’d heard the local river was a good winter fishery, with the added bonus of decent blue-winged olive hatches on warmer days in the middle of the school year. I figured I was back in the game.
I soon learned that those winter olive hatches were only an occasional phenomena, and of limited duration at that. We do get sporadic hatches all-winter long out here, and there’s nothing better than nailing a fat cuttie on a No. 18 Klinkhammer in the middle of a snowstorm, but the problem is you just can’t count on winter hatches.
So I cast my anti-nymphing biases aside, started crimping a bunch of split-shot to my leaders and became something of a fanatic about dredging the bottom of my favorite holes with a nymph rig. I’m so obsessed I even added a 10-foot, 4-weight dedicated nymphing rod to my arsenal. And while I’m missing the thrill of watching trout inhale my dry fly, I’m catching more and bigger fish than before, during a time of year when I didn’t used to fish anyway.
Recently, however, the Professor and I were standing along the stream, posing for selfies with our latest fish so we could brag by posting them on Instagram, when a feeling of ennui descended over the both of us. We realized we’d mastered the winter nymphing thing. Our digital trout porn may have made us the envy of our friends (or at least that’s what we liked to think) but our quest had left us feeling strangely empty inside.
I know this feeling can be cured with beer as I’ve self medicated many times in the past. But I’m getting older now and pale ale goes straight to my hips. The Professor agreed, so we decided to face down our latest existential crisis while maintaining at least partial sobriety.
We concluded the time had come to master a new technique: streamer fishing.
Which brings us back to the high spring flows that will foiled dry fly fishing until July, and have slowed the nymphing game as well. Like dries, trout key on nymphs visually, so when the water is murky it’s a little harder for them to find your fly.
But that’s not the case with streamers. Streamer fishing is a bit like casting lures. As you strip the fly back through the water your streamer sends vibrations that trout pick up through their sensitive lateral lines, even when visibility is limited. Big, bulky streamers like muddlers with heads of clipped elk hair are ideal this time of year as they make a bigger commotion while they pass through the water.
I’m still just playing around with this streamer stuff, but already I’ve had a 3 pound Yellowstone cutthroat assault my No. 6 Slumpbuster practically at my feet after it followed the fly swinging across the river.
So I’m beginning to think this change thing might not be so bad after all.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.