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Fly Fishing - Fishing Streamers And Bucktails For Trout

[Dry Fly Fishing For Trout]  [Dry Fly Fishing For Trout II]  [Dry Fly Fishing For Trout III]  [Wet Fly Fishing For Trout]  [Fishing Nymphs, Ants And Beetles For Trout]  [Fishing Nymphs, Ants And Beetles For Trout II]  [Fishing Streamers And Bucktails For Trout]  [More Fly Fishing Articles] 

A streamer is a fly tied with long wings of feathers and a bucktail is a similar fly tied with hair wings. The original streamers and bucktails were designed to look like minnows going through the water and many were tied to match the long time favorite patterns of wet flies, the royal coachman, the coachman, black gnat, grizzly king, yellow Sally, and so on down the list of conventional and proven patterns.

Most of the streamers and bucktails are tied on size 8 and Io long shank hooks, with sparsely dressed wing or wings. Some have bodies, but others show the bare shank of the hook. One of the most effective bucktails I have ever used was a size Io white bucktail with only a wrapping of silver tinsel for a body, and a very sparse wing that extended just a bit below the bend of the hook. That fly can be dropped quietly in a very still pool and because of its thinness it doesn't seem to scare the fish.

Besides the wet fly colors, streamers and bucktails are tied in all white and yellow, and all black-and more and more I, for one, am finding that the all black streamer or bucktail is a very fine taker of both trout and other varieties of game fish.

Then modern fly tyers have come up with some new and different designs, flies such as the optic bucktail, a great steelhead fly with bucktail wing and a built-up head with eyes painted on it; and the muddler minnow, a bucktail designed by Don Gapen, the well known Canadian tyer. The muddler is now widely copied in many materials, but the original was made with a single genuine timber wolf hair wing plus a single feather wing. Although it was tied to imitate the darter minnow, when it is in the water the muddler can also look like the buggiest thing you have ever seen. Or it may look like a grasshopper, or another time, like a small mouse. How one bucktail can look like so many different things is a great puzzle, but whatever it happens to look like at the moment, it always seems to look good to the trout. It is as potent a trout fly as anything I have ever used.

That statement covers a lot of territory, especially when you consider marabou streamers. Marabous produce some monster fish. Because of the lightness of the feathers, every fiber seems to move, waving gently, appearing to breathe. When cast across stream and retrieved in jerks six inches to a foot in length, the flaunting, tempting liveliness of the tail makes trout hop on it in a hurry.

Marabous are tied in a variety of solid colors and color combinations as shown later on in this chapter, and a number of tyers in various parts of the country have added innovations of their own, for their particular area. An outstanding one is the silver garland, tied by Polly Rosborough of Chiloquin, Oregon, for rainbows. This is a weighted marabou with blue and white wings and silver tinsel body, and is a terrific fish getter for almost any species where such a streamer might be feasible at all.

Bucktails are usually made of deerhair which is hollow, and therefore they float very well even when tied on large hooks. In fact sometimes it is necessary to give the rod tip a hard jerk to pull the bucktail under the surface.

Of all the hairs used for bucktails, the deerhair seems to have the most sparkle, looks better in the water, and deerhair wings do not seem to wrap around the hook as easily as do some of the other hairs used in tying bucktail flies. In this regard, both streamer flies and bucktails should be examined frequently during casting, to be sure that the wings have not wrapped around the bend of the hook, as this destroys both appearance and action, and a fly so entangled will seldom draw a strike. When wings hang up in this manner, I pull the hair or feather upwards from the hook, where they are tied to it. This helps for a while at least, to make the wings ride high and wide, free of the bend of the hook.

Many flies designed for fresh water have proven equally efficient in the salt, and conversely a number of streamers and bucktails designed for fishing the ocean flats have turned out to be highly effective in fresh water, especially for big trout and salmon. One big white bucktail, the platinum blonde, and an equally big fly made of yellow bucktail, called the honey blonde, have proven just about the best flies I have ever used for really big trout.

They were originally tied for striped bass and in an effort to make the fly large and extra long-winged, one piece of bucktail was tied on top of the j /o hook and immediately behind the eye, and another length of bucktail was tied just in front of the bend of the hook. It proved a very good number for stripers and that first fall after it was tied I also tried it in Montana for big browns and rainbows. It worked like a charm and I came up with some nice fish, from 3 to 7 pounds.

Similarly, big, multiwing streamers with three and four feathers on each side of the 1/0 hook are sure attractions for the big boys. These streamers work in the water, closing in on the hook when the angler strips line, spreading out again as he stops the retrieve, so that they appear to breathe. They are used in salt water with telling effect and while many a fresh water angler will look at them askance, they surely do have the power to bring hits from big trout, too.

The first time I produced those big flies at the Chimehuin River in Argentina, I brought down the house.

"What's that, your shaving brush?" howled my friend Jorge Donovan.

"Funny, eh?" I said. "Just wait!"

"We use small flies," said Jorge. "A big bundle like that will scare them out of the river. They'll run up into Lake Huechulaufquen and hide on the bottom."

"Wait a while," I said again.

I was using a 9-foot rod, a GAF line and a I4-foot leader, starting with a 3o-pound butt section and tapered down to a 4-pound test tippet. I threw that big bucktail across the current at the head of the pool and started it back. I had only taken three two-foot-long strips of line, when something hit that fly so hard that it almost knocked the rod out of my hand. It was something big.

That baby turned it on for a downstream dash that made the water fly from the speeding line. Then he showed himself, a beautiful brown trout that jumped two feet in the air and seemed to hang there as if pinned up. And that's what I thought.

"What a pin-up, and I'll take it!"

After 15 minutes I got him in, took the hook from the corner of his mouth and gently put him back again.

"What are you doing?" asked Jorge.

"I'm releasing him," I said. "He was a great fighter.

"Releasing a I0-pound fish," said Bebe Anchorena. "That's good."

"But what am I doing, just standing here?" he said suddenly.

"How many of those flies do you have?"

"Cut me in, too," grinned Jorge.

We used those big flies down there in Argentina for a month of fishing. We took big brown trout and rainbows and landlocked salmon with them, and in the Rio Grande River on Tierra del Fuego we caught sea run brown trout that hit them like a trip hammer every time one of those big streamers was pulled across their noses.

While big streamers and bucktails are the answer in big water for larger than average fish, the smaller, more sparsely tied ones will pay off best in clear and shallow water. There, the lightest presentation possible with a small fly will get results when a big fly might chase the fish out of there in a hurry. Nevertheless, some of these streamers manage to have a bulky enough look to tempt good sized fish. Some of the long-winged flies used in Maine are tied on tandem hooks and are designed to look like the smelt upon which the landlocks feed. They have been proven flies for this gamy fish for a long time and practically all the blue winged ties in this group are good, with the supervisor probably being the best known, and the Wilson special, while not so well known, being equally as good for getting hits.

If you want to catch lunker trout, use big streamer flies. When a trout reaches 212 to 3 pounds, he has done with midges, fresh water shrimp and other small fry. He wants to gulp down something big enough to make his stomach sac press against his sides. Occasionally a 4-pounder will take a size lo hairwing and once in a while he might even go for a size 18 or 20. But generally speaking, trout that big don't play for peanuts. They want the works.

Streamers bring out the yen for meat in these big boys and with the right presentation and retrieve an angler can get strikes from hook-jawed old busters that weigh in up in the heavyweight division. They are so hungry for substantial food that even if their stomachs are stuffed tighter than a Pennsylvania food locker the day after deer season, they still will grab another minnow that they can't even swallow and will swim around with the tail sticking out of their mouths, waiting for the swallowed part to dissolve so they can handle the rest. And believe it or not, those big-eyed aquatic so-and-sos, with that remnant of a partly digested meal still protruding from their throats, will hit a streamer. When I opened up one 41-pound lunker last year, what did I find? Two field mice each about 5 inches long, two minnows each about 4 inches long, and one 5-inch minnow with its tail just showing in the trout's throat. Here was this jasper making like the filling of a knockwurst and he wants a bucktail, yet!

In streamer fishing the handling of the retrieve means defeat or success. You must make the lure imitate the actions of the natural food upon which the trout feed, so that they go for it totally unsuspecting. Streamer fishing calls for rod tip work and line manipulation that will make the fly out there act like a minnow. It should be retrieved in short jerks to make it look like a minnow darting erratically around the pool, or in longer strips to ape a more leisurely swim. A lure that is allowed to sink and is then played very slowly can be made to look like a minnow nosing the bottom for food and an extra fast top water retrieve makes the artificial dash across the surface, faking a natural minnow that is rushing along the top, trying to escape some great, toothy-mawed 5-pounder.

The angler should try all types of bringbacks until he discovers just which one will do the best job that day. I usually start with the cast across the current, mend the line, then let the fly float downstream broadside and without any motion. When it reaches the end of the float and starts to swim my way, I impart 6-inch jerks to it, then when it has finally swung in directly below me, I bring it back my way slowly and evenly for about 3 feet, then pick it up for the next cast. You can expect a thudding hit at any stage of that play.

Another effective cast and retrieve is upstream and across, bringing the fly back in 2-foot long jerks, fast, right to the rod tip. Often a fish will follow such a retrieve and hit it just as the angler is about to pick it up for the next cast. And sometimes in a low clear stream it is a good move to cast directly upstream. This cast requires the same care and stealth in approach as does dry fly fishing, but often such a throw and a slowly retrieved, sparsely tied bucktail will take trout when all other methods fail.

One of the fish-teasin'est ways of all is to figure where a fish should be lying in the current, cast the fly to that spot and instead of bringing it back all the way, just retrieve it a foot or two, then let it float downstream again, retrieve it a foot or so again, and repeat the whole procedure. It takes patience but it's usually worth the effort in bringing hits that won't seem to come by other methods just then.

That retrieve paid heavy dividends one day when I fished the East Branch of the Antietam River with Bob Wishard of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The stream meandered through lush meadows and at the bends the current had cut under the banks, making deep holes and swell hiding places for trout. At such a bend a brush pile provided shelter for fish. I watched Bob work a yellow and brown streamer in and out of one of those spooky looking spots, giving it action that made it perform for all the world like a small minnow lying there just above the log jam and darting upstream, then dropping back, waiting for food to come to it in the current. Bob teased a trout so much with that retrieve that at last it zoomed up from out of that black hole and hit the fly so hard he was carried into the air by the force of his rush. As soon as he fell in again, he jumped and landed on top of the brush, snapped the leader and lay there on a big log, flapping, and finally slipped back into the water. Bob's face was white.

"With all that water around, he has to jump on that bunch of logs!" he grumbled. "That trout weighed three pounds at least."

Later we both took a couple of good fish in the same way, by assuming that there was a lunker under every log pile, and teasing them out with a streamer.

During the spring when the streams are high and roily, and after rains during the summer, streamers are fairly commonly used by Eastern anglers, but few of them are used at any other time. Yet even when the water has dropped and is clear and a hundred anglers are walking along the banks of a 30-foot-wide Eastern river, a wide awake trouter can get hits with a streamer. In clear water, a sparsely tied bucktail on a number 10 or even a 12 hook is very effective when used with a leader tapered down to a 4X tippet. These thinly clad numbers tied with wings of black and white, brown and white, blue and white, and brown and yellow, will do a swell job of making lazy trout hit.

In discolored water, on the other hand, all yellow, all brown or all black seem to show up best. Once on Beaver Creek in Maryland, the water turned so brown following a heavy downpour that we were ready to quit fishing.

"Sometimes I've caught trout in very muddy water with this fly," said Bill Snyder, holding up a brown hackle.

"Not in water this muddy," I said.

Bill tossed his fly midway out in the pool. A fish shot up through that muddy mess and took the fly like he had seen it through gin clear water. Bill was so surprised he struck too hard and left the fly in the trout's mouth. But he had proved his point. I grubbed into my streamer box and brought out an all yellow number, tied it on and was in business at the first hole upstream. A 14-incher roared up and knocked that yellow Sally silly. In the next hour we landed nine fish.

After that I took three dark colors and held them in the water, then took a couple of other flies with neutral colors and held them beside the dark ones. The yellow, brown and black showed up five times more plainly.

To fish streamers the angler needs a bigger rod than is used for dry fly fishing but it is not necessary to go into the heavy equipment that some fishermen seem to think. Using a small streamer in a low, clear stream, an 8-foot rod weighing 4 ounces, with an HDH line and a lo-foot leader tapered down to as low as 4X will do a workmanlike job. The tippet may be upped to 3X or 2X depending on the size of fish you are getting hits from. Sometimes when the line is being stripped, a big trout will sock the streamer, and the combined pressure of the pull and the hit will break the leader. So with a light leader you stand the chance of losing a few fish, but you will get more strikes, too.

The larger streamers are difficult to cast on a small rod and with a long, fine leader, and in order to throw them effectively, an 81-foot rod weighing as much as 434 ounces is needed, and should be fitted with a GBF line. The Io-foot leader should start off with a heavy butt section and then fade down to a 2X tippet. (See chapter on equipment.) Just before and right at dark, an even heavier leader is all right as in the evening light the trout don't seem to be scared by the larger tippet diameter.

Hook sizes in streamers should range from 12 all the way down to 6. Many times it is the size of the fly rather than the color that seems to make the difference between hits and no hits, so the streamer fisherman should carry a large assortment of both colors and sizes. Some day it will pay off heavily.

Out West, trout fishermen have always favored big wet flies and wooly worms, and with these they catch plenty of big trout. Yet if these same fellows would use streamers, I believe they would find the size of their fish increasing.

I well remember the day I introduced a Montana fishing pal to streamers. Len Kinkie had fished dries, and wets and nymphs, but the big black ghost I presented to him scared him. "What is it?" he said. "Trimming for a gal's hat?" "Trimming for a trout," I assured him. It was just before dark. Len went up to the fast water at the top of the 3oo-foot pool while I worked down toward the tail. I was busily casting when I heard a shout. My head snapped around in time to see Len walking towards the shore, rod held high. Out in the current a great trout jumped clear and threw the hook.

"That was the biggest trout I've ever hooked," Len told me later. "He was 10 pounds. I know now what you mean about streamers."

Speaking of big streamers and big fish always makes me think of a certain pool on the Yellowstone River. If I'm within a couple of hundred miles of it, regardless of time or inconvenience, I'll head for it pronto. From that pool I've taken enough big trout-and put most of them back-that if they were laid end to end they would reach from Denver to the Rio Grande.

The last time I waded out into that pool was 4:0o p.m. on October I g, my last day of fishing before heading east. As always, I was expecting to sink my barbs into a 16- or I 7-pounder. Since I was sure there would be some big fish working there just before dark, I tied on a 2X tippet. I started at the head of the pool, dropping a size 6 white marabou 20 feet out in the fast water and letting it float a bit before bringing it back in fast, foot-long jerks. I lengthened the second throw two feet. And the next one another two feet. When I had 50 feet of line out, I floated it through and waded down to about where it had swung across on that last cast. Then I started the series of casts again. That way I was covering all of the holding water.

The first cast on the next series brought a strike when the marabou was only 20 feet away. That rany hit almost on top and threw water three feet high when he took. Then he hung there for a second, heavy, and then my rod tip snapped back and the flyless leader shot high in the air. He had broken me off on the hit.

I tested the leader and put on another marabou. I started the series of casts from where I was. This time it took three casts and then again I almost jumped out of my waders when a hookbeaked beezer poked his nose out and clapped his mandibles at me. He missed the fly but he didn't miss giving me the cold chills. He looked bigger than the other.

I rested him for three or four minutes only, and then sent the fly over the spot where he had been and once again a fish had it, and once again the tip bowed down and stayed there a minute and then flaunted another flyless leader in my face.

I burned then! I was sure that every one of those fish went over five pounds. I put on a IX tippet, cast again and once more got the same treatment. And that one took my last marabou.

I cut off the 1X, leaving just the heavier part of the tapered leader, and tied on a yellow and brown streamer. On the first cast a big baby out there took, rolled on the leader, and once again I was fit to be tied. The sun was away down, peeping over the top of the Gallatins, shadows already across the river, and back of me I heard a deer bleat.

This time I cut that 12-foot leader in half. I must have been up to at least 8-pound test after all that clipping.

While I was tying on a muddler, a fish rose 30 feet in front of me. I cast and he was waiting there with his mouth wide open. I didn't have time to strike because he started off so fast. He slashed across the fast water, then ran down with it for 30 feet and came out in a going-away jump. All I could see was a dark blob down there and as I dropped the rod tip he fell back in and went away again, fast.

He did everything a trout should do to get off. But somehow I gradually started to gain on him. He came upstream and I reeled fast to keep him coming, to get fly line back on the reel. When I got him close, he jumped right in front of me and threw water in my face and then went off again in a slashing drive across current, and then swirled on top and started to shake his head back and forth.

At that nasty maneuver I gave line in a hurry. Then he hung there in the current and I couldn't make him bat an eye. It was a draw for a couple of minutes and then I fooled him. I suddenly gave him slack and he slipped down with the current and while he was wondering what happened, I tightened up and pulled him off balance and got him coming my way. He tried to get his head again but I held him and skidded him sideways now, in close, and up on top and into the net. He weighed three and a quarter pounds, a nice fish to end the season.

As I waded ashore with him, I heard the sound of a riser out there in the current back of me.It made a noise like the thud of a rock falling on frozen ground. I wanted to go back but it was too dark.

"I'll get you next year," I said aloud. "I'll start fishing right here and I'll use a size 6 muddler, or maybe a white marabou." Because I know it's big flies those big lunkers want.

In general, trout fishing must be done with great quiet, and therefore the popping bug is seldom considered a good trout fly. Yet even big brown trout, smartest and scariest of them all, like a big popper, properly administered in the right place.

Two winters ago, while fishing the Chimehuin River in Argentina. I was taking a string of 6-, 8- and 10-pound fish on large streamers, enjoying the best trout fishing I've ever had in my life. But I knew there were bigger ones there. Bebe Anchorena and Jorge Donovan of Buenos Aires, who were fishing with me, had told me about the heft of some of those trout.

"Every year," said Jorge, "someone catches brown trout up to 25 pounds here in this river."

"Last year a friend of mine caught a 26-pounder," said Bebe. "He was plug casting with a spoon."

Suddenly I thought of popping bugs. I wondered. And I tried. I got out a big popper, one with a total length of five inches, from eye of the hook to end of tail.

It was a rough day. The water on the lake above was whitecapped and dark clouds blotted out the mountains and raced over the low hills. It was a rough day to tie into a rough fish, and that was what I wanted to do. Here in the river the water was bouncing with six-inch waves and I thought how perfect a spot this was to use a big bug, because it had the bulk a big brownie would like and the waves would not allow too loud a pop, to maybe scare off a suspicious fish.

I cast that big popping bug across current 70 feet, bringing the rod tip almost down to the water so the wind wouldn't blow the bug off course. I let it drift for maybe 10 feet, then retrieved it slowly, in foot-long pulls, trying to make the bug skip softly along. Suddenly I saw a big brown shape out there standing on its head. The rod tip went down violently and the reel began to sing and I was into a big trout. He went 8 1/2 pounds.

I didn't see the next one because he hit in the middle of an incoming wave that still wore a frothy top. But I felt the strike more than the other one. It was a sort of double hit, as if he turned and missed and then took a second try. Or maybe he was hooked the first time, then turned fast and yanked his head around as he did. Anyway, I had all I could handle for the next ten minutes weathering his first frantic fight. Then it turned into a slug fest and it was 15 minutes before I slipped him ashore, a good quarter of a mile downstream. He was a 10 pounder.

"Give me one of those poppers," said Jorge, who had been going right along with me.

"Me, too," said Bebe.

I handed a popper to each of them, and they left on the run for the next pool.

I had only brought three poppers with me, not expecting to use poppers on trout, so that left me with only the one I had been using. I decided to save it for some special occasion when I thought there might be an extra big fish around. That occasion came only a couple of days later. I had fished down river for a good half mile without a hit. Then I came to a pool that was so fishy looking that there just had to be a big trout in there.

Out came that big popper. On the third cast I saw a great fish in back of the bug, his cavernous mouth open. I saw him bring his upper mandible down. I struck. Three quarters of an hour later I landed that baby, an 18 1/2-pound brown trout that was 35 inches long and had a girth of 22 inches. A few days later I took a 15-pounder on the same bug.

Those were the two biggest fish of the trip. Popping bugs? You bet!


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