I recently fished a productive-looking run in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Fall River. It was the best run I had seen all morning. My sons and I had hiked into a steep ravine in search of water that rarely got fished. It was a harrowing hike, but I was finally rewarded with a long run that flowed out of a deep bend in the river (well, it was really a small mountain creek at that point).
I tied on a size #14 Elk Hair Caddis. Nothing. So I switched to a size #18 Parachute Adams. Same result. I even tried a black ant pattern. Still no interest by any trout.
My go-to approach when this happens is to tie on a streamer. I found a brown Woolly Bugger in my fly box and drifted it into the deep bend. I waited a couple seconds before I started the retrieve. During the first strip of line, I felt that old-familiar tug, and I ended up landing a fat, colorful Brookie.
One of the challenges I’ve noticed with streamer fishing is getting deep enough. Streamers may be the most effective way to catch trout hunkered down in deep pools and runs. But you have to get your streamers deep enough to where the trout lie. So how do you do it? I suggest three techniques. You may even need a combination of them.
The most obvious way to get your streamers deep enough is to weight them.
Surprisingly, though, I’ve watched numerous fly fishers neglect this. If you tie your own flies, consider wrapping weight on the hook before wrapping the body. I’d also encourage adding a beadhead or conehead to the front of the fly. If you don’t tie, look for streamers with beadheads or coneheads.
If your fly is not weighted, then by all means, add weight to it before you toss it into a deep run or pool. I’ve even added weight to an already weighted fly! Some fly fishers like sleek line weights. I’m still fine with adding a removable split shot. I’ll typically use only one in a larger size. You can put it a few inches above your fly. Or, you can put it at the head of the fly, immediately in front of the knot that you’ve tied to the eye of the hook.
I’ve caught enough trout on Woolly Buggers with a silver split shot at the front that I don’t worry about a fish laughing at it and retreating to shelter.
If you’re fly fishing a larger river or a lake, then a sink tip line is a great way to go.
Wait to Get Your Streamers Deep Enough
Even if you have sufficiently weighted your fly, you need to give it time to sink.
I wonder how many times I’ve missed trout because I didn’t give my Woolly Bugger time to sink to the bottom of a pool before I retrieved it. Occasionally, you might get a strike as your streamer is sinking. But in my experience, it’s in the first couple retrieves that fish attacks the fly as it heads to the surface.
If you’re using a sink tip line in a lake, you’ll need to wait a few seconds (depending on the weight of the line) to get it to a sufficient depth before you start your retrieve.
This is actually a variation of the previous point. In moving water, the best way to get a fly to the bottom is to cast is well above the spot you expect to hook a trout. If you’re fishing downstream (one of my favorite approaches with streamers), drop it into the current and start feeding line. Give the streamer 10 or 20 feet to sink before it reaches the hot zone, then start your retrieve.
Use the same approach if you’re fishing a run from the side—that is, the river’s edge.
Cast your streamer far enough upstream so that it has time to sink as it floats. Once it reaches the hot spot (below you), start your retrieve. The streamer will swing, and this is when you’ll often get strikes. I experienced this a few years ago in Alaska. I was a few hundred yards up Clear Creek from the spot where it ran into the Talkeetnah River. I found a nice deep run, tied on a Dalai Lama, and started to fish. It took me a few tries to cast the streamer far enough upstream to let it get deep enough by the time it entered the prime section of the run. But once I hit the right depth, I had strikes on every cast.
Streamers are ideal for deep pools on days when trout are not feeding on the surface. But getting your streamers deep enough where the trout lurk is the discipline.