Streamer Season: The Flies

In the first article on Streamer Season, I wrote about some of the things I’ve learned since delving into the streamer game a few years ago. Now we’re going to talk about the flies.

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Inside my Fishpond Sushi Roll. Arby’s ain’t got nothing on this.

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Streamer patterns are my favorites to tie at the vise. There is always room for experimentation, and I love taking ideas and riffing on them like a jazz musician improvises over chord changes.

We live in the [almost-too-much] information age, which is both a blessing and a curse. There are a lot of great resources out there on tying various streamer patterns, but I wanted to help you out by highlighting a few really helpful resources that I’ve used:

  • Brian Wise at Fly Fishing the Ozarks has put out some great streamer fly tying videos over the past years.
  • Schultz Outfitters has some good general resources and tying videos on their YouTube channel too – not just for brown trout!
  • Kelly Galloup has some good instructional techniques on fishing streamers, along with other helpful video tips.
  • This podcast with Mike Schmidt
  • Gunnar Brammer has great instructional videos for his patterns, but also has a two-part series featuring his tips and thoughts on articulating streamers (Part 1, Part 2).

This is going to be about the streamer patterns that I tend to fish most around here. For some specific techniques, I would check out the list of books that I recommended back in the first article on Streamer Season. The biggest thing I want to get across is that you don’t need big flies to catch big fish – around here a big fly is in the 4-inch range. A lot of my go-to streamers are around 2-3 inches, and I’ve had some great days fishing flies that size.

For tippet size, I’ll use 1x-3x, sometimes straight 10-12lb Maxima depending on the size and weight of the pattern. These are the two leaders I primarily use (obviously there are more, and places to find better recipes):

  • The Harvey Slack leader (my default leader) – 20″ 20lb Maxima Chameleon, 18″ each of 15lb, 12lb, 10lb Maxima Chameleon or Ultragreen, 10″ 8lb gold Stren (or similar sighter), 18-24″ of 2x and 3x (depending on fly, I’ll adjust these lengths).
  • Basic Streamer leader – 2 feet of 30lb Maxima, 2 feet of 20 lb Maxima, 2 feet of 12lb Maxima, 2 feet of 2x-3x tippet.
  • For tippet, I’ve taken to using fluorocarbon for streamers and have been really pleased.

The Boxes

Streamer storage is an ever-evolving thing for me. Currently I carry most of my small to mid-sized streamers in a Fishpond Sushi Roll (the large size), which fits pretty well in my sling pack.

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This carries more streamers than I would probably ever need in a day.

Since the Sushi Roll carries the mid-sized streamers, I carry my large nymphs/small streamers (1.5-2 inches) in a Tacky Collab dropper box. That’s where I store the smaller crayfish and sculpin patterns to serve as anchor flies in a two-fly nymph rig.

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The big nymphs and small streamers. Fluff ‘n’ stuff and rubber legs.

If I want to fish bigger flies, then I take along a Cliff Bugger Barn, which serves as the working box for anything that’s 3.5 inches or larger. In order to save space, this is the box that gets left behind on guiding trips.

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Inside the Bugger Barn (Junk Trunk?)

For some general storage I use two Plano boxes, which hold a variety of streamers like Schultzy’s S3 Sculpins, Sparkle Minnows, GD SculpSnacks, Weamer Streamers, Clouser Minnows, general woolly buggers, along with a few “Cousin It” streamers (like a conehead zonker – with a few extra things thrown in), and other experimental patterns. The idea for using Plano boxes to store flies came from a post on Deneki Outdoors.

Baitfish

This it probably the pattern that I draw from the least. Not that they don’t work – I’ve had some good sessions on a small Clouser or Feathered Game Changer, but I just don’t grab from here as much as I do sculpins or crayfish. These are patterns that I generally carry in a variety of sizes and lighter weights, from weightless or a small keel on the hookbend to a brass conehead, Fish Skull, or dumbbell eyes. Some examples of larger patterns that I carry can be seen in the photo above of the Bugger Barn (left side, bottom and the left three flies on the bottom right side), or in the photo below of the Bugger Beast (right side, top two rows).

Some specific patterns that I like to throw in this category: Clouser Minnows, Schmidt’s Red Octobers, Sparkle Minnows, a variation on Brammer’s Trutta’s Demise, Galloup’s Barely Legal, and small Feathered Game Changers.

Sculpins

Most of the time when I tie sculpin patterns, I’m using the Flymen Fishing Company Sculpin Helmet. It gets the fly down to the bottom, where sculpins live. The head comes in three sizes, and I’ve used all three on different patterns with success. One of my favorite anchor patterns uses a mini sculpin helmet on a size 6 nymph hook or Gamakatsu SL45 bonefish hook.

Another favorite sculpin pattern is my Chowtime Sculpin, which has been through some tweaking over the past year. The marabou tail moves well, and it has good action in the water. It measures in at 3 inches, which is about where I want it to be. The original had a hook in the tail only, but in subsequent versions I’ve had a hook up front and a 20mm shank in the rear.

When I fish sculpins, I’ll usually hit pockets and runs giving it some twitches here and there, sometimes dead drifting, sometimes casting it up and actively nymphing it back to me. If there’s a fish that chases but it’s not committing, I’ve had success letting the fly drop to the bottom and turn with the current – that’s sometimes all it takes.

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The inside of the sculpin/baitfish boat box.

The sculpin helmets get a pattern down deep quickly, and if the flows are low I’ll typically go with patterns using the small and mini sculpin helmets, instead of the large size. I tie a smaller version of Martinez’s Frankenstein Sculpin that works well for this. The main thing is getting the pattern near the bottom, drifting naturally or giving the appearance of a sculpin swimming in short spurts but going for cover when it stops.

Schultzy’s S3 and S4 sculpins are also ones that I like to tie – something about that spun rabbit fur head just looks tasty. And it would be a true faux-pas to not mention Galloup’s Dungeon – I like to tie this one with a wool head instead of deer hair because wood absorbs water. One pattern that I’m looking forward to trying is Cohen’s Sulking Sculpin, which George Daniel has said is one of his favorite sculpin patterns.

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Some favorite sculpins: nameless mini sculpins, small Frankenstein Sculpins, Sculpin Bunny variants, and a Headbanger (ranging from 1.5-4 inches)

Specific patterns: Chowtime Sculpin, Strolis’ Headbanger Sculpin, Martinez’s Frankenstein Sculpin, Galloup’s Dungeon, Mini Sculpin.

Crayfish

One of my projects over the past year has been assembling a streamer box for crayfish patterns. It’s a great idea, but then I run into the question of, “Well, what goes in the box? Just big ones? Is there a size limit in order to get in?” since I also have a number of smaller crayfish (and sculpin) patterns in my box for bigger nymphs. Am I putting too much thought into this? Of course.

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The Crayfish box (lighter on right side, heaver on left). Hellgrammites in the lower right for good measure.

The crayfish patterns I carry vary in weight, and I tend to carry multiple weights of similar-sized flies or of the same pattern. The Shrimp & Cray Tails from Flymen Fishing Company are fun to experiment with, but even in the largest size are only as heavy as small dumbbell eyes – I usually supplement with some extra wraps of wire on the hook shank.

For crayfish, I’ll fish these similar to how I fishing sculpin patterns – dead drift, slight twitches, hitting pockets and seams. Sometimes I’ll give a few short strips. The idea is to present it as a fairly easy, potentially dying, meal. If a burger and fries were to come drifting past you within easy moving range, you’d probably take it!

While you see a variety of patterns in the box above, my go-to crayfish pattern is Erdosy’s Carp Crab, hands-down (right side, second row).

Unweighted Patterns

These are patterns that I really haven’t tried a ton around here, aside from some ones on the smaller size. Again, for around here I would keep these sizes to a max of 4 inches, just like the weighted patterns above. Here’s the box, just to give you a look. While I enjoy tying streamer patterns, I do recognize my limits – the top row of D&Ds and top row of Swingin’ D’s that you see here are ones that I didn’t tie.

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The floating box: Harvey Pusher wet flies, Lynch’s D&D’s, Schultzy’s Swingin’ D’s, and some minnows.

The Bugger of it All

If you haven’t realized how much I enjoy streamer patterns by now, then you might have missed something. Here’s the thing: these are all really fun to tie and fish, and I’ve done well on some of these to the degree that I would consider them “confidence flies.” However, if it came down to it and I had to pick only one streamer to fish, it would be a simple dark olive and black woolly bugger, tied on a size 6, 3x or 4x long hook, with a bead head. The tail would be a bit on the long side, and the hackle would be a nice webby grizzly. It’s one of the five flies I always carry, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Is it a hellgrammite? A sculpin? A baitfish? A crayfish? Maybe. Whatever it is, it’s fishy, not fancy.

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One bugger to rule them all.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve gotten my take on some favorite streamers to use around here, it’s your turn: what are some of your favorite streamers?

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