Streamer Strategies

Streamer Strategies

Plus, rod "tracking" and "tip-bounce" defined; A brief history of catch-and-release

  • By: Buzz Bryson
  • and Paul Guernsey
When I'm fishing streamers or Woolly Buggers by stripping back after an across- or downstream cast, I get a lot of strikes but often miss the hookup. What am I doing wrong?

You might well be doing nothing wrong. Predators, whether they are lions or trout, aren't perfect and don't always catch their prey. So a "missed" fish might simply be missing its target. Or, it might merely be off-target, hitting the tail and missing the hook.

However, many short-strikes are a result of a last-instant rejection by the trout as it suddenly loses interest in, or becomes suspicious of, your fly. In some cases, you've done the best you can do: The fish wasn't terribly interested in eating in the first place, but you gave it something that it couldn't resist-almost. Be thankful that you got at least that small rush.

If you only get a couple of these refusals, see no sign of activity, and no one else is catching any fish either, you're probably just in for a slow day, and beating yourself up about it won't do any good. But if the fish are active and/or willing-say you've missed several strikes, see fish moving, and see others catching them, you should try some of the standard remedies. Here's a brief list:

1) Change the angle of attack. If you've been casting across or downstream, throw it upstream more. 2) Strip slower; strip faster. 3) Use a smaller fly; use a larger fly. 4) Use a lighter one; use a darker one. 5) Fish it deeper; fish it shallower. 6) Fish tighter against the bank; fish more in midstream. 7) Fish the tail of pools; fish the head.

In other words, keep making changers until you begin to connect regularly.

Regardless of the situation, I do like streamers, and particularly the Woolly Bugger, as a starter fly on a new stream or even as the opening gambit on a familiar stream. Whether it wakes the fish up or is just a tempting mouthful, I've often found that a streamer or a Bugger will move fish-often larger fish-and create some great fishing…and memories! -B.B.

In FR&R's flyrod reviews, I sometimes see the terms "tracking" and "tip bounce." What are they exactly, and how do they affect my fishing?

"Tracking" is simply the path the rod tip follows relative to the load applied to the rod. For instance, on a straight-line cast, the arm moves the rod forward through the acceleration and stop movements, and the tip should also follow in a straight line. If it doesn't (and if the casting stroke was indeed straight), then the rod is not tracking well. Aside from any human input, the cause of inaccurate tracking is normally that the rod spline (or spine; your choice) is not aligned correctly.

Graphite rod sections are made by wrapping cloth-like graphite material ("prepreg") around a tapered steel mandrel and then baking it. It's almost impossible to "roll" a blank without having a bit of a high side (stiffer side), as a result of the overlapping of the material wraps. Rod makers normally align that high side with the line guides. If that alignment is way off, the rod tip will tend to torque to one side, causing the normally straight-line cast to veer off course.

"Tip-bounce" is unwanted movement in the rod tip after the "stop" motion of the cast during either the forward- or backcast. Ideally, when the rod is accelerated during the cast and then is stopped to form the loop, the tip should not continue to oscillate or "bounce." If it does, "shock" waves will appear in what should have been a smooth, tightly formed loop. While overpowering a rod can cause tip bounce, such bounce should not appear in a well-designed rod. The tip should "unload" as the rod is stopped, oscillate maybe once, and then "dampen"-or stop moving-quickly. -B.B.

When and how did catch-and-release angling begin to catch on?

By the beginning of the 20th Century, a handful of angling writers in England and the US has already begun to suggest that fishermen release at least some of their catch. Advocacy for catch-and-release really caught fire in the angling literature of the 1930's and 1940's as a reaction to the decline of fisheries in the Catskills and elsewhere. It was in his 1939 New Handbook of Freshwater Fishing that Lee Wulff made his famous declaration that, "Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once."

The first official designation of C&R water in the US occurred on a stretch of Pennsylvania's Spring Creek in 1934. New York, Michigan and several other Eastern states followed suit by setting aside "no-kill" waters of their own. Over the ensuing decades, C&R met with significant resistance from many anglers and fisheries managers who either doubted that the practice would work or who simply could not give up the urge to "own" the fish they caught. Still, the famous waters of Yellowstone National Park came under C&R regulations in the early 1970's, and by 1990, no-kill regs had been put into place on many lakes and streams in every state with significant coldwater fisheries. More importantly, the attitudes of most fly fishermen by then had evolved to the point where they would release most of their trout regardless of the regulations. -P.G.