Driftless Trout Anglers

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jrgordon  
#1 Posted : Thursday, July 27, 2017 7:31:38 AM(UTC)
jrgordon
Rank: Midge

Joined: 5/1/2016(UTC)
Posts: 13
Location: Wheaton, IL

Thanks: 4 times
I hit a popular Vernon county stream yesterday. The recent rains had clearly hit the stream hard, but to my advantage––the weeds were matted down 20–30 feet on each side of the bank from the stream going over the banks, it was still 2.5 feet higher than usual, and it was really cloudy.

I struck out casting to the few rising fish first thing in the morning, and they didn't seem to be interested in my nymphs either. So, I busted out the sinking leader and streamers. I used a variety of small #8 buggers (olive and brown) and some bigger 3–4" articulated meat. I ended up landing 13 in the 12"–16" range in just over 4 hours, and I lost 3 more.

Here's the thing: the fish were hanging out at the front and rear of the big pools, just off to the side of the main runs. I was getting 2–3 fish flash, charge, or sometimes even swat my streamer on almost every cast. One cast had 7 (!) fish take a stab at the bug as it was swinging through the pool. I had easily over 100 fish––some pretty large––show themselves over the course of the morning.

This leads me to my question: am I doing something wrong to be missing all these fish, or are these kinds of swings-and-misses normal? Some of the fish sort of hit my streamer but so quickly that it was almost impossible to react quick enough since they weren't slamming it. I've been working on my strip set, but I can't help but think I should have caught a bunch more than I actually did.

Any help from you streamer junkies out there?
James G.
Instagram: @flyosophical
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West Branch  
#2 Posted : Thursday, July 27, 2017 9:08:32 AM(UTC)
West Branch
Rank: May Fly

Joined: 9/23/2012(UTC)
Posts: 183
Location: West Branch, IA

Most trout anglers have had similar experiences, I suspect. We can only guess at why there are some days when fish will confidently eat a wooly bugger, and other times when they just chase it out of their territory. It can cause a lot of frustration when you watch as trout repeatedly flash your streamer, but don't seem interested in actually eating it. There is a school of thought that says on those days you want to simply "annoy" a fish into biting the offensive shiny colored thing that keeps swimming by. I think there are steelhead anglers who take that approach with some success.

Since we can't really know what trout think--or if they think--it's hard to understand why some days are just tough. "The bite is off" is a frequently heard comment when nobody on the stream is hooking up. My usual beat is a miles long stretch of spring-fed headwaters of a river in eastern Iowa. I fish it so often that I can usually walk straight to known concentrations of fish and catch a whole bunch of browns from 3" to the occasional 20 incher. For reasons that escape me, some days are different. Trout can be missing from their usual haunts and may appear in odd places that usually NEVER hold fish. Sometimes a big trout will spook from the least likely spot as I wade to the next good pool or run. There are also days when good numbers of fish are clearly visible pasted to the bottom doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes I foul hook fish that refuse to take a nymph that drifts at the perfect level and speed through a pod of idle trout. They have to eat sometime, but that time just isn't now.

Often this situation causes me to re-rig my line with every combination of fly, split shot, indicator, or tandem set up I can think of. Occasionally I'll stumble across something that will catch a fish or two. Other times I just move on up the stream hoping to find something that will rise to a #14 elk hair caddis. It's been awhile since I've been completely skunked, but at times it's been close. As far as "doing something wrong" goes, well, yeah, you're doing something wrong. What that thing is is anybody's guess. It may be that you are fishing on the worst day of the year for catching trout. Doing it right may mean coming back tomorrow or Tuesday, doing the exact same thing and catching 50 fish.

Trouble is, the nearest trout live 40 minutes away from me, and the nearest stream I really like is at least an hour away. Sometimes tomorrow isn't a good option. On the bright side, even on days when the fish want nothing to do with me, I'm in a favorite place doing something I enjoy. When 18" browns lock onto size 32 midges and ignore every other bug on the water, I just have to marvel at the wonders of nature and hope things change real soon.
EddieRivard  
#3 Posted : Thursday, July 27, 2017 9:09:26 AM(UTC)
EddieRivard
Rank: Dragon Fly

Joined: 7/26/2012(UTC)
Posts: 1,173
Location: New Brighton MN

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First thing I would do is try stripping it in faster for a bit then slower for a bit. Then I might make a switch in size and color of the streamer. Yellow has always worked well for me when olive or brown wasn't getting it done. Also you could try something heavy and slow too. Or strip something at the surface of the water like a mouse or big chernobyl; Sounds weird but it works. Either way just keep changing it up and keep casting. Some days the fish just do what they do.
-Eddie
West Branch  
#4 Posted : Thursday, July 27, 2017 9:16:36 AM(UTC)
West Branch
Rank: May Fly

Joined: 9/23/2012(UTC)
Posts: 183
Location: West Branch, IA

Eddie's tip about changing stripping speed is a good one. Sometimes I'm ready to give up on a pool and start reeling in my line as fast as I can only to catch a fish that just ignored my fly 30 times.
OTC_MN  
#5 Posted : Thursday, July 27, 2017 12:14:38 PM(UTC)
OTC_MN
Rank: Caddis Fly

Joined: 3/18/2016(UTC)
Posts: 189
Location: St Paul MN

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I'm far from a streamer expert, but trout just do this, on hard baits too. I think in dirty water trout are tactile feeders, and the bump and nudge stuff to investigate it. (They'll also eat stuff that isn't food. Pump the stomach on one that came out of dirty water and there's a lot of sticks and stuff in there sometimes.)

Not a parallel exactly, but I've also watched lake trout through the ice rush in on a bait and smack it with the side of their head, then come around and eat it...or not.

Like I said, not a streamer expert but I agree with Eddie. To me that kind of response is a sign you're close but not quite on. Change the retrieve, change size, change color (when I fish smallies, which chase, bump and nudge baits a lot, that's the order I follow). The other thing that I *have* had work with streamers is to hang a smaller streamer or wet fly off the back of the streamer. They come investigate the lead fly, and eat the trailer.
"Our tradition is that of the first man who sneaked away to the creek when the tribe did not really need fish."
- Roderick Haig-Brown
rschmidt  
#6 Posted : Thursday, July 27, 2017 12:38:20 PM(UTC)
rschmidt
Rank: May Fly

Joined: 1/16/2015(UTC)
Posts: 442
Location: West WI

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Definitely had similar experiences with hardware. I notice this more from this point in the season until spawn. My guess is that the territorial guard is on for upcoming best spots at spawn and always on for the best food spots. I would guess your technique is the smallest factor. I have had fish charge and bump spinners to say "not in my house biotch", no intention of ever biting apparent. Other days spinners get bit on the drop even before closing the bail. Keep at it. R
William Schlafer  
#7 Posted : Thursday, July 27, 2017 5:53:32 PM(UTC)
William Schlafer
Rank: Super Fly

Joined: 7/24/2011(UTC)
Posts: 3,057
Location: Sussex Wisconsin

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I've had days with Woolly Buggers where they would chase or bump, but not eat. Sometimes, a slight change in size (usually smaller than bigger) would be the difference maker in getting them to eat it. It might be relative to the size of real food (minnows, leeches, Sculpin, etc...) they're seeing in the stream that day. The bigger stuff just pisses them off and they chase and bump. And like Eddie says, changing up and randomizing the strip speed, or show them something completely unexpected and different. Some days slow is the ticket, others it's rip it like crazy to induce the big strikes.

Every day is a learning experience out there.


-Bill
“You'll never look back on your life and wish you had spent more time in the office." -- Brian Trautman, Captain SV Delos
jrgordon  
#8 Posted : Friday, July 28, 2017 9:12:07 AM(UTC)
jrgordon
Rank: Midge

Joined: 5/1/2016(UTC)
Posts: 13
Location: Wheaton, IL

Thanks: 4 times
Thanks for all the feedback, guys! Sounds like I have a few things to try, but it's good to hear that it wasn't (totally) my fault!

James G.
Instagram: @flyosophical
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