Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #34 — Outside the Box

by | Mar 18, 2018 | 8 comments

Good things happen by thinking outside the box. Norms are for normal people, and in the strange world of fishing, there aren’t many of those. At some point, every type of fly has been used against its intended purpose, because fly fishers are a creative bunch — not so normal, really — and the penchant for experimentation is urged on by the trout themselves. Everything works sometimes.

So here’s a list of flies and techniques that do double (or triple) duty.

Streamers as Nymphs

This one’s easy, and it’s in the playbook of many anglers. When stripping and swinging streamers isn’t working, try drifting them. It takes some mental discipline to let a long fly — designed for swimming — just bumble along with the current. Nothing is tougher than letting your streamer drift fifty feet without giving it some kind of motion. But give it a try.

To this notion, guys immediately bring up the idea of drifting buggers. Sure, that’s a good option. But try drifting sculpins, minnows and shiner patterns too. And crayfish? Oh yeah!

READ: Troutbitten | Modern Streamers — Too much motion? And are we moving them too fast?

Think of it this way . . . how many baitfish does a trout see in one day? What’s the over/under on that? I’d guess a pretty high number, honestly — probably well over a hundred. Trout spend most of their time holding a position in the river, and how many little minnows, baby trout, crayfish and sculpins drift or swim into the trout’s field of vision in one day? What percentage of those do the trout eat? Not many. Trout are not down there chasing every baitfish that crosses their path. They’re looking for vulnerable ones. They’re looking for dying or injured baitfish that provide an easy meal. So why not imitate that with a dead drift?

Nymphs as Streamers

I wouldn’t recommend jerk-stripping a #16 Pheasant Tail down and across the current, Kelly Galloup streamer style. But remember there’s more than a good handful of ways to fish streamers — it’s not all fast motion.

Some good books and articles have been penned about activating nymphs. When I purposely add motion to the nymphs, I tend to think of it as a slow, old-school-streamer style of tactic. I like fishing larger nymphs (like stoneflies) by jigging them slightly off the bottom, maybe a little tug around some wet logs, and short strips around the banks, especially during a stonefly emergence, where the nymphs crawl out of the water to shed their shucks. Fish on.

Wet flies as X, Y and Z

Wet flies can do anything. You can dead drift wets the same as nymphs, quick-strip them like small streamers or swing them like, well . . . wet flies. You can also fish unweighted wets like a dry.

Wet flies are the fly fisher’s swiss army knife. I’ve especially learned this while night fishing. With wets, I can cover all water levels and all angles with one style of fly. Good stuff.

Emergers, High or Low

The concept of emerger wasn’t even in focus a half decade ago. Oh, I’m sure anglers fished flies in the surface film quite a bit — many old school dry fly materials become easily waterlogged and ride pretty low pretty quickly. So there’s your emerger.

These days our fly catalogs have full pages of emergers. Some are designed to ride with part of the body under the surface while suspended by a wing or parachute post. Others are more like a wet fly that can easily break that surface and ride just underneath. Call ‘em emergers or not — who cares. Point is, some emergers make great nymphs too.

Rim Chung’s RS2 was originally a nymph, then it became popular as an emerger. The truth is, flies like the RS2 will catch trout up and down the water column.

Likewise, some nymphs . . . make great emergers — and that’s something else to think about.

Dries as Nymphs or Wets

This one gets a little eccentric, I suppose. But I’ve seen dry flies used successfully as nymphs enough times to make me a believer.

The best fishing I’ve ever had was the six weeks I spent fishing Cicada dries over wild browns. Along with local anglers, the trout were also making the most of a seventeen year event in Central Pennsylvania. Those six weeks of big fish mayhem is a story in itself. The trout were on, every day, from 9:00 am to about an hour before dark. They were on the lookout for big Cicadas, and they were aggressive about hitting two-inch long dry flies. It was predictable. And phenomenal.

Midway through another full day on the water, I caught up with my father-in-law’s friend. I was surprised to notice that Andy was nymphing, so I walked up behind him.

“What the hell are you doing nymphing during the greatest dry fly opportunity of our lives?” I asked.

Andy flipped the line and grabbed the fly with his reel hand.

“I’m nymphing the Cicada,” he said with a wink.

Andy explained that he’d seen multiple large browns slashing underneath the surface. He’d grown tired of the refusals that the big patterns often received, so he attached a split shot ahead of the big foam fly and nymphed it. I certainly couldn’t argue with his success. He landed a lot of good fish that day.

Streamers as Dry Flies

Whassat? Streamers as dries? Sure.

Take Lynch’s White Belly mouse, for example. Do trout really mistake it for a mouse? Who knows. But Tommy Lynch’s pattern is basically an articulated streamer with a front half designed to float. Genius.

And what about the Muddler Minnow? Tied to original form, it makes a great grasshopper or who-knows-what surface attractor. But throw a split shot in front of it, and you’ll get back down to the trout with your streamer.

No limits

It’s a recurring Troutbitten theme here — do what works. Fish on the fish’s terms, and try anything. Don’t let labels like dry fly, wet fly or streamer stop you from fishing a fly wherever and however it might work.

Fish hard, friends.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Dominick, Those of us who have spent decades fishing in the west all know that a sunken (usually with splitshot) grasshopper is way more effective than one fished on the surface. They are easier for the fish to take as they are completely helpless and there is sometimes no need for the fish to move at all, it’s just not as exciting as surface fishing with a visual strike. Same with caddies and mayfly as the adults get trapped in rough water and drowned during egg laying. Then there are the diving egg laying caddis. An elk hair caddis fished with split shot is an absolute killer, try a yellow one first.
    Regards, Phil

    • Nice. Thanks for sharing, Phil

  2. Never try to tell the fish what they should be eating – let them tell you. And never, ever tell the fish WHERE they are supposed to be, again let them tell you. Listen to the fish.

    • Good stuff

  3. Great post! Yes, always allow the fish to tell you what they want. Listen to the fish.

  4. I once fished a non weighted woolly bugger and before I had a chance to sink it a fish came up and slammed it off the surface. Must have looked like a cicada


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