This will make some fly fishing traditionalists gasp and retreat a few yards. I think even some of the more liberal-minded experimentalists out there may cringe deeply: I’ve spent a good bit of time fishing in-line spinners and Rapalas on a fly rod. Okay, shake that off. Now let’s talk about it.
I grew up fishing gear and bait, and I like to think I was pretty handy with the spinning rod. From elementary school through my late teens, small lures and bait (mostly fathead minnows) were my familiar tools for putting trout in the net and the frying pan. Once the spring crowds tapered off, my access to live minnows was limited, as the local bait shops stopped carrying them until next year. I didn’t live close enough to a healthy stream to make trapping my own swimming bait a good option. So in early June, I turned to in-line spinners like Mepps, Panther Martins and Rooster Tails. To lesser extent I also stocked a few smaller Rapalas in my worn out, tan fishing vest.
Honesty, I never fished spinners very well until I joined my classmate, Mark Mouser, on a small trout stream after school. We spent a shady evening shooting shiny metals under the hemlocks. And what Mark showed me in those few hours opened up a world of opportunity. I caught more trout on spinners than ever before. And what I learned that day, I still use to great effect with streamers. I’ll get to that . . .
Mark taught me to present the lures upstream. Throw a cast mostly up and sometimes slightly across the currents. Then reel and retrieve fast enough to keep the blade of the spinner turning — usually a little faster than the current. Mark also taught me to keep the spinner moving, never stop its progress downstream and only rarely change speeds. It was deadly.
Fishing with spinners was fun, especially on the small to medium sized streams of the Pennsylvania backcountry. And I learned that both wild and stocked trout fell for the same presentation. In fact, after learning from Mark, I performed just one trick with those spinners, and I rarely varied the presentation. (Those were simple times.) The challenge became how well I could place the cast. Too close to the trout, and they would spook. Too far away, and I might not have a chance to pull the lure into the undercut. Accuracy was the key.
I learned to keep the spinner near the bottom but off the rocks, by controlling for depth with the angle of my rod tip. I used 6lb Berkley Trilene, (again, simpler times) and had direct connection, with no significant sag in the line — full control over the course of the spinner.
So you can see what’s coming, right?
About twenty years after I learned to fish spinners with Mark, I was comfortable enough and defiant enough with a fly rod to tie a small metal lure to the end of my streamer leader and satisfy my curiosity. It’s true. I care nothing about tradition.
So I’m not here to tell you to stock Mepps and Rooster tails in you fly box. After a brief period of experimentation, I whittled my own selection down to about three homemade spinners that rarely see the sunlight but do remain deep in a vest pocket — just for those weird days.
But what I learned by fishing the spinners on a fly rod is what I want to share with you. Specifically, the endless retrieve. Because it works very well for streamers.
Remember that Mark taught me to keep the streamer moving downstream at one pace, without pause. Now think about the way you fish a streamer. You strip it, right? Strip, strip, jerk, strip, strip, jig, strip. And at the end of every strip, there’s a pause when you let go of the line and re-grasp it further ahead (preparing for the next strip). That pause, and the look that it gives the streamer, is completely different than what Mark showed me at fourteen years old.
So, somewhere along the line of my own streamer experimentation, I started thinking about how to replicate the endless retrieve, without pause, that was so effective on the gear rod. I was already fishing a Mono Rig, so what I describe above (direct connection, no sag, contact and full control) was at my hands on a fly rod. I knew that a small spinner weighed no more than the medium streamers I fished, so I tied on a black and gold Panther Martin with a Davy and started slinging some hardware.
Trout ate it. And over the next six months, I learned a couple things. First, and most importantly, I learned the skill of the endless retrieve. And second, I learned that in-line spinners don’t really catch more trout than well-fished streamers.
To perform the endless retrieve, use the rod tip to lead the
spinner fly and keep it moving between strips. Keep the fly traveling at the same speed.
It’s not as easy as it seems. Again, both the speed and the angle of retrieve should remain consistent. So when the line hand lets go, the rod tip must move at the same rate as the retrieve and in the same plane. Then as the next strip starts, the rod tip pauses again. Eventually, the two work hand in hand to achieve a constant, endless retrieve.
Like anything else in fishing, you can get the tactic pretty close and have some success, or you can dig deep into the details, refine it and triple your production.
You need not fish a Mono Rig to make this happen, either. While using a fly line and standard leader, the endless retrieve can be reproduced by simply being attentive to the principles — one constant speed and one angle.
In truth, using in-line spinners helped me learn the endless retrieve. The rotating blade of the spinner pulses back through the line, allowing the angler to feel the speed of the lure against the water — faster pulses equal faster downstream progress. But I don’t need the spinners anymore. I use visual markers on my streamer leader, building both a sighter and a Backing Barrel into the leader. I also fish a small white streamer on a tag, about two feet up from my point fly. All of this gives me outstanding visibility and feedback about my rig — I know what my streamer is doing near the bottom. And by watching and working with all those visible indicators, I use a combination of strips and rod tip leading to create an endless retrieve.
I suppose I could write a lot more into a description of the endless retrieve, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The concept is simple — keep the streamer moving at the same rate and same angle for as long as possible, all the way back to your position. With that objective in mind, making it happen is pretty easy once you’re on the water. Then you can spend the next couple lifetimes refining it.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N