The Meat Eater Minority — Streamer Fishing Myth v Truth

by | Oct 26, 2020 | 26 comments

The other day, I came across a streamer article with the following headline: “There are few fish that won’t crush a well-presented streamer.”

That’s absolute nonsense.

Rarely does a population of trout fall all over themselves to eat a streamer, no matter how well it’s presented. And I think it’s unfair to advance the notion that fish are out there waiting to pounce on your streamer if you can just get the presentation right.

The opposite of the article headline is true: There are ONLY a few fish that will eat a well-presented streamer. There, I fixed it for ya.

Streamer anglers must deal with a challenging level of failure, day in and day out, from short hits and drive byes to slow days where it seems like the river is barren of life. The streamer game is one of persistence.

READ: Troutbitten | Patience v Persistence

There are indeed bite windows of activity, where trout leave cover and safety to charge a streamer as it streaks through the water. Sometimes the streamer bite is just on. Trout dart and dive, chase and swoop to attack our flies with reckless abandon, and these are memorable, rare times when special things can happen. But the average day on the water may hold no such opportunities.

Instead, the streamer fisherman spends most of his time hunting, searching, covering water and casting with intent. Some adopt the strategy of casting to every piece of structure and every likely lie, while others choose narrow targets, with fewer casts and a refined approach. Both styles require an angler who is dedicated to covering water. Because that’s the only way streamer fishing is successful.

READ: Troutbitten | Cover Water — Catch Trout

River is learning to climb streamside trees.

Few and Far . . .

Meat eaters are the minority.

Trout of any size may take a swipe at a wandering sculpin, but the true predators — those seeking a big meal — are few and far between. Bottom line: Not many wild trout in the river are willing to eat something as big as a streamer. So we cover water, searching for the players, as Galloup puts it.

It’s fall time at my back-deck grill. And after I eat a full rack of saucy ribs and a loaded baked potato, I’m not all that hungry for a Porterhouse, no matter how much I love it. And trout that whack a couple crayfish may sit tight for a long time before hunting again. The players, then, just aren’t hungry all that often.

We can adapt our tactics to this truth by presenting streamers closer to the trout, with smaller, more natural patterns, and movements that bring an easy meal to the predator instead of asking trout to chase something down. Sometimes that turns the trick. But this strategy still requires covering a lot of water to be effective, because we still have to find trout willing to eat the big meal.

READ: Troutbitten | Streamers as an Easy Meal

Every river is different, and stocked trout often give chase to attractive presentations more than natural ones. Rivers with a low density of mayflies and midges may hold trout that are more anxious to hit a well-placed streamers. But streamer fishing yields fewer results than other fly fishing tactics presented with precision. That’s part of the charm of fishing streamers.

So tie on a long fly, and set a pace to cover a bunch of water. Look for the players. But always remember this: Meat eaters are the minority.

READ: Troutbitten | Streamer Fishing Myth v Truth — Eats and Misses

READ MORE : Troutbitten | Category | Streamers

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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26 Comments

  1. There’s not much difference between streamer fishing and spin fish.

    Reply
    • Hey Doug,

      I don’t even know what that means. There are so many ways to fish a streamer and so many ways to spin fish. I don’t know what you are comparing.

      I grew up spin fishing with minnows. The way we fished those minnows was more like the way I drift nymphs now. And the way I fish streamers is more like what I did with Rapalas on the spinning rod. But not always, because I do a lot of crossover technique with streamers — part nymphing presentation and part streamer.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
    • Doug, you are flat wrong about that. Streamer fishing is more difficult than spin fishing, and not nearly as productive, except when conditions are right for streamers.

      Reply
  2. Dom,

    Great article. I’ve observed fish behavior before that seems they aren’t hungry anymore. Until I read this, I didn’t think about it that way, I thought they were spooked. I guess eating a sculpin or large crayfish can fill up the trout.

    I grew up fishing for largemouth bass. They are never full. Have to change my thinking about trout.

    Reply
    • Hi Lou.

      Ha! So true. Bass are way different than trout that way.

      I do believe trout become satiated many times. During hatch season, I feel like it happens a lot around. They’ve had their fill, and they’ll just wait a while to eat again. That’s why, often, the best fishing of the year comes far outside of “hatch season.” With less available food, trout are more willing to eat our flies. I think it’s that simple.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
    • You can analyze streamers as much as you want if they aren’t working we have plenty other ways to fish trout Hopper dropper straight nimping dry flies. Knowing when the change up that’s the key that puts fish in the net.

      Reply
  3. This is so spot-on. Thanks for clearing this up for people. I often estimate about 5% or less of a trout population will eat a streamer. So in a pool with 100 trout you might get one or two players.

    Reply
    • Thank, Tom.

      I agree with that. Five percent or less sounds about right.

      Do you think trout respond more to streamers generally in the freestone waters up your way more than the limestoners here?

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  4. Love that back deck cooking analogy Dom. Very creative indeed !

    Reply
    • Makes me hungry though. And all I have to grill tonight is chicken wings.

      Dom

      Reply
  5. I read somewhere that 70% of a trout diet is baitfish. Never seems that way when I am throwing streamers though!

    Reply
    • Oh my. Yeah, that would be another article that I disagree with. Around here, there’s just no way that 70 percent of our wild trout’s diet is baitfish. Of course, the river, the region, the time of year, etc., all factor in. But I really don’t know anywhere at any time where seventy percent would hold.

      I’ve also killed and gutted a lot of trout through the years. (Yes, sometimes I eat trout, but not the wild ones.) I always cut open the stomach, out of curiosity. Trout eat little brown things a lot more than baitfish. That’s my experience.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
    • Jon, that may be true for trout that live in lakes, but not streams. I always check the stomach contents of trout that I kill. I’ve probably killed a dozen or so wild trout (I stopped eating wild trout 25 years ago) caught in streams in my 44 year career. I never found a minnow, but about half of those trout had crayfish in their stomachs, along with tiny mayfly nymphs. One had a grasshopper, too.

      In this comment section I previously posted a summary about trout food research that was done in Western N. Carolina streams. Over 300 trout stomachs were sampled, and baitfish were only found in about 15 trout, and 12 of those were brown trout. A total of 84 brown trout stomachs were sampled. The biggest brown was 23″ long, and it had eaten two crayfish and one adult mayfly.

      Reply
  6. Actually don’t know if buggers fishing would qualify as streamers,since largest is #8,but can absolutely vouch for fact get way more fish on smaller buggers then ever did on big streamers. Not sure what fish even think is,but on days that hook 7,8 fish,could care less!!

    Reply
  7. A well written article by an observant fly fisherman . I fish streamers on occasion and I have to say I have always caught more fish on nymphs and emergers. I have changed the size of the streamers I tie to much smaller patterns. Only then was I more successful with streamer patterns. Most of the streams I fish in central New York don’t hold large populations of big fish ..so I adapted by tying smaller flies.

    Reply
  8. Something to think about for sure… I read that same article and thought it was a bit off.

    Reply
  9. Dom, Nice piece you have here, some of the comments from others make me chuckle which I always welcome a good laugh. I don’t subscribe to any of today’s magazines any more as well, you know most are on par with Scott’s toilet paper. But back to my chuckle, I’d really like a good laugh o if you wouldn’t mind pointing out these articles you vaguely describe I’d sure appreciate it. I will say this, as an angler who considers himself well rounded, but often enjoys what streamer fishing entails, I have no problem at all with chasing trout in the minority “meat eater” category. It’s a personal choice as to how one wishes to fish. I will caution those reading this however, the people who throw out absolutes, statistics and other jargon to ride the lets take a poke at streamer fishing are typically those that don’t have the intestinal fortitude to grind it out for an outing and stick to the technique at hand as it doesn’t quite put as frequent as a bend in the rod as one would like on many days; and will in short order drop the “big fly” and resort back to that pair of nymphs. And you know what? That’s totally cool too as many need to realize their aren’t absolutes in fishing other than the fact that you may catch a fish or may not. What matters most at the end of the day is that whatever one chooses to do, that it is absolutely enjoyable; and that is precisely why I fish. Thanks for the article, and point of view and I hope to hear about these silly articles you speak of. Rich Strolis

    Reply
  10. Thank you for this excellent article. Your statement in the second to last paragraph regarding low density of mayflies making fish more likely to hit streamers is a good point. I have found that successful streamer fishing also involves identifying those waters that include the large food organisms, both in the water and in the land around the water, in a large enough biomass that could support a above average number of large trout that got large by feeding on these animals . Much like dry fly and nymph fishing, knowing what food is available helps me determine if streamer fishing will be effective or not and what streamer to use. If the largest in river biomass is small/medium invertebrates, such as mayflies, stoneflies, etc.. in an area that would not support a large number of terrestrial food items, such as running through a pine forest, versus a river that has a healthy in river biomass of larger invertebrates, such as crayfish, smaller fish, and running through an area also rich in terrestrial animals, such as mice, voles, snakes, grasshoppers, crane flies, crickets, etc.., such as a large meadow or prairie, I know my chances of getting big trout on big streamers is much better in the meadow/prairie river ecosystem.

    Reply
  11. Informative and entertaining. Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Dom,

    Your article reminds me of research that was done in the 1950s to determine the eating habits of trout in Western North Carolina. The researchers recorded the stomach contents of trout caught by anglers. They found that trout rarely ate other fish, but crayfish showed up quite frequently in browns and rainbows. I think the Bunny Bullet Sculpin could easily be mistaken for a crayfish.

    The article about the research is no longer available for free, but here is a summary. The sub-legal trout that were sampled were caught by electrofishing or poisoning a small stream. I forget which. The summary has a separate section for each trout species (rainbow, brook, and brown).

    WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA TROUT FOODS

    These are the results of a study done in 1953. Most of the trout stomachs were obtained from the creels of recreational anglers. The researchers captured some of the rainbow trout by fly fishing (tough job), mostly with dry flies. The purpose of the study was to show the importance of preserving stream habitat, but it also contains useful information for fly anglers.

    A some of the trout were pretty small, so I assume that these were mostly, if not all, wild trout.

    Rainbow Trout (3 to 12+ inches long)

    Sample size: 241 stomachs

    Most important foods in descending order (84%):
    Terrestrial insects
    Caddis fly larvae
    Mayfly nymphs
    Two winged fly (midge) larvae

    Other Foods:
    Adults of aquatic insects (8%)
    Stonefly nymphs (5%)

    Ants, wasps, and bees were the most eaten terrestrials, followed by 2-winged flies, then beetles.

    Caddis, mayflies, stoneflies were the most eaten aquatic adults

    22 rainbows had eaten crayfish

    Only one rainbow had eaten a small fish

    Seasonal Preferences:

    Midge larvae were mostly eaten in the winter, but they were also important in July-August and September-October

    Aquatic insect nymphs and larvae dominated in late winter and early spring

    Terrestrial insects dominated in the fall

    Large numbers of the adult stonefly Leuctra sara were eaten in January and February

    Caddis flies were the most abundant aquatic adults eaten in all periods except November-December and January-February

    Caddis fly larvae were the most eaten immature aquatic insect in May-June, September-October, and November-December

    Mayfly nymphs were most important in March-April

    Brook Trout (19 7 inches)

    Sample size: 33 stomachs

    Most important foods in descending order:
    Terrestrial insects 47% *
    Caddis fly larvae 27%
    Mayfly nymphs
    Two winged fly (midge) larvae

    Other Foods:
    Adults of aquatic insects 5%
    Stonefly nymphs 5%
    Snails 4%
    Only one minnow was found
    Two salamanders were found

    * Seven brook trout captured in the month of June contained most of the terrestrials

    Brown Trout (7 to 23 inches long)

    Sample size: 84 stomachs

    Most important foods in descending order:
    Terrestrial insects
    Snails
    Caddis flies
    Mayflies

    Adult beetles were the most eaten surface food

    Adult aquatic insects were infrequently taken, and in limited numbers in this order: caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies

    Caddis fly larvae, mayfly nymphs, and stonefly nymphs were consumed in that order, and comprised 27% of the foods eaten

    Crayfish were eaten by 24 larger brown trout

    Fish had been eaten by 12 brown trout

    Salamanders had been eaten by two trout

    Rodents had been eaten by two trout

    Summary

    All three species of trout ate more caddis larvae than any other type of immature aquatic insect. Mayfly nymphs ranked second, and midge larvae were third.

    The brown trout was the most frequent surface feeder (54%), followed by the brook trout (52%), and the rainbow (41%).

    Terrestrials are a very important food in the warm months.

    A crayfish fly could be a better choice than a streamer for big brown trout.

    Adult aquatic insects were not a major source of food, no doubt because they are not often available. However we know that trout like them when they are available. Caddis flies were the most eaten adult, aquatic insect.

    Reply

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