There’s a difference between missing a trout and losing a trout. As I wrote in the previous installment of this Troutbitten short series, missing trout on streamers is usually the fish’s fault. I believe trout reject our flies on purpose. They’re curious enough to take a look, but they decide not to eat our fake at the last instant. (There are other reasons for misses too. See the article for more.) We set the hook, feel no contact with the fish and believe we missed our chance. But usually, there’s not much we can do about these refusals, other than try and make the next presentation even more convincing.
However, losing a trout is different. When you hook a fish, have it on for a few moments and then it comes off, that’s a lost fish. And more often than not, I believe the blame lies with the angler.
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Late last week, I geared up underneath my 4Runner’s hatch. Kneeling in shallow puddles, I laced my wading boots before I stood tall, zipped my raincoat and stepped out from the shelter of the hatch. With pure joy I looked up to the sky and watched big raindrops fall through yellow maple leaves. Some of them hit my face, and I just stood there, grinning to the heavens like Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption.
Yeah, that’s a little dramatic. But finally, after no significant rain for three months, we had enough of the wet stuff to bump the rivers. It was the perfect time for streamers, and I had two hours before the fading daylight would force my surrender.
The streamer bite did not disappoint. And in the first half hour, I had a handful of trout to the net. I also had about ten misses and something a little more frustrating — I’d lost a few fish. And one of them, in the high teens, I would have liked to have seen closer.
So when another good trout slipped the hook, I paused to regroup. No sense getting angry, after all. And I’d learned through the years that most issues can be solved with a little observation, some insight and a willingness to adjust.
Thinking back, every trout I’d lost was on top. These trout spit the hook when they were above the water or they were splashing on the surface. All of them were hooked for at least a couple seconds but remained buttoned for no more than five. Why? I’d horsed them in. And if I could just settle down a bit — if I could stay calm and allow these trout to get back underneath, I would be able to hold onto them.
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Problem | Solution
We all do it. Streamer fishing is fun. And a good streamer bite comes with a shot of adrenaline, especially when the strips are fast and aggressive. As we see a wild trout attack the fly, our natural reaction is one of excitement. We set the hook, and all too often we continue the fast and aggressive motions of our retrieve. The trout never has a chance to get back down through the water column, and we mistakenly fight the fish fast and near the surface. Unfortunately, that’s the worst place for a trout, if you want it to stay attached.
Trout are best fought in the lower two thirds of the water column. The riverbed is a bad place to fight a trout, and so is the surface. And I notice that these two places are where most losses occur.
In the rain the other evening, my excitement got the best of me, until I realized my mistake and finally corrected it. I settled down and changed my approach. Once the trout was hooked, I maintained tension but stopped myself from pulling the fish too high in the column. Instead, I set the hook and allowed things to calm down for a moment.
It made all the difference. And I lost just one trout the rest of the night.
There are a couple more points to be made here.
When fishing streamers, we fish stronger tippet than when we’re fishing other fly types. The leader is thicker. It flexes and stretches less. So pulling against the trout with our rod tip is amplified.
I first noticed this when night fishing for trout. It took me a full season to realize why I was losing so many fish. Answer: I was using twelve pound Maxima Chameleon as terminal tackle and a heavier rod. With much less flex in the system, my standard fish-fighting techniques were overkill, resulting in too much influence and unwelcome pressure on the trout.
This isn’t to suggest that a fight with any trout should be a long one. Not at all. I’m referring here to only the first few seconds after a fish is hooked. Let him swim back to the lower two-thirds of the water column. Avoid the barrel roll near the top. Let things calm down for a second, get your side pressure, and then fight him hard.
One More Thing
It’s the average-sized trout that seem to come unbuttoned more than the large ones. Anything in the upper teens and beyond has a big enough mouth that the larger hook of a streamer finds a solid home. I still try not to horse these fish in for the first few seconds, but most times, the extra weight of such a trout dampens whatever unnecessary pressure I apply.
Streamer fishing is a fun changeup from everything else we do on a fly rod. It’s not delicate. It’s not slow and methodical. It’s often about pulling large flies across currents rather than dead drifting small flies in one seam. It’s enjoyable. But our extra enthusiasm can cause too many lost fish until we realize our mistake. And that’s something I’m forced to remind myself time after time.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N