Trout lay with their bellies on the bottom of the river more than anywhere else. It’s a resting zone with slower currents and a place to hide or blend in. The riverbed is also the breakfast, lunch and dinner table for our favorite fish. It’s where the bugs are. It’s where the baitfish live too. And we’ve all seen that getting our streamer deeper usually elicits more strikes than riding near the surface.
Want to get deep? Want to be sure the fly is low enough? Then touch the bottom and hold it there for a moment before lifting, drifting or stripping again. Try the Touch and Go.
Be ready, and hold on tight.
The minnow game of my youth was fun. And among the many strategies we practiced, sometimes we let the split shot fall all the way, to rest on the bottom of the river. The live, strung minnow, just six to twelve inches beyond the shot, was taken down by the weight. And as the creature reached the sand or rocks, it looked for a safe place to hide and rest.
Just as the minnow started to settle, or when it struggled to gain its equilibrium in the bottom flow, we’d pick up the shot and bounce it downstream before allowing it to fall and settle again. In the right time and place, the technique was a winner. Trout would rip into the baitfish just as it settled — or sometimes just as I moved the minnow again.
Eventually, what I did with that minnow became the Touch and Go with a long fly.
When my boys were very young, maybe about four and six years of age, I’d take them to the nearby airport, just for something unique to see and do. And one time, we watched a single engine Cessna approach the runway before it touched down and lifted off again. The unexpected sight surprised both boys. My oldest son turned to me with wide eyes and said, “Dad, maybe he forgot something, and he’s going back for it.” I chuckled about that for a long time.
In aviation, the touch-and-go is a common way for pilots-in-training to practice landings. The plane touches down on the runway and then takes off again without coming to a full stop. Pilots often circle around to practice this again and again.
With Joey and Aiden that day, I understood just enough about airports and planes to know that this was called a touch and go landing. I was also fishing streamers a lot, every time I hit the river. And I’d been working on transferring that specific minnow tactic from my youth, of resting the minnow and then moving it. The two concepts blended with the boys and the airport that day, and the Touch and Go has been an effective streamer presentation for me ever since.
Water For It
The Touch and Go isn’t for every water type, nor is it for every river. If your favorite creek has a bunch of submerged wood wedged against an uneven, rocky bottom, then this will never be your favorite tactic.
Early on, I read articles and books about crawling the streamer along the bedrock. It sounded like a great idea. But in the waters I was fishing at the time, it was simply impossible to touch like that without hanging up on every other cast.
Some rivers have rocks covered with weeds. Some are coated with algae. Many places are loaded with logs and fallen branches along the riverbed. And none of these are a good match for the Touch and Go.
Sandy, gravely sections of river are best. Look for anywhere that the fly might stand a good chance of touching down and resting without getting stuck or picking up vegetables all the time. Some of my favorite rivers are a perfect match, and some are the worst. It doesn’t take much testing to find out where this presentations is best.
Flies For It
Any streamer can work with the Touch and Go, so I often mix it in with my rotation of presentations, no matter what fly is tied to the end of the line. But when I want to focus on the Touch and Go, there are a few things I consider.
When fishing slower tactics that give trout long moments to see the fly, I choose small to medium sized patterns. For me, that’s between one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half inches. I save the larger flies for faster tactics. A bigger fly is just more for a trout to reject, especially if they see it for a while.
Because the fly actually rests on the bottom for a moment, I choose flies that have built-in motion without being stripped. Marabou and rabbit fur are hard for a trout to ignore while the fibers wave and flutter in even the slowest currents. Most streamers incorporate materials that move, but for example, I wouldn’t choose something like a Clouser Minnow for the Touch and Go. (Maybe I should.)
I rarely choose articulated patterns for this technique. Because they are mostly larger than the sizes mentioned above, and that second hook doubles the chances that the fly will hang up.
Jigs and other flies than invert seem to be the perfect match here. And, no doubt, they are some of my favorite choices. I like a Craft Fur Jiggy and a Bunny Flash for the Touch and Go, and I mix in the tactic with what I consider the crossover style of streamer fishing. With a jig, I like to do what we call the Sawyer pivot. The head touches, and with the right current, the fly rotates (pivots) on the ball jig head, as the materials catch the current. The Craft Fur Jiggy is perfect for this.
But we don’t need jig flies for the Touch and Go. I routinely make it work with nearly every streamer in my box. One of my favorites is the beadless version of the Bunny Bullet Sculpin.
Real sculpins, of course, are bottom dwellers. They are relatively poor swimmers, and they seem to be a big trout’s favorite meal. I fish the Bunny Bullet with heavy split shot placed six inches up. Imagine an upstream presentation, where the Bunny Bullet now drifts and bounces back downstream. As I’m in touch with the split shot, the fly has six inches of freedom to move and rotate around the shot — free to move where the currents might take the fly. And when I allow the split shot to rest on the bottom, the streamer may swing around, from a head downstream orientation to a head upstream position, doing its own kind of Sawyer pivot. It’s a damn good look.
The Touch and Go is another tactic that can be performed with many different streamer rigs, but it’s perhaps best done with a Mono Rig or tight line system. A fly line with a short leader pulls on the streamer almost constantly, but if you are close enough to overcome that influence, the tactic is viable.
However you rig up, the key is to use enough weight, either in the fly or on the line. (For me, that’s at least a gram, even in low water.) This allows the streamer not just to reach the bottom but also to rest there.
How long should it rest? I don’t wait long. Maybe it’s my impatience, but the Touch and Go is more of a pause for me than a rest. Most times, the fly stops for a couple seconds or less.
What happens next? Do something that lifts the fly from the bottom a few inches. With my rig, it’s usually a rod-tip lift. And I follow that with a short strip or glide. Sometimes, I use the Touch and Go a few times throughout a long drift. But more often my drift length is shorter, and I have room for just one or two cycles.
A hapless, resting fly in the proximity of a big wild trout gets attention. It’s vulnerable. I’ve seen trout pick the fly off the bottom as it rests, but that is rare. Usually, the trigger to eat is when the fly lifts from its rest. That’s often the moment when a good trout just can’t take it anymore . . .
Visualizing your streamer is a next-level skill that produces results. In fact, when I fish any fly under the water and out of sight, I immediately begin to imagine what that fly looks like down there, where it is and where it’s going next.
Sometimes, I don’t drift or strip the streamer all the way through. Instead, I plot a course for the fly, looking through the water while reading the river’s structure. And I look for an appropriate landing zone for the Touch and Go.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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