Have you ever been fishing when you realize that you are not going to succeed if you keep doing what you are doing? Well, my buddy Paul Dubas and I came to that conclusion on Saturday, so we switched methods.
We had started nymph fishing a stretch of the Tongue River near Ranchester, Wyo., and picked off a trout and several whitefish on copper Johns and golden stonefly patterns. The runs and pockets on the first stretch of water we fished had fast action on the nymphs, but as soon as we waded upstream to a slow-flowing, deep hole our success plummeted to zero. It seemed that the hole was fishless, but Paul and I continued making casts and floats along points littered with logs and other debris, but no action occurred.
We waded upstream to the next hole and started fishing it and encountered the same discouraging results. Paul announced, “This is streamer water; I bet there are some big browns in here that are just sitting back and waiting for a big meal to swim by.”
I agreed with Paul but was reluctant to switch from my nymph outfit to streamers. I told him, “Why don’t you try the next pool while I fish this one out?”
Paul waded upstream, rounded the bend and was soon out of sight. I continued to fish my nymphs with no success so I finally waded to shore and removed my nymphs, shot and strike indicator. I chopped my leader back 3 feet so that the diameter was about .015 inches and then tied on a 2½-foot section of .011 tippet and tied on a streamer pattern that Paul had introduced me to last October. He called it a black slump buster; a pattern that was invented by John Barr. I knew that the fly had done well last October, but spring streamer fishing can be a lot different from fall fishing.
“Oh well, here goes nothing,” I thought as I made my first cast toward an old submerged auto body. I was right for the first 20 casts — nothing happened. I waded upstream 5 yards or so and made an upstream cast where the water flowed over a shelf and dropped into the pool.
The current was rather slow so I was able to strip in line as the slump buster bumped along the shelf and dropped off. About 3 feet off the shelf I was jolted by a hard strike and was into a feisty rainbow that steamed around the pool and then came toward my net as it flopped about on the surface. In a few more seconds I netted a 16 ½-inch rainbow that was a tad thin — it evidently had just spawned.
I released the rainbow and made another cast into the water above the shelf. This time I had three tugs before a trout finally latched onto the fly. I fought the fish for 30 seconds or so before it flopped off the hook.
Three more casts to the general area each resulted in strikes but no hookups. Finally about 10 casts later a husky rainbow nailed the fly. He jumped a couple of times and sashayed around the pool and finally came to the net. He measured 17½ inches.
I was beginning to enjoy fishing streamers the hard way; you see, I normally fish streamers by casting across the stream to ambush points and letting the flies swing as I twitch them on the swing. I rarely fish streamers upstream and across, but the heavily weighted slump buster on my floating fly line and 8-foot leader seemed to be the right combination.
I waded up to the next pool which was at least 50 yards long and quite deep (8 feet or deeper). Again, I made upstream and across casts. I was pleased to pick off a couple of 16-inch brown trout out of the pool. I waded farther and made a long cast to the heart of the pool. After letting the fly settle for a couple of seconds I started stripping the line in. A heavy strike jolted me. I raised the rod and could feel a substantial fish shaking its head. I kept a tight line and applied as much pressure as I dared.
The fish came up and flopped on the surface. The white belly and light green flank indicated that I had a big rainbow on. The trout didn’t have a lot of fight in him, and in the matter of a couple of minutes I netted a male rainbow that measured 21 ½ inches. Again, I suspect that he was pretty shot from spawning.
I hadn’t seen Paul since we had split up so I started walking upstream to check on his success. I was anxious to share my strategy with him.
Paul was only 100 yards or so upstream from me but tucked around the bend. He greeted me and proclaimed, “Boy, the slump buster is sure working. I have caught four nice fish since I saw you last.”
After comparing notes, we discovered that we had been doing the exact same thing. Making upstream and across casts with the slump busters. It seemed that we did best at the head end of the holes or along shallow, fairly fast runs. With the water temperature at 42 degrees I would have thought it a bit too cold for trout to be chasing streamers, but I was wrong.
As we fished together for the next quarter of mile, I was tickled to see Paul make a cast at the edge of a current line along a pocket. He stripped line a couple of times and then his fly rod bent nearly double. The brown trout jumped a couple of times and then ran downstream in the current, but Paul eased the fish into the backwater, and I was able to slide the net under him. The sleek brown had nearly swallowed the slump buster. He measured 18 inches.
We encountered another big, deep hole and that yielded no fish to us until we got to the head end of the pool. A heavy tree branch rested in the water where the current broke into the pool. I fired a cast across the pool just downstream of the branch and started to strip in line. The second strip was cut short by a wrenching strike that darn near yanked the rod from my hand.
The big trout tried to burrow back under the branch, but I managed to wrestle him out of there. After a good tussle in the middle of the pool I was able to net the hook-jawed brown. He taped out at 21¾ inches. Paul took a couple photos of me holding the gnarly old brown, then I released it.
We fished on pleasantly happy with the success we had enjoyed. We picked off four more browns and felt that fishing doesn’t get much better. We agreed that fishing streamers early in the year can have great rewards whether we fished them conventionally or not.