By: Matt Murphy
It’s March on the Henry’s Fork, and some of the best fishing of the year is about to begin. Rising water temperatures and singing birds herald the start of some of the most fantastic trout fishing in the west. The Rainbows are about to spawn and the Browns are starting to prowl in search of forage fish. This is the pre-runoff period when big fish are hungry and ready to strike anything you put in front of them. In my opinion, early spring fishing is some of the most exciting fishing of the year, especially when talking about streamers.
Streamer fishing is easily attempted yet difficult to master; it takes time on the water, experimentation, studying and understanding the behavior of trout. Fly Fishing may be more art than science, but there are certainly specific factors that account for great fishing. There are four main factors to consider when streamer fishing: timing, weather, fly selection, and most importantly presentation!
As most anglers know timing can mean everything to achieve great fly fishing whether it is timing a hatch, time of day, time of the year, etc. Here on the Henry’s Fork March and April are some of the best months hands down for catching big trout on streamers. This time of year is pre-runoff, which means that the water is clear yet warming up, so the trout are starting to get more active. Big fish are moving around in search of food because it has been a long winter and they are starving. Trophy trout need to consume a lot of food to sustain their weight, which means the bigger the fish the bigger the appetite! Good news for streamer junkies because the biggest fish eat meat, and when the water starts to warm up the big boys come out to play. Although time of year is important for great streamer fishing, time of day may be even more crucial. Early morning and late evening hours are always going to be more productive when streamer fishing, especially when targeting trophy trout. You may catch small fish on streamers during the middle of the day, but you are not likely to get the biggest fish in the river. In fact, some of the largest fish in the river only feed at night, which makes you wonder just how big is the biggest trout in the Henry’s Fork??? Although veteran streamer fisherman may be able to catch fish all day long, I suggest concentrating on the morning and evening hours for the best action.
Streamer fishing rain or shine! Weather conditions play a major role in the behavior of trout, and varying conditions require, you to adjust your streamer tactics. Crummy days always seem to produce the best streamer fishing, and that is because trophy trout are not as wary when the weather is bad. Large trout are extremely wary by nature, and in bright conditions big shadows and clear water make fooling them much more challenging. The dark is your friend when fooling trophy trout, if the trout cannot see you they are much more likely to feed. Some of my best days of streamer fishing have occurred in pouring rain, howling wind, and heavy snow. Sometimes braving the weather can give you a sweet reward.
Fly Selection is not the most crucial factor to success, but it helps you greatly increase your odds if you know the correct streamer to use at the proper time. Knowing takes the guesswork out of fly selection and that is the difference between the average angler and an expert fisherman. My streamer selection is divided into two categories, attractors and imitators. Attractors should consist of flashy patterns that have a lot of movement, and larger profiles. Imitators are made to look more natural to the forage fish you are trying to resemble such as minnows, sculpin, crayfish, leeches and juvenile trout. Using these two groups I organize my streamers based on three key points: size, profile, and color. Knowing how to pick from these three categories will make or break you on your streamer fishing. Before I start fishing, I will pre-select some patterns based on the predominant types of forage fish that the trout will be keying in on and also based on what the weather is doing at that given moment. Light conditions and water clarity are two factors I use to choose the color pattern I will start out with. Although the saying goes “bright day bright fly,” and vice versa experienced streamer junkies know that this is not always the case. Every day is different and one pattern may rip fish one day and get you skunked the next. Generally, on bright days I use yellows, whites, and olives; but on dark days I focus on blacks, browns, and olive. In my experience olive is by far the most productive color any time of the year. So if you don’t have a clue, try olive it is my “go-to” color. The best way to learn is by putting in hours on the water and to always keep thinking outside the box. The worst thing you can do as an angler is limit yourself to one way of doing things. Do not be afraid to try new things, this is the only way you will continue to learn and improve your skills.
Presentation is more important than any other factor in fly fishing, even if you have a perfect imitation of what the trout are feeding on, if the fly is not presented in a natural manner the fish is not going to eat it. There are hundreds of presentations which can be used to effectively catch trout on streamers but I am going to share two techniques that work on the Henry’s Fork and have proven to be successful over the years for myself and others whom I have learned from. The first is the classic “pounding the bank” technique which certainly has its application on any river you fish. For those who are unfamiliar with this, it means to literally cast at the banks and strip the fly back towards you. Use rapid twitches and short strips, working the structure around rocks and logs where the big trout may be holding, if you do this you will catch fish. The second method is the “swinging” method. This presentation works well when you are trying to thoroughly cover a stretch of water and target transitional zones such as drop off points, shelves, and deeper water. Swinging the fly allows you to get down to the trout in deeper water, but also present the fly to the largest number of fish possible in a given stretch of river. To present your streamer with a simple swing one usually begins by casting the fly at an upstream angle or straight across, and then placing downstream mends throughout the drift as the fly travels downstream. Swinging is probably my favorite method for catching trout on streamers, I like to mend my line downstream so there is a huge bow in it and then give short rapid strips so that the fly is coming downstream head-on or broad side at the fish. I believe this looks the most natural to the trout as most injured prey do not swim back upstream against the current. These techniques have worked well for me and my clients when streamer fishing on the Henry’s Fork.
Streamer Sections on the Henry’s Fork
For early spring streamer fishing on the Henry’s Fork anglers will want to focus on specific areas and sections of the river. The Box Canyon is open to year round fishing, and provides one of the best stretches of streamer water on the Henry’s Fork however I would not recommend float fishing in March as the water levels may not yet be high enough to navigate this section. The best streamer sections to focus on in the spring would be the water from Warm River to Ashton and anything below the Ashton Dam down towards St. Anthony. (FYI the section from Ashton Dam to Vernon Bridge is CLOSED until Memorial weekend) Although the trout seem to average larger below the Ashton Dam do not forget that the state record brown trout that weighed 27lbs. was caught out of the Ashton Reservoir section in 2007!
The Henry’s Fork is a diverse river with an abundance of aquatic insects and forage food, which is why it produces some of the finest trout in the world. Figuring out how to fool these fish takes time and practice, but the key to mastering streamer fishing is found in understanding the behavior of trout.
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