- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - I tried to play down expectations, but it backfired.

Fishing on the Missouri River this fall, I told my boat mates that I rarely catch fish on the broad, flat water, despite its wealth of about 8,000 trout per mile.

When handed a rod rigged with a streamer, I had to double down and announce that me catching fish on streamers is even more unusual than me catching fish on the Missouri. I’m terrible at casting streamers, awkwardly lurching and ducking to avoid being hit by the heavy, sharp flies. It seemed, at the outset, that I would be cursed to have an incredibly poor day of fishing.

My dark assessment appeared even more probable given the gloomy weather. Low clouds were parked atop the surrounding rounded hills, making the scene look like one of those moody ancient Asian paintings of a cloud-shrouded river valley.

I was never so glad to be proven wrong.

Proved wrong

Helena fishing guide Garry Stocker of Big Sky Expeditions had me into trout about a half-hour from the boat launch - a fat, 16-inch chrome-bright rainbow trout. I had to get a photo of that fish, since it would surely be the only one I would catch all day. It was my proof that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

Stocker has a great measuring sticker applied to his boat that compared the size of the fish to different singing stars and actors. The sticker asks: How badass are you? A 6-inch or smaller fish is a Yanni, after the Greek instrumental musician. From there it goes up to a John Denver, the mellow “Rocky Mountain High” singer. Bigger fish rate as Christopher Walken, Charles Bronson, Brian O’Keefe and Steve McQueen - topping out at 26 inches. My fish was right in the Walken-Bronson range - 12 to 17 inches.

After reeling in an even bigger rainbow a bit later - a Steve McQueen - Stocker was beginning to question my assertions that I never caught fish on the Missouri. By the time I hauled in a feisty, leaping brown trout, I was being teased full-on, and rightfully so.

Here’s how

As he explained it to me, if I could cast 10 feet I should be catching fish. He also showed me the proper technique to strip the line - slow and fairly steady. My boat mate was getting far more strikes, although at first a lot fewer hookups. She was stripping the line a lot faster.

His other tip for fishing the Missouri was to use a smaller streamer. Although big flies and lures tend to catch big fish, Stocker said he likes to fish with a size 8 streamer. The one I was casting was tied by his wife, Joan, to mimic the Thin Mint fly pattern. It was an olive green cone-headed streamer.

Try streamers elsewhere

Now is a good time to fish streamers on the Yellowstone River, as well.

“Fall is my personal favorite season, and is a great time of year to be out on the water,” writes Chris Fleck, of Stillwater Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters, in his recent newsletter.

“The browns are starting to get into pre-spawn mode and behavior. Sometimes a meaty streamer pattern pulled through a brown’s holding water will be all it takes to set off an aggressive response. They will also be more likely to run down a streamer, too. I’ve often seen a nice brown follow a streamer almost all the way to the boat before deciding enough is enough and whacking it.”

Fleck recommends fishing a 7- to 8-weight fly rod with a 200 to 300 grain sinking line. The sinking line gets the streamer down into the strike zone more quickly.

“A 6-weight rod with a sink tip line will suffice on smaller rivers, but the heavier gear will make a noticeable difference on the bigger rivers,” he said.

Float fishing is the best way to tie into trout with streamers, Fleck advised. He recommended casting a long line to the bank and retrieving it through the trough.

“The bigger fish are not going to be found up in the water column, but will be down on the bottom, resting and most likely not even feeding,” he said.

Maybe the reason streamer fishing has been so unproductive for me in the past is that I’ve tied streamers on to my floating line. Fleck said when stripping a streamer on floating line, the fly shoots up in the water column making it look unnatural.

Big flies

Fleck is an advocate of big, articulated flies in the fall.

“The articulation along with a stripping and a pausing retrieve gives the streamer an extremely natural look and motion,” he said.

But he also likes the old standard - a version of the tried and true Woolly Bugger, tied by Kory Kober, known as The Grinch.

“This thing is a fish magnet around here,” Fleck said. “I can’t tell for sure if it’s the red Flashabou, the heavier beadhead, or some other material in the recipe that does it. All I know is that it out-produces any other streamer in the box-routinely.”

The streamer in a size 6 does a good job of mimicking a darting baitfish in the water column, or a sculpin when fished near the bottom, he said.

Setting the hook

Maybe one reason my fishing partner on the Missouri River was missing so many strikes was because of the way she set the hook. Fleck recommends using the strip set.

“On occasion a fish will bump the streamer to stun it before hitting it a second time, or there will be short take on the tail of the fly, with the fish missing the business end of the hook altogether,” he said. “Setting with a strip instead of rod lift will result in more hookups as it keeps the streamer moving and darting naturally and the fish is much more likely to continue and make another hit on the fly.”

Fleck recommends a short, heavy leader - 4 to 5 feet of 0X or 1X material.

“Anglers who persist in trying to throw streamers with smaller, longer leaders better wear head protection as it is next to impossible to properly load and cast a weighted streamer without it loosing energy and collapsing in the forward cast right about the time it’s coming forward behind the angler’s head,” he said.

He also said a tandem setup, with a smaller streamer trailed behind a larger streamer, can sometimes lead to more strikes.

“Another technique is to drop a nymph of some sort, like a Prince or leggy pattern off of the back of the streamer, with a short section of heavy tippet,” he said. “This isn’t a bad idea when dead drifting a streamer instead of stripping it through the water.”

As a final note, Fleck said anglers shouldn’t be discouraged by bad weather.

“Oftentimes the nastier the weather, the better the streamer fishing,” he said.

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The original story can be found on the Billings Gazette’s website: https://bit.ly/ZQ6zJX

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

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