Are you a streamer junkie? Is the Tug your drug? Do you spend all year dreaming about gray autumn days and vicious takes from belligerent brown trout?
If the answer is yes, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the “Bump”.
We’ve all been there. You made a great cast. Your fly sets up at the right depth. The current takes hold of your line, and you feel the pressure build all the way into the cork of your rod. You begin to retrieve your line with deft strips, bringing life into your fly, and there it is. That moment when you connect with all your hopes and dreams at the end of the line.
But, what follows isn’t what you had hoped and dreamed for. It’s not a storied battle with a gnarled-faced brown trout. A heroic net job. A steely-eyed grip and grin shot that.
Nope. All you got was a Bump. And then there was nothing.
Many anglers count the Bump as a loss. But, it doesn’t have to be.
If all you get are Bumps some days, and you want to convert more of those Bumps into hopes and dreams, here are 3 Tips to Up Your Streamer Game.
Keep that Tip near the Water
Streamer fishing is unique among fly techniques because we impart life into our flies, enticing the take of a predatory trout through a tight line.
Sure, you can “Dead Drift” a streamer like a nymph or a dry fly. But, most of the time we are making them swim by swinging or stripping.
Whether you fish streamers on a static swing, or with a stripped retrieve, the position of your rod tip is very important to maintaining contact with your fly. A rod tip that is held too high while stripping or swinging will result in a length of slack line extending from your rod to the water. This slack line is a killer of hopes and dreams, and can be the difference between a Bump and a hooked fish.
By keeping the rod tip pointed at or near the water it’s easier to stay in touch with your fly and eliminate excess slack in your line. Every time you strip your line that movement will translate directly to your fly, and when you do elicit a strike you will be more likely to convert it into a hooked fish.
Slow it Down
Streamer fishing is one of the most active games that we can play with a fly rod. With all of that casting and stripping there’s a lot going on.
Many times the stakes are high as our targets are often the biggest fish we will chase all year.
It’s easy to get a little carried away. All it takes is one ferocious grab, and you’ll be stripping that fly like it owes you money.
We all want the savage eat from a furious brown trout that nearly rips the rod from your hands. But, let’s face it. That’s a low probability situation, even on the best of days.
Far more fish will eat a fly that is presented slowly and enticingly than one which is ripped past the trout’s face.
A slower retrieve will also maintain better contact with your fly making you more likely to convert those takes into hookups and not Bumps.
Don’t Trout Set
In fact, the best set is no set at all.
Not every streamer eat from a trout is an aggressive take where the fish turns on the fly making it easy to hook them in the corner of the mouth.
Frequently, a trout will see your fly and follow it as it moves through your retrieve. When the fish eats, it will often overtake your fly moving in the same direction of travel. Then, you strip, and take the fly right back from the fish.
If the next thing you do is trout set, then you completely remove your fly from the game, and the fish is left wondering what happened to it’s meal.
If you do nothing, and continue to swing or strip. Then, your fly is still in the game, and you have an opportunity to convert that Bump into a hook up.
The Argentines call their streamers “Gatos” for cats, because of the similarity to teasing a cat with a cat toy.
When you feel a Bump try to keep your cool, and tease that fish into another Bump. Sometimes it takes two or three (or more) Bumps before the fish is keyed up enough to turn on the fly and catch the hook.
Bumps aren’t all bad.
It means that you put the fly in the right place, and made it look good enough for a trout to eat it.
Some times, no matter how hard you try to tease them, trout just won’t fully commit to your streamer.
But, if you keep these 3 tips in mind, you’ll be better prepared to convert those Bumps in hook ups.
Now grab your Gatos, get out there, and find some trout to tease.
March 21 – April 4, 2020
From the birthplace of Patagonia fly fishing in the north to its frontier in the south, Route 40 runs through the heart of Patagonia. Join Big Sky Angler’s Steve Hoovler March 21 – April 4, 2020 on a customized, two-week adventure from the north to the south of Argentina’s classic trout country.
We have spent the last 2 decades living, working, and fishing throughout this vast region and this trip encompasses some of our absolute favorites. You’ll experience the best fly fishing and authentic Argentine hospitality in all of Patagonia. You’ll be fishing with english-speaking guides that are not only our partners but are our friends, the people we have come to know and respect through our years of experience.
This two week adventure is designed to sample the best of what Patagonia has to offer, 5 days of fishing in the south and 5 days in the north. It begins in a remote basecamp situated on the high steppes at the base of the Andes, here you’ll be fishing for large, migratory brook trout while enjoying views of the glaciers and mountains of Chile. We’ll venture north, fishing from drift boats and rafts on the Rio Corcovado and southern Argentina’s fabulous tailwater fishery, the Rio Grande. We’ll stay at El Encuentro lodge on the banks of the Rio Grande, enjoying the warm hospitality of our good friends, great wine selections, and terrific food. After the first five days of fishing, we’ll drive through Los Alerces National Park and make our way to Bariloche for a rest day on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi.
We’ll spend the next session north of Bariloche near the cradle of flyfishing in Argentina, drift boat fishing on the Rio Collon Cura and Rio Limay, lodging on the shores of the Collon Cura. These are two of the most spectacular and exciting fall fisheries of Patagonia and both host great populations of resident trout with migratory fish in the systems as well. The Collon Cura valley is filled with wildlife, and you’ll catch glimpses of red stags in the rut, rheas, wild pigs, and armadillos. Condors soar high above the river and and flocks of parrots will noisily entertain you while drifting the river. The Rio Limay is located out in the steppe country, away from the Andes, some of the largest brown trout in Patagonia are taken from its waters.
We invite you to join us on this unforgettable Patagonia flyfishing adventure! Please contact us for more information.
In many ways the hopes and dreams of fly fishers rest on the existence of bugs. Sure, you can venture out onto your favorite piece of water on any given day and catch some fish, many times lots of fish, when there is seemingly no bug activity. But, those aren’t the days that get etched into your memory. Those aren’t necessarily the days that inspire you to make life decisions. Like, say, picking a college that is surrounded by the most prolific dry fly fishing on the East Coast, or, perhaps picking a wedding date in late September which, conveniently, doesn’t overlap with any major trout stream hatches…hypothetically speaking, of course.
Streamer fishing has its virtues; “the tug is the drug”. And, nymph fishing most certainly produces more than it’s fair share of memorable days and 3-dimensional challenges. But, nothing in our sport tops the visceral experience that is watching a body of water come to life with an exuberance of bug activity, and the ensuing trout feeding frenzy. In my opinion, nothing illustrates that better than a Callibaetis spinner fall on western stillwaters.
Callibaetis mayflies have a massive distribution across most of North America. It is the western subspecies (Callibaetis ferrugineus hageni), though, that produces inspirational fishing on countless lakes, and several notable rivers, in the Rocky Mountain West.
Callibaetis mayflies live in stillwater environments. They thrive in water that has rich weed growth. And, while the emergences are often inconspicuous, the spinner falls are the stuff of legends.
Callibaetis mayflies, along with their diminutive brethren Tricos and Midges, are responsible for the legendary “Gulper” fishing that happens on Hebgen Lake each summer from late-July to mid-September. The shallow, weedy arms of Hebgen Lake are such ideal habitat for Callibaetis mayflies that they produce an awe inspiring amount of insects. Dense spinner falls occur here, and trout rise to the spent adults with such rhythm and regularity that you can hear the fish rising with an audible gulp that resonates across the glass flat waters.
Warm, calm mornings are ideal conditions for these size #14-16 speckle winged mayflies to form mating flights. It is impossible to miss them when they are around as seemingly billions of adults will dance above the water in a rhythmic undulation. When it is good, and it often is in Big Sky Country, spinners will blanket the water, and everything on the water, including fishermen.
Callibaetis spinners are unmistakable due to the unique speckled blotches present on only the leading edge of their fore wings, and their two long, widely separated tails. Their bodies range in color from brownish-olive to tan to light grey with a majority of spinners displaying a lighter tanish-grey coloration on the bottom of their abdomen and a darker, blotchy charcoal color on the top.
Here are Three Geeky Bug Facts about Callibaetis that will help you catch more fish.
1. Callibaetis are Multi-brooded
When we think about the life cycle and seasonality of mayfly hatches, we generally reference a particular bug with its spot in the seasonal lineup of hatches. Certain bugs, like March Browns, hatch in the early season, and they are followed by summertime hatches of PMDs, and autumn hatches of Mahogany Duns, etc. These hatches occur at roughly the same time every year with the progeny of those hatches growing and developing in the river until the following season when it is their turn to complete the cycle.
There are certain bugs, however, that breed multiple times during the course of the fishing season. Like their cousins the Baetis (Blue Winged Olives), Callibaetis will begin hatching early in the season (June in Big Sky Country), and those early bugs produce the ones that we fish later in the season. Also, like their Baetidae cousins, the size of individuals decreases with each brood of the season. Spring hatches of Callibaetis can have duns as large as size #12, whereas September emergences will produce size #16.
Early hatches of Callibaetis are often available in fishable numbers far earlier than when we begin paying attention to them. Unfortunately, the unsettled early season conditions of June in the Rockies don’t often produce dense mating flights of spinners, or the glass flat lake surfaces required for dry fly fishing.
Most years, those early season emergences go largely unnoticed, and it is their offspring that draw our attention later in the summer when weather conditions are more conducive. The warm, calm mornings of mid-summer in Big Sky Country provide both the perfect environment for massive flights of spinners and the glass flat waters needed to bring hordes of trout to the surface.
While average June conditions are generally not optimal for Callibaetis spinner falls, it’s important to remember that the bugs are still active. Duns will continue to emerge, sometimes trickling off one at a time, randomly throughout the day. On the rare day in June, when conditions are cloudy and calm, emergences can be concentrated, and provide outstanding dry fly fishing with duns. The occasional warm, calm morning in June can also generate a fantastic dry fly session with Callibaetis spinners. More often than not, these early season spinner falls are sparse, providing just enough food on the surface to get fish hunting on top, but not so much that your fly is competing with hundreds of naturals for the attention of gulping trout.
2. Callibaetis Nymphs are Strong Swimmers and Fast Emergers
Callibaetis nymphs are a perfectly evolved product of their weedy, stillwater environment. Their bodies are slim in profile with feathery gills, and pronounced variegation on their tails. Coloration ranges from light olive to tan, or gray.
Callibaetis nymphs are agile swimmers, dashing from one weed tendril to the next with short, powerful bursts of speed. Frequently, nymphs will pause for a brief second between sprints, hanging motionless in the water column with their abdomen hanging down. This choreography is important to imitate when fishing Callibaetis nymph imitations. Short, swift strips of 4-6” with a definite pause between movements is the best retrieve as fish will commonly pounce on the fly at the pause.
Just as they move through the water with speed and momentum, Callibaetis nymphs emerge into duns quickly at the water’s surface. It’s common for the nymphs to make several trips back and forth to the surface in preparation to emerge, but once they commit to the meniscus and break through the surface tension, they make quick work of the act. During these “practice runs” the nymphs are prepared to make their quick escape at the surface with fully formed wings bulging beneath their dark brown thoracic carapace (wing pad).
For more great info about Callibaetis nymphs check out this great Callibaetis Nymph Article from our Blog archive written by our very own fanatic of all things stillwater, Matt Klara.
3. Callibaetis aren’t just found in Lakes
Callibaetis mayflies may be the most infamous stillwater hatch, and Big Sky Country is home to some of the most legendary spinner falls of these speckle winged mayflies.
Hebgen Lake, outside of West Yellowstone, MT, is ground zero for the notorious activity known as Gulper Fishing. Named for the nail biting sound that echoes across the glass flat waters of Hebgen’s weed-laden arms and bays as large trout gulp Callibaetis spinners from the surface, Gulper Fishing is an annual pursuit that rivals the most celebrated spectacles in Fly Fishing.
As epic and addictive as Gulper Fishing is, it’s not the only Callibaetis game in Big Sky Country. The same slow water environments that harbor fantastic populations of Callibaetis on lakes also exists on several of our most legendary rivers. The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, the Yellowstone River in YNP, and the Missouri River all boast substantial populations of these speckle winged mayflies.
When Callibaetis are found in riverine environments, they aren’t present in the same abundance as stillwaters. Emergences and subsequent spinner falls are generally sparse in comparison to the activity seen on legendary waters like Hebgen or Yellowstone Lakes. What Callibaetis lack in numbers on rivers they more than make up for in the influence they have on feeding fish. When Callibaetis are present on rivers like the Henry’s Fork and Missouri, they are usually the largest bug around at that time, and trout go way out of their way to feed on them.
Now Get Out There and Find Some Callibaetis Mayflies
If you haven’t experienced the thrill and suspense of fishing to cruising gulpers on a warm calm morning in Big Sky Country, do yourself a favor and explore one of the many still waters in our region during Callibaetis time. Remember, Callibaetis will be active as early as June when conditions permit. The bugs will be larger (size #14) in the early season, and later broods will be smaller (size #16). If you fish the nymph imitation, do so with short, brisk strips of 4-6”, and be sure to pause between strips. And, don’t forget to have some Callibaetis dun and spinner imitations when fishing the Henry’s Fork, Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers (in YNP).
Photo: Kurt Schirmer / Troutnut.com
If you had to pick only one hatch to know and understand in Yellowstone Country it would undoubtedly be the Pale Morning Dun (“PMD”). This group of mayflies is found on every piece of moving water that holds trout, as well as some of the lakes. Populations of PMD’s are strong in all of our major fisheries, providing an ample food source for area trout in the nymph, emerger, dun, and spinner stages of their life cycle.
Pale Morning Dun is a common term coined by legendary authors Doug Swisher and Carl Richards in their groundbreaking book, Selective Trout in 1971. There are two separate species that make up this important group of mayflies; Ephemerella infrequens and Ephemerella excrucians.
The larger (size 14-16) Ephemerella infrequens generally emerges first with hatches beginning as early as late-May in some fisheries. Ephemerella excrucians can be found emerging throughout the summer lasting as late as October, and can be as small as a size 20. This progression of emergences with bugs getting smaller through the season is often mistaken for the multi-brooded behavior seen in Baetis and Callibaetis mayflies where spring hatches propagate the bugs that emerge later in the season. Rather than one species that continues to emerge throughout the season spawning progressively smaller individuals, the PMD is actually two distinct species with different sizes and sequential emergences.
PMD’s are an important food source for trout at each stage of their life cycle. The nymphs are three-tailed, and can be found in a variety of colors ranging from rusty-brown to black. The abdomen of Ephemerella infrequens has a pale yellow dorsal (top) stripe that is very prominent. PMD nymphs exhibit an interesting behavior where they will move from the bottom of the water column to the top several times prior to emergence. These practice runs have been described as “Pulses of Benthic Drift” by entomologists, and can result in some outstanding nymph fishing preceding the hatch. Stay tuned to the blog for a more detailed look at Pulses of Benthic Drift with information on other species that exhibit this behavior and how that can impact our fishing success.
PMD duns are three-tailed with light-dun colored wings and generally a pale yellow to light olive colored body. During heavy emergences duns can blanket the water, but crippled, stillborn, and other emerger imitations will often outperform the dun, especially with large fish.
Spinners also have three tails. Their wings are shiny and clear, and the body coloration will range from rusty to olive-brown. Both male and female adults return to the water after mating which results in dense spinner falls when conditions permit.
Weather plays a critical role in PMD activity and corresponding fishing strategies. As a general rule, the nicer the weather, the earlier and lighter the hatch will be; the scuzzier the weather, the heavier and later the hatch will be. On warm, sunny days you might see a sparse emergence in late morning or early afternoon. Cool, cloudy days with precipitation will yield the longest and thickest hatches, but that may not occur until mid to late afternoon. Calm, warm mornings and evenings produce the best spinner falls. The warmer the weather, the earlier in the am and later in the pm the spinner falls will occur.
Regardless of the conditions or the time of day, PMD’s are available in large numbers on all of the major fisheries in Yellowstone Country. So, if you find yourself on the water anytime between the end of May and the beginning of October (especially in June and July), and you’re wondering what the trout are feeding on; you should always start by asking yourself “Self, what are the PMD’s doing?”