Streamer Fishing For Trophy Browns: Is Your Streamer Big Enough?

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brown-trout

Make no mistake, browns like this one, regularly eat fish not bugs.

The other day I was talking with a friend about streamer fishing for trophy class trout. Specifically we were debating what’s the best size streamer for catching trophy browns. My buddy confidently proclaimed the biggest of trout will eat a three inch streamer just as fast as they’ll eat a five or six inch fly. There’s no doubt that plenty of gargantuan trout have been caught on smaller streamers by fly anglers all over the world, so I didn’t argue with my buddy even though I didn’t agree 100% with him. That being said, I do think location and food source availability does have a lot to do with what size fly pattern you should be fishing if you’re after the biggest browns in your home waters when it comes to streamers.

Where I live and guide in North Georgia, big wild brown trout are few and far between. Of the thousands of miles of designated trout water in my area, only a handful of streams and rivers support the caliber of wild brown trout that truly turn heads. The large majority of big browns that are caught each year, usually don’t end up being wild brown trout, but instead hold overs that have been previously stocked by our DNR. Lucking up and landing a twenty plus inch wild brown trout here, is a rare feat that’s not easily accomplished, regardless of how high the skill level happens to be by the angler wetting a line. Our streams arent’ that fertile so biggest of trout are more times than not, forced to eat juvenile trout to maintain their size.

I’ve always told my clients that brown trout seem to carry an overwhelming wiseness to them, when you compare them to other species of trout. They seem to always hangout in places where it’s extremely difficult to present a fly, and they’re the first fish to go running for cover when they sense the slightest bit of danger around them. The other day guiding and enjoying my time on the water mentoring one of my favorite clients (Gary Rogers), we came as close as we could possibly get to landing a giant wild brown trout. We had chosen the right location, a small wild trout stream that’s known for holding good numbers of wild brown trout. A year prior, almost to the very day, Gary had landed a huge 26″ brown. We’ve never stopped talking about that rare catch, and both of us yearned to witness a catch like that again together. As we waded up to S-bend in the stream that held a perfect undercut bank, we focused as a team the best we could on the task at hand. Both of us knew without speaking out loud, that if there was going to be a big brown anywhere in this stream, it was going to be found right here in that bend. Gary waded into position and presented his nymph rig off the back of the shoal leading towards the S-bend, and a few seconds later, he set the hook on a trout. It was approximately a 12-inch wild rainbow, and as the rainbow tried vigorously to shake the hook loose at the end of Gary’s line, I saw a big brown jolt out from the undercut bank and take a swipe at his rainbow. It was easily 24 inches or better, and as quickly as that trophy brown showed itself, it disappeared out of sight.

Seeing this, I immediately snipped off his nymph rig and tied on a streamer pattern. Problem was, I didn’t have any of my big streamers with me, and that brown declined our three-inch offer, almost as though it was telling us, “Hey guys, this tiny streamer isn’t worth my time.” We eventually moved on after we struck out, but at the end of the day, I walked back to the truck in search of a streamer I might have on hand that would adequately represent a juvenile rainbow trout. Tucked away in one of my unused boxes I found a big baitfish streamer that I had previously used for bass and striper. With time running out, we hurried back to that S-Bend as fast as we could. I attached the six-inch streamer to some 1X tippet and told Gary to work it down the undercut bank. I told him, “I don’t give two craps if you lose this fly, just promise me to swim it tight to the bank.” Gary agreed and made the perfect cast, landing that six-inch streamer exactly where I wanted him to. A few strips later, the giant brown came out from the undercut bank and the streamer disappeared in its mouth. Problem was, the glare on the water and some slack in the fly line, kept Gary from seeing or feeling the eat. The hook barely stuck the fish and the streamer pulled loose. We didn’t land that giant brown trout, but it was so freaking cool to come back at the end of the day, after seeing that big brown, and then get it to eat our grossly big streamer on the first cast. Reeling in our lines and stowing our gear at the truck, Gary said, “I always wanted to know what big browns eat, and now I know Kent.” I chuckled and said, “Yep and now we know how to catch that brown. It’s only a matter of time my friend.”

The point of this post is to hopefully open your eyes to the feeding behavior of big brown trout and how important it can be to fish the correct size fly and pattern. If we know that big browns regularly eat other fish, it only makes sense that if we want to maximize our chances at catching them, our flies should clearly imitate what they’re eating. I don’t know about you, but from now on, I’m always going to be carrying an overly large streamer in my box that will imitate a juvenile trout. Hell, I may even start regularly fishing them on my small trout streams where I know big wild browns live. Yeah, I’m going to give up a lot of numbers and probably even get skunked on more than one occasion, but at least I do have confirmation that an overly big streamer could be the best tactic for targeting world-class browns, if that’s what I’m after. Give it a try if you’ve been searching for big browns on the East Coast and haven’t had any success.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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47 thoughts on “Streamer Fishing For Trophy Browns: Is Your Streamer Big Enough?

  1. I freakin’ love it man! I’ve been so geeked out with streamer fishing lately I don’t care where I’m at, I’m chucking some hungry man sized portions at some trout. Sometimes you just gotta go big, or go home. I was fortunate enough to get an invite to fish some privately held land this weekend. I almost exclusively threw big streamers all day and had a freakin’ blast! Caught some huge aggressive rainbows, but the big reward was netting the browns I was able to coax from their lairs. I landed a big female (likely a holdover), and then landed an awesome, wild male brown, both coming from the same shaded run with an undercut bank, and tons wood. Wood is good! Both takes were super aggressive, and both put up a hellacious fight. Wish you guys had hooked up with that big brown, but it sure is cool you guys were able to get him to eat like that!

    • Justin,

      It sounded like we were givin each other ESP man :) congrats on those dandy fish. That female was huge. The head on that thing was impressive. I look gorward to streamer fishing with you soon.

      Kent

    • Justin,

      It sounds like we were givin each other ESP man, congrats on those dandy fish. That female was huge. The head on that thing was impressive. I look forward to streamer fishing with you soon.

      Kent

  2. When you are floating and banging the banks big fuzzy articulated streamers are a ball to toss and are often the ticket. A lot of the guides and boat guys tie and fish big 10 minute, $6 flies. But when you are floating a lot of big happy fish are going to see your fly. In my opinion wading is a different story.and you have to kinda match the hatch. My big fish guru is a retired DEQ scientist, outdoor writer and spinfisherman. Jim spends a lot of days wading Michigan streams chasing big fish. His annual trophy brown (20 inch or better) count is always double digits and usually multiple dozens. Because he writes for magazines and authors books he always has pictures. His lure of choice is a weighted inline spinner. Some of the Mongo size fish that he (and I, when I slip over to the darkside) catch tend to hang out in spots you really can’t fish with a conventional streamer pattern. A refusal followed by a 3″ bodybait, minnow or crayfish pattern often does the trick. For me it’s usually a 3″ muddler/crayfish pattern. It is Michigan after all and we have some super productive waters so crayfish are on the menu most of the year. My guess is that’s where the 3″ school of thought comes from.

    • Hey – I grew up fishing with “Jim”! I’d drive around until I found his car parked and follow him along on the river bank absorbing as much as I could. My father still visits him in his Lansing home from time to time to get spinner making materials.

  3. Great stuff Kent! In my experience the truly big boys are not regularly moving for a snack, it takes a meal to make it worth the effort and exposure. Anymore when I am fishing streamers a 5-6″ offering is the norm for me even in small water I can roll cast across. You will still get some of the agressive smaller to ‘normal’ size browns chasing and eating but the opportunity for the big boys is far greater than with a downsized meal.

    • Mike,

      It’s awesome to hear from you on this subject since you’re no doubt an authority on this subject. Thanks for giving me your input and supporting G&G with your expertise. Cheers.

      Kent

  4. Couldn’t agree more… I have been a part of “Articulation Nation” and throwing streamers a lot more, and hooking up with much bigger fish now because of it. Thanks to Mike’s Meal Ticket, and other large articulated offerings. I am sure that could catch more fish if I tied on the nymph rig, but even just the flash and instant tug and done of a big brown here in the Driftless, keeps a streamer on the end of my tippet. Probably way more than it should be there.

    Thank for the post. Love the Blog.

    • Courtney,

      That meal ticket is a hell of a pattern isn’t it. Do you fish with Mike or have you just been following his streamer tactics? I go in phases with streamer fishing. Its fun to go for the big dawg when you know where they’re hiding but after a while I need to change it up. That being said, right now I’m into streamers. The spring is an awesome time to tempt the big boys. Thanks for your comment.

      Kent

  5. Here in Arkansas we will throw giant articulated streamers on the white river in January and February. It is the go to streamer for big 20″ plus pigs!

  6. Streamers are my go to flies under most conditions. My fly of choice over the past decade has been a 4-6 inch Double Bunny – primarily tied in Grey over White. I tend to tie the rabbit strip in long, so that if I need a smaller fly, I can cut back an inch or two.

    The number of 20+ inch fish I have taken on this pattern in local and regional rivers, streams, tributaries and lakes over the years is crazy. While I tie this fly in many colors, the grey/white is by far the most productive combination.

    I am also fond of adapting the classic olive woolly bugger. Tied as an articulated pattern, with a stinger hook, you can easily create a bulky, weighty, fly that is between 4-5 inches long. Big browns seem to suck these down like they were candy.

    Great article, really got my blood pumping, and makes me want to skip out of work. I spent most of yesterday swinging streamers. I started with big streamers, looking for steelhead, on a Lake Ontario Trib. I finished the day with small streamers on a small Spring Creek, looking for resident browns.

  7. Mike is right on. One thing to add to that is that one of the real benefits of going slightly bigger – or really big- is you can purposely avoid catching small to medium sized fish. I’ve caught a lot of 12-17″ fish on 3″ zoo cougars. I’ve never caught a 12″ fish on a 6″ streamer- though they will still chase every now and then.

    We do the same thing while mousing sometimes because we are usually after the biggest fish in the river at that time.

    In Kelly Galloup and Bob Linsenman’s book, Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout, Kelly talks about the ideal streamer size. Based upon stomach samples from a bunch (forget the quantity) of 20+” trout, the sculpins in their belly were always around 2.75 to 3″ long. Coincidentally, while insect sampling, all of the sculpins I’ve caught are also around the same size. In places here in northern Michigan where large quantities of 8-10″ trout are stocked, you can do extremely well using 8-10″ juvenile trout imitations. So there are also some “hatch matching” aspects here which makes knowing your local stream’s baitfish species in a valuable asset.

  8. Very nice write up. This story reminds me of some of the trips that I have had here in Utah where we start out the day wanting to throw attractors, but for one reason or another, streamers get tied on.

    I have spent many a day fishing with big meat in small streams with eye-opening results. Not always the most fish, but the size is amazing!

  9. Man…Monday morning open up Gink and See that monster brown…has me grinning from ear to ear. Good timing I spent the weekend putting my streamer box together for a pike trip to Canada.

  10. What an exciting read! Landed a few native browns on a 3 inch leech pattern this weekend, and now I am thinking about up-sizing a few! I was hoping the article would contain “and the enormous brown swallowed the rainbow on the line” haha. Thanks for the Monday motivation!

    • Kyle,

      He would have if we wouldn’t have been tugging on that rainbow :) let me know how the big streamer works for you. It sounds like you’re on the fish my friend.

      Kent

  11. Like my pal Schmidt said, I concur, the big meal will often get the big eat. Let your fishery dictate your fly size of choice but don’t neglect the big guys even if your average forage is small. Remember what your after, it’s like trophy hunting

  12. Great post.

    My name is Chris, and I am a streamer addict. I find my self looking for ANY excuse to tie on a streamer. In fact, unless there is a prolific hatch coming off, I won’t generally bother with anything else. I don’t even care if my buddy is outfishing me 5 or 6 to 1. Even if I dont land the fish, seeing a predator sprint from cover and T-bone a streamer is a rush like no other.

    I carry a boat box full of streamers with me while wading, from 2 inches to 9 inches. This is how you know you have a problem: When shopping for sling packs, my only criteria was that is holds at least one boat box. When I tie them, I tie half a dozen at a time, because I’m going to lose them often.

    Streamers are a terrible (but awesome) drug. Maybe I can get out again this weekend…

    • Chris,

      Awesome to hear from you. You sound like you’d be one hell of a fund dude to streamer fish with. I agree 100% with your comments. Its for sure a natural high when it all comes together. Does the Orvis Guide Sling fit a small boat box?

      Kent

      • I actually use a Molle style sling pack I found by a company named J-Tech. I saw some of the stuff that Smith Fly makes and smacked myself wondering why I never thought to look at “tactical” gear, given its the stuff I used in the military.

        All in all I have added a bunch to that pack to really get it to be a “system”, but all in, including a 3 liter camelback and full field medical kit, it will easily hold 2 Bugger Beast Jrs with room to spare, or one and a jacket along with everything else you could need on a day wade, and its never in the way.

        I bought that before the Guide pack came out, but I’m glad Orvis and Simms now are making some good sized slings.

  13. “…Brown Trout seem to carry an overwhelming wiseness tp them.” Very well said. I couldn’t agree more. Too many times I have seen “big moe” move on a streamer presentation then disappear into the shadows. They are such a great fish.

  14. Killed it with this one Kent. A really good perspective. I find myself giving up on the super big stuff too early in the day as my interest wanes after low activity/productivity. But never fails, a guy in the boat fishing the giant stuff will eventually move a giant fish throughout the day. Here’s to lazer focus and persistence with the big bugs this year.

  15. Hi Kent:

    Jeff from Oregon here. I fish my waters here for salmon and steelhead with an arsenal of pretty big streamers, the smallest being just over 3″. I go to Colorado almost every year in July & August & fish over 10 miles of the Gunnison River from west of town to the Blue Mesa Reservoir for the big browns & rainbows that hang out there.

    This is a big river with some deep holes and big trophy browns. BUT the big ones are in the deep holes and they don’t come out for a tidbit and are pretty cagey. When I got there last year the river was still high & fast and it was a challenge to get a streamer down deep and do it quick.

    To overcome this I rigged two black/purple tube flies together butted up tandem that overall were about 5″ long with a #2 tube fly hook on back. I was using a 14′ spey rod with a fast sink tip on the line that enabled me to get deep quick into some water that people aren’t able to get to with conventional gear.

    After fishing a couple runs I went to my favorite spot with some long deep holes and cast my rig to drift right through a big deep cut along the far bank. On the very first cast I hooked and landed a 31″ brown that made my heart pound when I got him close enough to see and land him. After releasing him I caught 3 more out of the same spot that went over 20″. I was in anglers heaven! A few days later I had about an hour of good fishing while using a weighted green/black sculpin streamer pattern that was just longer that the palm of my hand. (and I have big hands!)

    Guess this bears out the old adage that if ya wanna catch big fish use big bait.

    BTW, how ya doin’ with that spey rod practice? :-)

    Jeff

    • Jeff,

      Wow man 31″! That is a beast of a brown man. I wish I would have been there to see you land that magnificent trout. Browns mesmerize me. Thanks so much for sharing this. I love how you tailored your tackle to allow you to fish the big trout water others gave up on. That’s smart fly fishing right there. Cheers.

      Kent

      • Kent:

        I still get goose bumps when I replay it in my minds eye ! There are some BIG browns in that stretch of river, but they are smart and hard to get to. If you ever get a chance to fish there it is well worth the trip.

        They have a pretty nice run of salmon in late August/September that come up out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to spawn. It’s a hoot !!

        Jeff

  16. Water temp is critical on my main big fish river. If its cold, forget about the giant size plus streamer-fish small. If its warm, biggest you can go, the better. No theory as to why, but it works and has been proven time and time again on this particular river. I also have moved away from double hooked flies to get the length on big streamers. Have hurt far too many fish with the second hook in the eyeball or face, and hook up on the front hook the majority of the time. I wont say I don’t have any double hooked flies but don’t resort to them often anymore. Big fish that want to eat target the head of their prey versus those big fish that swipe out of annoyance.

  17. Browns are my favorite catch. I personaly have caught more big browns nymphing large stone pattern, but really buggy wiggly leg stone patterns size 8 and 6. The big browns def are percivous in nature looking for bigger meal tickets in small fish, but dont overlook other large patterns either. I think as long as it is some what worth there energy they will eat it based on what is in your area, rats,smaller fish, spring lizards, big stones nymphs,big hellgramites ect. Just my spin on it but no doubt big streamers work. God Bless!

    • JSA,

      No doubt my friend. I’ve been there many times as well with nymphs. I was just trying to say some days those big browns don’t want to snack all day long to maintain their large mass and instead prefer to dine once or twice a day on a smaller trout than them. I also think time of year and fertility of a stream has a lot to do with it as well. Lastly, that day that big brown wasn’t having it with the big stones or the three-inch streamer. It was after something that was a full mouth full.

      Its no mystery that big browns eat their own, it’s just that sometimes when you see them come out and attack a fish larger than most flies any angler owns it opens your eyes and forces you to debate “are we fishing big enough flies for trophy browns, if that’s what we’re after. Thanks for another great comment.

      Kent

      • I agree 100%. In that moment and situation, that big guy gave up his secret for the day and turned on the light bulb for you guys. Matching those moments in his environment and habits is key. Fish can and will eat a lot bigger meal than you would expect them to eat at times for sure. Thats why you hear or see occasionally a dead fish with another fish half its size hanging out of its mouth. Great post and comments!

  18. Great article Kent,
    Me and my dad fished the tacoa for the first time yesterday and he hooked into a HUGE brown. He had it on for a while and saw it jump but was using my first rod and reel. The drag system eventually stalled or he had a knot in the line or something and the line broke but we still caught a lot of fish that day and had an amazing time. I was wandering what the most common go to color you use for big articulated streamers was ???
    Thanks, Hayden

    • Hayden,

      I use all types of colors as well as two tone but if I could only fish one color it would have to be white for the simple fact that it best represents the white bellies of fish.

      Kent

  19. Awesome discussion. I’m prepping for my first trip to the farmington river in ct, where Strolis is king, and am a quarter of the way through with the streamer box I’m bringing. I’ll be carrying stuff up to about 8″, with a good number 6-7.

    • Dan,

      I wish you great weather and fish my friend. It sounds like you’re going to be ready with that streamer box very soon. Even more happy you’ve got plenty of big streamers to coax those big browns out of their hiding spots. Let us know how the trip goes. Cheers.

      Kent

  20. Been lurking on this great site for two years and then came upon this tid bit this morning and had to give my 2C’s worth.

    I love chucking my tied weighted funky looking size 8-10 streamers for both lurking Browns and Cutbow’s we have here on the Lower Owens River in the Eastern Sierra. I throw em out some 40-50′ across the flow onto the opposite bank, give it some 5-7 seconds to drift and sink, then start tugging(stripping) and jigging with fast 3-6″ increments. BAM!!!! Out they come from their buried holes in the under grass and bottom mud alcoves and attack it like great white sharks. Each and every cast almost.

    This technique is not the “logical” technique according to visiting FFers from down south in SOCAL that have fished this river for decades. That is according to many of them old timers that come upon me Snap Teeing/Single Haul’n my line out and across and then stripping like a mad man. What really catches their attention are my OHOOOOOO’s and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH’s that come outta me each and every shot.

    Amazingly, they all want to hear my story. I end up giving them one of my streamers and have them give it a try. “That is totally the most illogical FF technique for this river I have ever seen!” they reply. Then I explain how them Browns are aggressors and are the sharks of the Owens River. Off they go to give it a try. BAM!!! Then they are OHOOOOOOOOOOing and AAAAAAAAAAAAGHing all day long. When I come upon them some hours later, they have a giant grin on their wrinkled faces.

    “WOW! Thanks for the advice. No more of that boring nymphing for 8-12’ers any more. It’s monster 16-20″ Brown hunting from now on.”

    Yup. Snap T Single haul’n and chucking them funky streamers gets the tugs and hits each and every time.

    • Rick,

      It’s great to hear from you and I enjoyed reading your comment and tips on how you streamer fish your trout waters. It sounds like you’ve caught lots of really nice browns and other trout.

      One thing I want everyone to understand is that the success of certain techniques really can differ depending on the location (ex west coat vs east coat or big water vs small water) we should all listen to fishing advice but should always remember my way on my home water may not work as well as this guys across the country or ocean. Thanks for the comment.

      Kent

      • Kent,

        Excellent point. The thing that I have learned over the years is to apply different techniques to different locations here in the Eastern Sierra. I do my best to spend quality time quietly observing what the local trout are behaving like for each of the locations I play at different intervals of the day and put myself in their, fins.

        Remember one very important thing…

        “Fly Fishing is not about catching fish. Anyone can throw a worm or sardine on a hook or a grenade into the water and get buckets of fish.

        Nope.

        It’s all about them fish catching you!”
        Yvonn Chouinard

  21. Reminds me of a picture I took from the Gibbon river, this last October of a 20+in brown trying to swallow a fish half it’s size.

    Predator!
    Graham

  22. Pingback: Catch Trophy Brown Trout By Stacking The Odds In Your Favor | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

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