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.
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