Swinging Streamers for Trout By Chad Bryson

Swinging Streamers for Trout By Chad Bryson

 To me, there is absolutely no better feeling than a fresh, chrome anadromous fish hammering a properly swung fly. Life goes from less than zero to over 200mph in a split second. Typically, when it happens to me, I’m standing there going through the motions thinking about everything but fishing. Chaos comes and then goes just as quickly. The quick rush is addictive and leads some anglers into facing a maddening depression when there is a distinct lack of fresh chrome fish in the rivers. Years ago, while battling my own steelhead sickness, I discovered that some resident trout do in fact eat swung flies and that it was fun way to fulfill an angling need when a steelhead isn't in the same time zone.

 If you are a dyed in the wool steelhead aficionado living within a stone’s throw of the fabled PNW steelhead rivers, stop reading now. Nothing I have to say here will be helpful or beneficial to your quality of life. Your geographic angling superiority is to be congratulated and celebrated. The rest of us that deal with a slight pilgrimage to steelhead water might find solace knowing that a temporary fix might just be a little closer to home than originally thought. 

 One fall/winter between Alaska and Patagonia guide seasons, I found myself in Western North Carolina. Appalachia. It’s beautiful there. Big mountains, trout streams, elk, bears, deer, and even musky, but not a single anadromous chrome fish anywhere at all. Nothing to swing flies to. I ended up there because of a girl. Although I can’t remember her name, I am sure that’s why I was there. We’ll just say her name was Alice. Alice lived on a big lake fed by three large trout rivers and several creeks. The lake was about 20 miles across and over 400 feet deep at the dam. The largest river flowing into it averaged about 3000cfs (cubic feet per second) annually. The other two rivers had slightly less flow. Most people around regarded it as “tough fishing” mostly because of the depth and its ability to create nasty waves. Not your typical southern sparkle boat bass lake. I didn't care, it seemed normal to me. After spending a few seasons on Naknek Lake and Illimani Lake in Bristol Bay, I saw this as an opportunity to fish alone in water that rarely saw pressure. So, off I went in Alice’s boat, without Alice. She was terrified of the lake, and she didn't like fishing. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember her name. Either way, I was going armed with a new 6 weight spey rod and my trusted 10’ 7 weight single hand rod. The 6 weight spey was a gift from a buddy that built custom rods and I was itching to dial it in for an upcoming trip. I didn't really think it would be a useful tool for where I was. 

  As I pulled the boat into the mouth of the river, looking for a safe spot to anchor, I saw what could only be described as textbook holding water for migrating fish. Feeling like that was just a pipe dream fallacy, I lazily anchored the boat and trudged up to the pool above the shoal. As nonchalantly as could be, I made a cast. The rod was an absolute cannon for a 6 weight and still is. While basking in the glory of my new gift, my fly got slammed. The fish darn near ripped the rod right out of my hand. I wasn’t planning for this. I was just tuning a new rod. The fish pulled a couple of runs and then gave up. As the fish headed towards the shallows, I tailed it and just knelt there with it for a minute. Holding in my hand was a perfect specimen of rainbow trout that probably measured 26-27”. It wasn’t chrome, but it wasn’t full of color either. Just a perfect species specimen with all its fins and mandibles. Not a steelhead, but darned nice. I figured it to be a fluke but kept fishing anyway. I caught 4 just like it that day and 6 the next day. The day after that, I didn’t count the fish I caught. I just enjoyed the fact that I was successfully fishing the way I wanted to in a place where that should not be working. 

 Soon after that, It was time for me to leave for Patagonia, where I honed the swing method for trout even more. Three months of guiding the tributaries of Lake General Carrera proved to sort out my theories well. Trout that live in rivers without a lake system don't take swung flies as well as trout that live in rivers with a lake system. Maybe it’s because the lake provides a semblance of oceanic feeling to the trout, nurturing its true migratory genetics. Whereas a trout living in a creek or stream that tribs into a larger river is more resident homebody completely ignoring its DNA. Maybe that DNA is bred right out of those fish. I’m not a biologist, so I really don’t know the answer to why they do or don’t. People much smarter than me will be able to answer that.

  Here is what I know - everywhere I have tested my theory on swinging flies for trout, it works. Every single time. In Alaska, PNW, Rockies, Sierras, Appalachia, and Patagonia. A trout river feeding a lake of any substantial size and depth will support an angler trying to get a fix by swinging flies to trout. It’s become a game of sorts for me now. Every steelhead trip, I pack my 6 weight spey rod and a 6 weight switch rod. It’s been a lifesaver at times when the steelhead water is blown out. I don't get too crazy with the flies; everything is a stinger hook fly scaled down in size somewhat. I try to use more natural looking patterns. Any smaller stinger hook sculpin or leech pattern is great and there are several very good sources for trout swing flies out there. Start at your local fly shop. Those guys will know what’s up.

 If your steelhead pilgrimage is a little too far to take a chance of being blown out, grab a 6 weight two hander or 10’ 6/7 weight single hander and test my theory. I am sure there is a river near you that fits the description. You might save some time, gas money, and get to fish alone. Who knows, you might even get Alice to tag along.


Back to blog