Winter fishing can test your patience. Between the frozen guides and numb fingers, it leaves much to be desired. The rewards however, far outweigh the discomfort and the monotonous casting that comes with the winter season. During this time of the year, I find it easier to convince a big lazy brown trout into eating a bigger meal rather than a smaller one. Their metabolism slows down so they don’t have to eat as often. So, offering them the cheeseburger instead of the fries can land you the biggest trout in your local water system. Here, I will share with you what streamer patterns work for me, and the set-ups I use to catch small stream big brown trout.
During the spawn, brown trout use up a lot of energy trying to stay away from predators and angling pressure, all while trying to do their thing at the same time. Now, during the post spawn, they are looking for a bigger meal to replace all that spent energy. For the angler, this creates a great opportunity to throw some big, meaty streamers.
My home waters are small creeks with a healthy population of sculpins, darters, and other bait fish. Thus, sculpin patterns tend to over populate my streamer box. I like to keep it simple by carrying patterns in a mixture of olive, black, tan, and crayfish orange. The trout do not like too much flash on the waters I fish so I stick to natural colored patterns. Experiment with different colors and find out what works best on your home waters.
Patterns that I always have in my trout box include:
- Strolis’s Headbanger Sculpin: I have caught a lot of big brown on this pattern. This pattern excels in the upstream approach because it gets down in the zone quickly before the current could sweep it away.
- Bunny Sculpin: another pattern that is great at getting down quick. Just watch your rod tip!
- Any Kelly Galloup Pattern: His patterns consistently catch big fish worldwide and will continue for many years to come.
Game Changers: I just recently fell in love with Chocklett’s Game Changer platform. I personally favor the feather version. It breaths in the water with every strip and pause, almost as if it is alive. I have witnessed so many big fish come up to a FGC and eat it with so much confidence as if it was the real thing. This makes me have a tremendous amount of faith in them.
- One big benefit of the winter season is not having to get up super early to get out on the water at a decent time. In the winter, you aim to be there in the afternoon when the sun has come up and has had a chance to warm up the water a degree or two. Even a small bump in water temperature can cause a feeding frenzy. It is a very short window so making sure that you are there at the right time will totally up your chances of catching the trophy sized trout.
- Low and Slow: Most of the time a dead-drifting approach with subtle strips and twitches is the name of the game especially on very cold days. Nothing is more enticing to a big hungry brown than a helpless sculpin or stonecat caught in the current screaming EAT ME! Normally I approach upstream: I use this approach because where I fish its usually crystal clear and a downstream approach wouldn’t do anything other than spook fish. With an upstream approach I use a streamer with heavy dumb-bell eyes or a sculpin helmet so that it can get down quickly. By fishing upstream you can effectively pick apart the water while being stealthy.
- The Swing: When the water is slightly up and off color and stealth is less important, swinging is my go-to presentation. Working downstream and making longer casts while swinging a streamer pattern is an effective way to cover a lot of water while looking for players. Cast down and across, let it swing, and then add subtle strips every couple of seconds. Super easy presentation, but just a warning: when a brown does eat your streamer on a swing it is going to be violent. Be ready!
Line and Leader Setup
When it comes to line for winter time streamer fishing, a sinking line is a must. A good sinking line will get you down where the fish are going to be. Personally, I prefer a longer sinking head fly line line such as Cortland’s Compact Type 3 Sinking Line. It has a 28 foot sinking head with an intermediate running line. A type 3 sinking line will sink at a rate of 2.5 to 4 IPS, so it will get your streamer down, but not so fast to where your line is hanging up every cast. My leader setup is super simple. All you need is a 3.5 to 4 foot section of 12 to 15lb fluorocarbon fishing line. Why so short? You’re going to have a better connection between your line and the streamer. You also don’t have to rely on a tapered leader to turn over the streamer because the line and the weight of the streamer will do all of the work for you.
Rod and Reel Setup
My go-to reel for winter time fishing is the BVK SD III. With its sealed drag system, it completely does away with having to deal with a locked up reel that got a little wet and froze solid.
I use two different rods depending on the type of streamers that I plan to fish that day. If I am fishing bigger, heavier streamers, I use the Axiom Il-X in an 8 weight. The A2X is my muscle rod and it can handle heavier grained line like it is nothing. If I am fishing small streamers, on smaller more enclosed streams, I will use the LK Legacy in a 7 weight. I love the responsiveness of this rod and the casting is such a breeze. It has quickly become my go-to rod for just about anything.
I will be the first to admit that winter fishing is not for everyone. If I am being honest, the freezing winter temps can be miserable. Most of the time you will even question your own sanity, I know I have! But, when that pivotal moment happens, I can promise you that all that suffering you went through will be worth it. Eventually, you will be holding a brown trout that most people can only dream of. With the right gear, sheer determination, and perseverance, this is completely possible. Your hands instantly become warm when you’re holding the fish of a lifetime.