Super streamers to consider for early spring season trolling

Bill Graves, Special to The County
17 years ago
    During April I received at least a dozen phone calls, e-mails and letters from across Maine and several New England states regarding popular streamer patterns. All of the inquisitors were planning on fishing Aroostook lakes after ice out this month, and wanted a few ideas about which early season flies they ought to tie or buy. I replied to each angler with the caveat that my ideas were just one man’s opinion, albeit with many years on a multitude of lakes as the basis.
The foundation for my recommendations are two concrete practices: If a particular pattern doesn’t produce a strike within an hour (sometimes less) I change flies, and I always use a two-fly trolling rig with a pair of very different patterns. This dual setup is similar to river casting a dropper-rigged line that presents a wet fly at mid-depth and a nymph along stream bottom. My trolling setup consists of a three-way swivel attached to a three-foot length of heavy leader at the end of my line. At the remaining two swivel eyes are a 10-foot and a five-foot length of leader, and the short leader has a pencil-eraser-sized split shot at its mid-point to make it run at least two feet deeper than the long leader.
In conjunction with the two lengths and two different depths that this dual-leader rig allows streamers to be trolled, a pair of very different flies can be fished. This is where the angler’s intuition, experience on specific lakes or just plain blind luck enters the picture. Two basic types and four unique styles of streamer flies are in most angler’s tackle boxes, and choices must be made.
Some spring fishermen prefer to troll a long-shank, single hook fly called a Carrie Stevens streamer, named after the renowned Maine fly tier who created the inimitable Gray Ghost pattern. I would rather fish a tandem streamer for the simple fact that there are twice as many hooks to grab and hold a fish. When tying my own tandem patterns, I prefer to use a size-two front hook and a size-four rear hook, and I invert the trailer hook. With one barb up and one down these flies seem to hold onto trout, and especially leaping salmon, better than the normal, both hooks downward style streamers. I also steer clear of wire when attaching the two hooks of a tandem fly, heavy monofilament gives a more natural motion in the water and won’t kink after a big fish works it over.
As to the four styles of streamers, they are smelt or bait fish imitations, and bright attractor patterns, which actually resemble no living insect or amphibian, yet still entice fish to bite. Each of these two classes of streamer are further broken down into either feather wing or hair wing patterns for a total of four categories of flies from which to select a winner. If you really want to be picky, there are a dozen or so really effective streamer flies that have a wing that uses both feathers and hair, and sometimes even a few man-made fibers like Krystal Flash or fish hair.
So now I guess it’s time to come clean regarding my personal favorites for spring trolling, and while some of these flies will be familiar, others may be less commonplace since they are older patterns. Starting with feather-wing smelt or minnow imitators, of course a gray ghost is still a consistent fish taker, but mine have to be fully dressed with full silver pheasant shoulders and real jungle cock eyes for cheeks. A supervisor, downeast smelt and the often ignored greyhound streamer are bait fish mimics that are also sure bets.
Hair or bucktail-wing smelt streamers that should be in every spring trolling stockpile would include a Winnipesaukee smelt, a Magog smelt, an osprey and a Millimigasset smelt. And while we are discussing bucktail-winged tandems, the colorful attractor patterns that I swear by include a red and white bucktail, but I add 6 to 8 strands of black bucktail to the top of the wing and I use jungle cock eyes for cheeks. A Miss Sharon, “92 Special, and that old standby, the Mickey Finn are other proven fish-takers this month.
As to feather-wing attractor patterns, the Ouananiche sunset is my all time favorite. A red ghost, orange sunshine and a golden red are a trio of oldies but goodies to also have in the lineup. Our final selections belong to that combination-wing version of early season streamers, and for some odd reason I’ve seen days when these out-performed any of the other wing styles. The Herb Johnson special is a great streamer for landlocked and Atlantic salmon alike and actually uses strand of bright floss as part of the wing. Other combo-wing streamers to try are the spring smelt, red quill, Mylar smelt and the counterfeiter.
If the day comes when some combination of these imitator and attractor patterns in either feather or hair wing versions won’t induce a few strikes, it’s probably a good time to pack up, go home and work in the yard. Let me warn you that at least half of these flies may be difficult to find in most sports shops, so it’s time to call the local fly tying specialist if you aren’t able to tie them yourself. When you do find one of these older, less available versions, purchase two, because the fish will eventually tear the first one apart.
Local lakes are clearing of ice every day now, it’s streamer time in Aroostook.