Minnows on Streamers

By Spider Rybaak

Average Fall Fish

Swinging streamers through the current is an easy and exciting way to fish for salmonids. In fact, it’s so productive, a significant number of anglers working the fly fishing, catch and release section on the Salmon River Spey cast for kings and cohos right now, and for steelhead from next month through spring.

Developed in the Spey River region of Scotland, the technique involves casting flies for long distances with just two moves of the wrist. Done properly, the line slices through the air so precisely, casual spectators walk away thinking the angler is highly skilled in a mysterious form of fly casting.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While some practitioners think they’re the greatest thing since dyed wool, more realistic types know better; even describing their specialty as nothing more than glorified roll casting.

Indeed, you don’t even have to whip your rod back and forth to get the line out. Just drop the fly into the fast water and strip line out in time with the current, stopping when you feel there’s enough out to reacg the other side. As the streamer hits the end of the run, pinch the line against the rod with your index finger and whip it into the air with a powerful backhand motion. As the streamer flies past you, try to predict when it’s just upstream of your knee (the anchor point), flick your wrist so it faces the opposite shore and whip the line toward the other bank. When it lands, let the fast water straighten it out and swing the fly through the current while you hold the line in your fingers and follow it across the run with your rod tip.

When the fly reaches the end of the run and starts straightening out, brace yourself: the hesitation and change of direction spur a the majority of strikes—as much as 90% of ‘em. Always violent, the hit has spawned Spey’s most popular cliché: “The drug is in the tug.”

With a little practice, you’ll be able to cast your streamer 30 feet and more, with a couple flicks of the wrist. And that’s good if you’d rather fish than cast, your joints are wearing out, or you got arthritis.

While a 14-foot Spey rod and special line will enable you to reach distances approaching 100 feet, in most cases you don’t need to cast that far. Hell, often times you couldn’t even if you wanted to: from spring through fall, every yard on the Salmon River is precious and finding a productive, unoccupied 100-foot stretch all to yourself is wishful thinking. So, a regular 8-weight fly rod with a butt section (using both hands helps to reach the greatest distances) and a high capacity reel loaded with an 8-weight line or better, will do until you decide you like it and want to invest in the real equipment.

Perfecting your Spey casting skills in Oswego County is about as easy and exciting as it gets. While the lower Salmon and Oswego Rivers are getting too crowded right now, the Salmon’s upper branches (including the mouth of the discharge at Bennetts Bridge), the Mad River, and skinny streams like Scriba, Black and West Branch Fish Creek offer a lot of wide open rapids.

Equally important, all but the Oswego are loaded with fallfish (the Oswego has smallmouths), the most cooperative critters in fast water.

Decked out in large scales that shine like proof silver, the fallfish is America’s largest native minnow east of the Rocky Mountains. Averaging about 6 inches, specimens reaching over 20 inches have been reported. As eager to take a nymph as a streamer, a worm as a minnow, they’ve disappointed countless anglers who thought they were fighting a nice trout.

However, sensitive fly fishermen don’t hold it against them too long, and usually walk away from the encounters respecting the little guys for their violent strikes and spirited fighting abilities.

Some call ‘em chubs, others say they’re shiners. Most don’t know what they are…and don’t care.
But one thing’s for sure, they’re an integral part of America’s Northeastern streams. Most everyone who swings streamers through the waters pouring out of the Tug Hill Plateau has caught ‘em, and many are delighted they’re around because they can save the day when the trout have lock jaw.

While they’re a little strong for the delicate human palate, they’re the preferred item on a big trout’s menu. And that’s good for trout lovers.

Large fallfish like this 15 incher are common; 20-something inchers are possible.
Fallfish hit streamers almost half their size.