Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Apr 08, 2013

Using Streamers on spring creeks

For some anglers the mere thought of using a streamer imitation on spring creeks would cause them to shudder. When many anglers think of spring creek fishing the mayfly hatches reign supreme caddis hatches are tolerated and midge hatches are accepted but mayflies are preferred. A few terrestrials such as hoppers are alright and there is much talk of ants and beetles but relatively few anglers actually use them. Some anglers rely on nymphs while others prefer to use only dry flies and emergers on the surface. There is also a segment of the spring creek angler population which embraces all methods of fly fishing to be successful.

Each angler must set his or her own definition of what spring creek fishing is and there really is no wrong answer as long as you don't push you views on other anglers in a disagreeable manner. That is truly the beauty of fly fishing is that you can make it anything you personally want.

However this article is aimed at those anglers who are willing to use any fly fishing method to be successful. All of the spring creeks that I fish have minnow life of one sort or another and they all have brown trout, rainbow trout and many have cutthroat trout as well.

Streamer imitations are a viable pattern to use at certain times throughout the year. However to many who fish the spring creeks streamer imitation are limited to woolly buggers, flash-a-buggers and the like and are often used as a last resort or late in the day when the ability to see other types of flies on the water fades into the low light conditions encountered at the end of the day.

However there are many times when streamers are the proper choice and I am going run through the various times of the year and situations where I would employ streamer imitations. The winter months of December, January and February offer many times went streamers are a good choice. During this time period you may encounter some limited Baetis or midges hatches and often during this time of year the angler is nymphing which is a viable method.

However the angler who seeks out the deep pockets on the spring creeks and use streamer imitations that is designed for use in the shallower water of the spring creeks and is willing to present the chosen streamer using something more than the frantic cast and strip method.

In December you may still find some brown trout still spawning in the spring creeks if you do try using a small size eight or ten sculpin imitation and use a dead-drift twitch presentation method. As matter is important to remember that sculpins have no swim bladder as do other fish, therefore they move about with short darting motions they make no prolong swimming motions.

Years ago I spoke with Al Troth and listened to his advice on fishing Sculpin imitations and then I watched and learned the methods used by those anglers who fished live Sculpins as bait on the Yellowstone River. Then I transposed their bait fishing methods into fly fishing terms. The upshot of the information boils down to no long hurried strips and movement with sculpin imitations.

I guess I should backtrack and explain that the spring creeks in my area contain Brown Trout Minnows, Rainbow Trout Minnows, Cutthroat Trout Minnows, Whitefish Minnows, Sucker Minnows, Long Nose Dace Minnows, Sculpin Minnows. Due to the varied spawning schedule there are always minnows available to the larger trout in the spring creek.

In January and February the angler will encounter the resident Rainbow Trout spawning in the spring creeks. Now the Rainbow Trout's willingness to eat the eggs of any spawning fish, including their species is well known.

However they will also eat a streamer imitation that is presented broadside through their holding areas. Using a little bit of dead-drift and short easy strips, but the real key is to present the imitation broadside to the trout, in the spring creeks you can often spot the trout and in deep water consider your placement and approach so you can move the imitation broadside through the area that you believe holds the trout.

The months of March, April and May brings hatches of Baetis, midges and caddis however from mid-March to mid-April the populations of the spring creeks explode as the rainbow trout from the Yellowstone River enter the creeks on their annual spawning run. Now most anglers know the "Bows" are suckers for egg imitations however well places streamers are also very effective.

Therefore the anglers who would never publicly admit to using egg imitations can use streamer imitations and enjoy equal success plus you will have the bonus of taking some good brown trout that have followed the rainbows to their spawning grounds plus the resident trout which have already spawned and are now interested in feeding to regain their strength and weight.

I use imitations of the minnows found in the spring creeks plus I will use some attractor style streamers which seem to be very effective during this time period, later I will share some of my favorite streamer imitations with you. Toward the end of May the cutthroat will begin to arrive in the creeks to spawn and once again small streamers can be very effective.

June, July and August bring the hatches of summer and during this time period seldom do the spring creek anglers think of streamer imitations. However early in the morning or late in the day I have enjoyed excellent action on floating minnows that are cast to the banks across and slightly downstream and stripping the imitation back with short jerky strips with a pause. I try to show the imitation broadside as much as possible and I want the retrieve to imitate a minnow that is hurt, sick or having trouble. Long fast strips imitate healthy minnows and the trout will generally ignore them. I have several floating minnow imitations that I use however one of my favorites is the muddler minnow, now I know that this is an old pattern which is seldom carried by most anglers, yet I can tell you I always have a box of eight's or ten's with me on the creek and they have produce consistently over the years.

Also during the summer months I do use some eight, ten and size twelve woolly buggers which can imitate the damsel nymphs and the leeches which are also found in the creeks. As you can see the streamer tactics can cross over into imitating other food forms at times. Here again keep an open mind and be observant, a few years back I was on Nelson's Spring Creek during August fishing with a friend and we had selected and unfortunate day to be on the spring creek as a storm front had moved in and the wind was blowing and it was raining and the insects had decided not to emerge in this miserable weather and our morning was pretty dismal.

We had decided to head back to the shelter for a hot cup of coffee and an early lunch as we were walking back downstream along the creek when I noticed a commotion along the bank on the other side of the creek. What I had seen was a small group of minnows skittering across the surface of the water being followed by a respectable wake following. I stopped explaining what I had seen and explained that I was going to use a small size ten floating Muddler Minnow and see if I could interest that respectable wake that I had witnessed.

My friend was amused and asked why I didn't just use live bait and decided that hot coffee and an early lunch was more appealing than fishing streamers on the hallowed waters of the spring creek, leaving me with the comment that streamer fishing is something that no self-respecting spring creek angler would do!

Well, when it comes to fly fishing methods I have never had any self-respect and have always been willing to use any method which will allow me to fool the trout. I rebuilt my leader to 3X as I was sure that a streamer imitation on a finer tippet would nothing more than a hard strike and a lost fly. Once I had re-rigged and tied on my small muddler minnow then I greased the entire leader and fly. I move into position where I had witnessed the minnows being chased and I assumed that a brown trout was doing the chasing, I made the cast, allowing the imitation to drop on the water and after a moment I began to twitch and work the imitation in short jerky strip with a pause and suddenly there was an impressive wake, a hard strike by the trout and explosion of color as decent rainbow of sixteen inches went airborne with a series of leaps and runs.

On a five weight rod system the trout offered a great fight but was soon in the net and was soon back in the creek, free to be caught and enjoyed by another angler.

When I had him in the net the trout regurgitated a cluster of small minnows that were no more than two inches in length. An hour later my friend returned and by that time had taken two other rainbows, two brown trout and a nice cutthroat. Of course he was discussed with my lack of morals, fortunately the storm broke and the sun peaked from among the clouds and we started seeing surface feeding fish as the hatch began and I quickly switched back to other methods and imitation styles.

As an additional note my friend has been known to wear a bag over his head when fishing with me as is afraid that my loose morals will also be attributed to him!

The months of September, October and November is without a doubt my favorite time of the year. The hectic pace of guiding anglers begins to slow down and I get more time to fish which is a definite plus and the days begin to grow shorter and the color changes of fall begins to appear all of which is food for this anglers soul.

September is a month of transition as you will still have hatches of mayflies, midges and even terrestrials by the month also brings a few stormy days which are idea for using streamers on the spring creek. Sometime I am using floating minnows other times I using conventional sinking streamers but the fact is that they produce some of the largest trout caught on the spring creeks during September.

October and November are exciting times on the spring creeks for the angler who is willing to use streamers this is because the resident brown trout and the brown trout from the Yellowstone River enter the spring creeks to spawn. Now brown trout will spawn in the main stem of the Yellowstone River however a reasonable number do enter the spring creeks to spawn and not only can you catch of massive brown rout but also some good solid rainbow trout which follow the brown's to feed on the eggs and will also take streamer imitation that is put in their face.

Almost everyone knows that I normally travel south to Florida during the month of October and I spend my winters fishing for tarpon, redfish, snook and the like. However this year I didn't leave for Florida till mid-November and almost every day during October and November I was on the spring creek fishing, I know it's a tough life but some of us must do these things.

Yes I had excellent Baetis and midge fishing but those stories are for another time by I also enjoyed one of the best season I have ever had on the spring creeks for larger trout on streamers whenever the hatches were not in progress or on the days that my duties as a guide took me to other water I was on the spring creeks for early in the morning to dark probing the waters of the spring creeks with streamers and the fishing was outstanding. Gee even I manage to land a couple of nice ones. Using all the methods that I have already discussed, some of the trout were spotted and I was able to sight fish them. Others were taken out of deep water where I could see the trout but I knew that the trout would hold there on bright sunny days because of the protection offered by the deeper water.

Furthermore from mid-October through mid to late November there are lots of brown trout moving throughout the spring creek systems to spawn and they are followed by a reasonable number of rainbows this increases the fishing opportunities for lots of trout and larger trout.

So the next time you are on one of the spring creeks and the fishing is slow or has slowed down give streamer imitations a try I think that you will like the results especially if you're an angler like myself who has no self-respect when it comes to fly fishing methods on the hallowed waters of the spring creeks.

Now I will share with you some of my favorite streamer imitations that I use on the spring creeks.

Using Streamers on spring creeks

Mottled Dun Baitfish Minnow

Notes:  The hook is a wide gap, egg fly hook which I use for many different imitations. This little minnow will work on Trout, Bass and Bluegills. This is a quick little imitation to construct and highly effective. But the secret to the pattern's success is the nicely shaped hen hackle. It is also effective when tied in Grizzly Hen dyed Olive or Black.


Using Streamers on spring creeks

Black & Purple (Terror) CFS

Silver/Grey Minnow CFS

Using Streamers on spring creeks

Favorite White CFS

Using Streamers on spring creeks

Sculpin Barred Olive CF Tube Streamer


Using Streamers on spring creeks


NOTE: One of my favorite variations of this pattern is to construct a Muddler Head Matuka Variation of this effect pattern the recipe is as follows.

Using Streamers on spring creeks




Now the patterns that I have listed here are just a few of the imitations that I use on the spring creeks and furthermore there are a great many patterns which will work and a lot depends on tying them in the proper sizes, using proper presentations and supreme angler confidence in the imitations being used.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

Note: All the patterns are not illustrated.


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