South Platte Winter Streamer Fishing | Streamer Fishing Deckers & Cheesman Canyon

Breaking The South Platte “Deckers is not a Streamer Fishery Myth”
-In search of a fun & productive alternative to winter nymphing 

12/6 South Platte Deckers: Healthy Rainbow couldn't say NO to a 4" marabou tube fly on the swing

For the longest time, everybody I have ever talked to (including myself) has told me that fishing streamers at Deckers is an ineffective waste of time. I’ve dabbled with streamers on this section from time to time, fishing the conventional flies and the same cast and strip methods with little to no success. Still, there are two things that keep me thinking that I am clearly missing something.

Problems with the “Deckers Trout Don’t Eat Streamers Myth”…. 

I'd bet this Deckers Brown Trout would eat a streamer!

Problem #1
The first, is the fish pictured above from last winter where a brown trout we caught had the tail of a 6″ rainbow coming out of it’s mouth.  If you read Jim Mann’s recent report from the electro shocking survey of the South Platte at Deckers, you know there is plenty of 1-4″ forage swimming around the river and plenty of fish big enough that would be crazy not to take advantage of it.

Problem #2
The second thing that comes to mind in conflict with the Deckers streamer myth is the alarming success that conventional spin anglers have on this river fishing spinners and rapala type lures. I’ve seen it time and time again where a 4″ rapala is thrown down and across and the angler does nothing more than keep the line tight and hammers big fish.

Testing the Deckers Trout Don’t Eat Streamers in the Winter Myth 

 

I have always seen fishing as something of a science experiment that involves a lot of trial and error.  So to keep this report something along the lines of the scientific method, here is the hypothesis I formed. Fish at Deckers will eat streamers, but not in the conventional cast and strip methods. In order to call the myth busted, whatever tactic or fly developed must not work every once and a while, it must catch fish on a regular basis.

What it Will Take to “Bust the Myth” & Find an Alternatively Productive Method to Winter Nymphing

1. A fly that is built to fish slow and low along the bottom that has action built into the fly.
The flies used must have action built into them and not rely  on the angler to strip line in order to make the fly move. The flies will use soft materials (ostrich, marabou rabbit, etc.) and it cannot be bound to a hook that restricts the materials natural movement in the current.  Therefore, the fly must be articulated or rigged like a tube fly.

 

2. An efficient system that keeps the fly in the hit zone, makes it easy to cover large amounts of water and shows the fly to several fish on every cast.

My first thought was a fast action 7 or 8 weight rod.  While that would likely work, it wouldn’t be much fun dragging in a 16″ trout with a rod meant for catching 30 lb. striper.  The answer is undoubtedly a 10-11 ft. 5wt. switch rod rigged with a light skagit head and 5-10 ft T11 sink tip. The Skagit setup was designed for throwing big heavy flies and heavy sinktips to great distances with light rods. This setup won’t wear you out after a day of fishing, is easy to learn, and makes fighting fish on light rods fun.

3. Once the correct fly and setup for delivering the fly are achieved, the right technique, presentation and water type must be found.
Undoubtedly, the streamer we are looking for that has movement (even on a dead drift) could be fished productively under an indicator.  However, the reason we fish streamers is to feel the smashing grab on a tight line.  That feel is lost when we fish under an indicator.    The logical answer for keep the fly along the bottom where the hit zone is, and still getting the feel of a streamer take is to swing the fly.  Coincidentally, that is what the skagit setup and switch rod are designed to do! The trick will be to find the right type of “swing water” on the south Platte.

Two-Day Field Test Results and Observations of Swinging Flies On a River Where “Fish don’t Eat Streamers…”

Streamers That Hooked Fish

Olive String Leech Getting it Done in Deckers

The flies that caught fish all came from the swing world of spey style flies.  Intruders, pick-yer-pockets, string leeches, and all marabou tube flies were the ticket.  Essentially, the flies with “built in movement” that we were looking for.  A variety of colors were fished, but the two which produced all our fish were either olive or cream.  Flies with little to no flash material seamed to work better than overly dressed flies.

 

The Right Water Type

There must be enough water to carry the line through an entire swing.  180cfs as it is right now is perfect.  Anything below 100 would make it hard to get a good swing. The water and air temps were super cold both days we fished making the fish very lethargic. For this reason, most of our fish came at the tail outs of deeper pools.  That said, we did hit fish in the faster water but most the takes came in and around the soft spots behind or in front of larger rocks. There was one fish in particular that I spotted in shallow water and I posted up on the fish as if I were sight nymphing and the fish wanted nothing to do with it.  I then walked 50 feet above where I saw the fish and swung the fly down to the area I spotted the fish, and it ate on the first swing.  I think that if the fish can feel your presence, they are less likely to eat a bigger fly. Once you get away from the fish, it seamed they felt a little more comfortable to follow a fly and eventually eat it.

Presentation
We tried the standard cast your fly and strip it back method, and did not move a single fish.  All the fish were caught throwing directly across or slightly down stream.  As soon as the fly lands, throw a mend while feeding slack into the line.  Once you have put the fly where you want it, get the line tight and do nothing else.  Let the fly swing across the river until it is directly down stream of you. After every cast, take two steps downstream.  If at some point in the swing you start to feel the fly is moving too fast, throw a mend and/or feed some slack into the line to slow the fly down.  The fish must first see the fly moving slow along the bottom.  If they are interested, they will turn and follow it. At the moment the fly speeds up is when the fish will grab it.   If the fly is moving too fast when they first see it, they won’t be interested.

Pleading a Case for Trying Something New: Observations, New Findings, & Conclusions

  • South Platte Trout have seen every nymph imaginable, but they have never seen a swung fly. I think showing fish a a different fly and presentation counts for a lot on that river.
  • Ice in the guides is a non factor. The heavy shooting head pulls the thin diameter running line right through the guides during the cast.
  • You can fish longer and warmer in the winter. After every cast, it will be a minute before you complete a full swing and cast again.  Unlike nymphing, swinging flies doesn’t require you to consistently handle the line. Once you’ve made the cast, hold the rod down by your side, put one hand in your pocket and let it warm up. When you need to switch flies, you are only tying on one fly.
  • It’s a lot more simple than nymph fishing. As previously mentioned, you are throwing one fly. You are not trying to put it an inch infront of the fish on a perfect drift and then trying to  land a fish on thin diameter tippet.   Cast, throw a mend, and let the sink tip and fly do the work. If it’s cold, threading 1x tippet through the eye of a #2 hook and tying a knot is much easier than rebuilding a 3 fly rig with size 22 midges and 6x tippet.
  • If you are new to fly fishing or the South Platte, I’d venture to say that this time of year your likelihood of success nymphing or swinging flies is about equal.  Swinging flies was far more productive than I thought it would be. I thought we might catch a fish or two, but the fact is we hooked a lot of fish! As we continue to explore this, I think it can become even more productive throughout the year and certainly on warmer days when the fish aren’t as lethargic as they were during our two day trial run.
  • Feeling a fish hammer a big fly never get’s old and I’m once again excited about fishing Deckers. Let’s face it, there comes a time when catching the same fish, the same way I have since I was 6 years old becomes less and less appealing in the winter. If you are in the same boat, learning a new style of casting and fishing will keep you engaged in the sport and our local water.

12 Responses to South Platte Winter Streamer Fishing | Streamer Fishing Deckers & Cheesman Canyon

  1. Joe Nassar says:

    Very, very informative and enlightening. Can’t wait to swing my Rapalas down and across for the big brownies. Thinking about flushing all my #22 midges now.

  2. RIO CHATO says:

    Thanks for this report Theo, very informative, can’t wait to try this on my next venture to Deckers which will be sooner than later.

  3. Jason says:

    It looks to me that you guys are describing Jim Mann’s Famous “Moss Pattern” – which was developed after Mr. Mann closely observed winter trout eating on drifting moss in Colorado tail waters.

  4. Pete Neidecker says:

    Great article. Similar tactics and (lighter) tackle to getting a Steelhead to strike. Time to try some articulated marabou leeches with cone heads. Great idea to use the sink tip lines with Skagit heads. Thanks for the tips!

  5. James Kiker says:

    Theo, you are moving in the right direction. Two handed rods are not just for big rivers with steelhead. I have been swinging sculpin patterns with a 5wt 13′ 6″ spey rod for a couple of years in the smaller rivers in Western NC and NE GA. It works best when the nymphing guys think the water is too high and stay home. This gets the attention of the larger fish that more commonly feed on bait fish and like the presentation of a swung fly. It is much easier than stripping. I use both scandi and skagit heads with poly leaders and finer fluro tippet depending on the conditions.

  6. Adrian says:

    You guys are spot on with the article. Been having some good success swinging articulated sculpin patterns on light switch rods recently and it has been extremely productive in terms of catching and…the quality of fish brought to net. Cheers!

  7. john trujillo iv says:

    I pound deckers, the canyon and all the creeks in that area the only method of fly fishing i have used here for the past 4,5 years is streamers big and bulky with tons of movement, swinging flies is great but i swear to you yellow and orange sex dungeons on the hard jerk strip has crushed this winter from october till last week before christmas i pound every spot a fish can hold cast to the point where they hold let the fly hit the water wait 1 deep breath and jerk strip out of the pocket reaction strike bang!!!!!! big rainbows and browns alike will snap at big flies just to chase em away it seems my strikes come when the fly is moving off the pocket where the trout hold i dont have fish chase big flies often but it does happen, dont let people tell you youre crazy b\c i crush most everyone i know is far as numbers and size in the canyon and deckers for all you haters keep throwing your 22′s and ill keep crushing you up there get it!!!!!!!!!! lol

    • Theo says:

      Hey John! Happy to hear you are having success as well throwing the meat! It’s a fun and involved way to fish that does produce the big boys! Sex Dungeons are awesome, but they are a bitch to tie and I’ve found that similar results can be achieved with bugs that aren’t 8 bucks a piece lol. But if I happen to have one with me, you better believe I’m tying it on! Tight lines in 2013!

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