During the colder months of the year, most guys switch out the bigger bugs for #22s and 24s, and some just put away the long rods, period. But in doing so, they are missing out on some of the best streamer fishing of the year! During the winter, food sources dwindle, which means they are more likely to hit a big meal that swims past their face.
Now streamer fishing technique definitely changes from the rest of the year. Heavier flies or heavier lines are the ticket, and instead of fishing through riffles and eddies, focus on deep holes and runs. This time of year, I'm throwing a 300 grain sink tip, and that in combination with a weighted streamer gets the fly into the strike zone.
One of my best areas for catching big fish in the winter is a deep hole with a logjam at some point in it. The fish hold right on the edge of the log jams, and it provides an easy ambush point, along with instant access to deep water. I also like to focus on deep runs with a steep bank on one side and a shallow sloping bank on the other side. I'll throw the streamer down stream and twitch it back up through the channel.
Another thing that is often overlooked is drifting back up under ice sheets. I may loose some people here, but trust me, it works. I'll let my fly drift 15 or so feet back under the ice, and then I retrieve it back up with slow twitches. Its an absolute blast when you stick one under the ice, and its definitely something you should try.
As for fly selection, my best overall fish catcher is a sculpin pattern. They ride deep, have a good natural profile, and are often a bit smaller in size. I generally throw a #2 el sculpito if I'm fishing sculpin patterns, and its a great overall fish catcher. This time of year though, I'm hunting for a trophy, and that means a different type of streamer.
My go to big fish streamer in the winter is a double deceiver
. It is a big profiled streamer, and it is a big fish killer! I tie mine with a ton of lead wire wraps on the front hook, and that in combination with the sink tip gets it into the strike zone. Now fishing big flies isn't for everyone, and when I'm throwing flies like a double deceiver, I'm forgoing quantity for one quality fish. Its trophy hunting at its core, and although it can be tedious, its very rewarding.
My go to streamer set up is a fast 9' 8wt rod, and a good reel. I generally carry one spool of floating line, and one of sinking. My current setup is a 9' Redington CPX
8wt, paired with a Lamson Liquid
3.5. I have one spool of floating 8wt line, one spool on slow sink intermediate, and a SA Streamer express 300 grain. I generally throw the Streamer Express line the most, mainly because of how well it handles a big fly, and how quick it gets my streamer down. My leaders are pretty simple, and on all 3 spools i have the same one. I simply take 15in of 20lb flouro, and tie it to 20in of 0X flouro tippet (14lb). This short leader helps with casting, and helps the fly and line sink a bit better.
For those of you who haven't ever considered throwing streamers in the winter, I urge you to try it. The fish will still chase a fly like they do in the summer, and on top of that, they are a lot hungrier. It may not be as fast of action as you'll find midging and nymphing, but I can tell you that if you put in your due time, you'll find fish that will eat the average nymping fish.