I have been fly fishing lakes a lot using sinking lines and streamers and having a lot of success. In the fall and in the early spring, fishing minnow imitations in Colorado lakes can be very effective.
I have fished several lakes in Colorado and even Lake Conroe in Texas using the same fly pattern, and it has been extremely successful. It is a bead head bugger pattern with a black marabou/crystal flash tail, a brass bead, body of either opalescent white Estaz or silver tinsel and a palmered grizzly hackle. I call it the “Crystal Bullet” or “Silver Bullet”. I tie it in sizes 8 and 10 on a 3X long hook (Dai Riki 710 or equivalent).
I have fished this pattern in Colorado for over ten years and have had considerable success with it. It was originally tied to imitate the fathead minnow (Pimepheles promelas) that is a common forage minnow in Colorado lakes. I tied this pattern to fish some lakes near Divide, Colorado many years ago and have since used it on a number of lakes throughout the state. It has also been a very good imitation of the threadfin shad that are the common forage minnow in Lake Conroe in Texas. I fished there this fall for a few days and caught redear sunfish, bluegills, largemouth bass, wipers, and white bass on this pattern. With a change in the color of the body material, it can effectively imitate just about any baitfish.
The key to a successful streamer strategy using this bugger pattern is using clear, intermediate sinking fly lines. I am often surprised that many veteran fly fishers who fish lakes haven’t even heard of using sinking lines. This is a fishing strategy espoused by Denny Rickards in his books on fly-fishing for trophy trout. The whole key to fishing sinking lines is that the line gets the fly into an optimum position on the retrieve and keeps it there. The short leader (three to four feet of 0X or 1X tippet) used on a sinking line allows the line to carry the fly to an effective depth (five plus feet) and keep it there on the retrieve. If you use a floating or even a sink-tip line, the fly always rises on the retrieve. I have given other fly fishers these specifications so they could order a clear intermediate sinking fly line. It is really an effective tool.
I remember my first introduction to fishing sinking fly lines. I was visiting Scotland over ten years ago and visited a stillwater fishery near Aberdeen owned by Eric MacVicar. Eric was a former member of the Scottish fly-fishing team that competed in several international fly-fishing events. He showed me how to cast and fish a sinking fly line, especially how to control the running line at your feet during the cast. I was able to immediately get the hang of it as I managed to land a nice rainbow and lost several others that I enticed to strike my fly.
Eric MacVicar and Author
Fishing with this method is really an acquired art, as the line and fly are just hanging in the water, and the slightest touch from the bottom, some weeds, a twig, or a fish is very noticeable to the angler. You quickly develop a sixth sense for detecting strikes. At times, you can feel the fish giving a slight tug on the fly and line as it sucks in the fly and you can almost anticipate the tug on the line.
I had an especially fun weekend this year at Maria Lake, a large (225 acre) lake near Walsenburg, Colorado. I bought a two-day fishing trip to Maria Lake at the CTU auction the previous year, along with Ken and Anna McClatchy and Ross Custer. Ken and Anna and I went to the lake in mid-October and fished for two days. I had previously fished it almost exclusively with black bunny leeches with considerable success. I started out fishing the same pattern this time and landed several nice rainbows with it.
For some reason, I decided to try my “Crystal/Silver Bullet” pattern in Maria Lake. The results were nothing short of astounding. I landed a total of 37 trout (all rainbows or cut bows) over the day and a half that I fished the fly and lost probably a dozen more trying to net the fish in the shallows along the two dams that we fished from.
We fished only from shore along the two dams and our footing was somewhat precarious as we were usually standing on riprap along the dam face. The trout would often pick up the fly on the drop, or almost as soon as it started to sink in the water. They would also follow it almost to your feet and would often hit the fly with only ten feet or less of line left in the retrieve. It is really exciting to hang a large trout with only that much line out and be able to actually watch it chase and take the fly.
Ken and Anna didn’t have sinking fly lines, so Rick White, one of the owners at Maria Lake, set them up with a strike indicator and two trailing flies. They would usually fish a bunny leech or Crystal/Silver bullet and a trailing pheasant tail, RS2, or midge. Surprisingly, they caught many of their fish on the leech or Crystal/Silver bullet. We were surprised at how shallow the fish would often be, as we caught several in one to two feet of water. All this indicated was that the fathead minnows were probably up in the shallows and the trout were looking for them.
Maria Lake is probably the best trophy fishery available on a daily use basis in the state of Colorado. Every year many fish over ten pounds are taken and they do have a 24 inch club – you have to land a 24 incher to be a member.
Surprisingly, Maria Lake has provided a two day trip to the lake (for four anglers) for the CTU Auction the past two years. I purchased it two years ago (with Ken and Anna McClatchy and Ross Custer) and purchased it again last year. Watch for trips like this in the area TU auctions. They may also have another tournament next year. Watch for it! These events can be a great opportunity for some great fishing. Check out Maria Lake.
I have also had considerable success fishing the Crystal/Silver bullet pattern at Arrowhead Ranch in South Park this fall. Arrowhead Ranch is located along the South Fork of the South Platte and has four lakes that I have fished extensively over the last six years. I landed a number of nice rainbows and browns using my clear intermediate sinking line and this streamer pattern on several of the Arrowhead lakes in October. The same tactics were used, and I fished only from the shore.
I had the opportunity for many years to fish some private lakes in the Highland Lakes area near Divide. I especially liked the late fall fishing for brook trout here. We would come up to Elk Lake here and see hundreds of spawning brookies. These fish usually wouldn’t hit a fly, but we caught lots of post-spawn brookies and even rainbows on silver bullets fished just outside of the spawning beds.
Fall in Colorado is a great time for fly fishers. A lot of the good water in Colorado can be uncrowded at this time, as a lot of fly fishers are occupied elsewhere with the hunting seasons for small and big game. Streamer tactics are especially effective in lakes at this time of year because the lakes have usually turned over, and the weeds have died down. This allows the fly fisher to fish sinking lines without having to clear weeds on every second cast. Streamer strategies are not only successful in lakes at this time, but also can be effective in streams as some of the fall spawning browns and kokanee head to their spawning grounds. River reaches such as the Dream Stream (South Platte) and the Gunnison can be very rewarding during the fall spawning runs. Many fish follow the spawners, and often they will take streamers very readily.
Spring and fall are great times to get out on the water and chase some of the big fish using streamer tactics.