This morning in New Jersey where I live in the mountains we had temperatures in the upper 40s and low 50's this morning. It felt great, especially after multiple days with high humidity. Fall is officially here, which for fly fisherman everywhere is a time to rejoice and a time to throw streamers. Granted, most streamer junkies have BEEN throwing streamers since early Spring, but it just FEELS better this time of year. I know I'm not alone, those people that live for everything that fall brings- cool weather, football, hunting, and fishing streamers, campfires and bourbon.
Now if you're a streamer junkie you need no explanation as to what a Butt Monkey is, and you know that we aren't being kinky when we recommend a Sex Dungeon. You probably hate the cheap brightly colored candy but who doesn't love the fish catching jigging action of Russ Maddin's Circus Peanut. But the more I see posts about streamer fishing, the less I see the old school streamers that helped evolve us to this current place in time, and caught a helluva lot of fish for us
Sure, everybody probably has at least 1 pattern in this list in their box- you know which fly it is- it's on every fly list in the world when it comes to trout- and thus- I've dubbed it the Fly That Must Not Be Named. However, there are a LOT of great flies that will probably catch more fish than these new flies for the majority of you out there. Not saying I don't have 3 fly boxes full of new school ammo- I do- but I also had my ego destroyed trying to fish 5-7" articulated flies for a year straight in NEW JERSEY with only smallies and 1 trout being landed. Yea- 1 fish.
The thing you need to realize with big streamers, they aren't going to be the best option everywhere, every time. It goes against all of the hero shots you see on social media, but it's true. And it's especially true if you're watershed doesn't support optimal trout growth and don't reach the piscivourous stage and concentrate their feeding on other fish. Most of use would increase our catch rates if we fished smaller, single hook streamers that imitate food sources instead of fishing 7" flies that scare the shit out of most of the trout in the pool.
Now, if you're in Cotter, Arkansas- feel free to sling those 10" Deceivers and you won't have anyyyy problems. But, if you're fishing the Ken Lockwood Gorge here in NJ, you should probably fish smaller, unless you don't mind hours of casting practice.
Below are the 10 best old school streamers everybody should have in their fly box.
1. Russel Blessing's Wooly Bugger aka The Fly That Must Not Be Named
You already have this in your fly boxes, somewhere. It has a marabou tail, it uses chenille or dubbing as a body, and it has a palmered feather. You guessed it- it's a......and it still works. It is good at imitating baitfish, leeches, and crayfish depending on the colors you tie it in. Tie some weightless, and some heavily weighted and you'll catch trout year round. Designed by Russel Blessing in 1967 to catch smallmouth bass, the Wooly Bugger was meant to imitate dobsonfly larvae/hellgrammite.
Primary Colors: Olive, Orange, Black, but attractor colors such as Purple and Pink also work well. I had success on a fly we dubbed the Game Warden fishing a purple and pink version in NJ after a very pretty Game Warden stopped and talked with us.
2. Ed Shenk's Sculpinator
Ed Shenk is a PA fly fishing legend. This pattern which was first published in 1967 is maybe the most perfect sculpin imitation ever tied, and compared to many flies today is quite practical to tie. Mostly fished in an all black color combination, the recipe is simple- marabou tail, rabbit fur loop body (often substituted with mohair leech yard), and a deer hair head with the tips left long on the left and right to mimic the sculpin pectorals. It's not going to win any Instagram fly tying beauty contests, but it might just catch you youre biggest trout of the year.
Primary Colors- Traditionally all black.
3. John Barr's Bouface
John Barr is a western fly tyer who wrote the best selling book Barr Flies, which featured the vise skills of another good western fly tyer- Charlie Craven. John designed the Bouface (named from the marabou near the hook eye), often takes a backseat to his popular Slumpbuster, but this is even more versatile. Originall designed as a reservoir pike fly, taking his largest Colorado Pike of 29lbs. He also caught his best largemouth bass on the fly, at 9lbs. It has since proven itself effective at catching trout as well, because it is a perfect leech imitation. The recipe is stupid simple- Pine Squirrel Wing/Tail, Marabou Collar, a little flash, and some dubbing behind the beadhead. For larger versions, you can also substitute pine squirrel for rabbit zonkers to tie the Bunny Bouface.
Primary Colors: Black and Olive. White and Tan also work well.
4. Don Gapen's Muddler Minnow
Created by Don Gapen to fool the mighty brook trout in the Nipigon River, Ontario, this fly deserves a lot more credit that it gets quite frankly. This fly primarily imitates sculpins.
This fly has led to so many successful variants and as Kelly Galloup says in his book Modern Streamers For Trophy Trout- "This fly has been and continues to be so successful worldwide that any fly with a wide, flat head is often referred to as a Muddler. This, of course, is inaccurate, but it does testify to the universal admiration for the pattern."
It so versatile that if you're fishing it in the heat of summer and you see trout taking hoppers- you can grease one with some Gink floatant and fish it on top.
Colors- Natural Mottled Tan/White, Mottled Olive
5. Kelly Galloup's Wooly Sculpin
It's at this point where there is unnecessary debate on fly pattern creation, and influence- and quite honestly I stopped caring about. I used to be a stickler when I saw "Stimulators" on Instagram without hackle on the body, which- is a different called the Sofa PIllow. I'm over it- I started a lot of shit, nobody seems care- but I bring it up for clarity. Colors aside, it looks like Ed Shenk's Sculpin with a different body- and it IS- Kelly says so on his Youtube tutorial of this fly that he basically stole it and changed the body up slightly. I think it's his way of paying respect to that tyer in all honesty- he's said the same about Russ Maddin's Circus Peanut and Kelly's version the Peanut Envy.
But we're not done yet! There is another pattern known in parts of the country called the Bow River Bugger. I had never heard of it, but if you look it up- it's almost exactly the same aside from Kelly's very proper head shape.
Call it what you want. It's a great pattern with many variations.
Colors- Mottled Tan, Black, Olive,
6. Kelly Galloup's Conehead Marabou Muddler
This is another Kelly Galloup variation that I tie and fish far more often than I do the original Muddler Minnow. It's fishy as all heck, and dead easy to tie, unlike the somewhat fidgety Muddler.
Colors- Yellow, Tan, Olive, Black, White.
7. Dave Collyer's Matuka
This pattern was designed by New Zealander Dave Collyer in the mid 70's and gets its name from the Maori translation of a type of feather used over there to tie this. Originally designed to fish lakes, it is an effective pattern in rivers as well.
Another versatile pattern that can be tied to imitate minnows, sculpin, darters, parr, etc. This pattern caught on because it's construction- with the wing being tied in at the tail and head, was far more durable than conventional streamers at the time and it's tail was less prone to fouling around the hook bend.
Colors- Match forage. Certainly Olive, Black, White, and Tan.
8. John Barr's Slumpbuster
This is the far more famous John Barr streamer pattern it was designed not that long ago, 2000, to imitate baitfish but without all of the extras we tend to throw on a hook these days. That is why this fly works so well. It has subtle flash, and a small profile that won't spook fish and will actually eaten as food. What I really like about this streamer is it's perfect when fishing a tandem streamer rig. I typically fish a size 4 and a smaller size 6 (as recommended in his book Barr Flies)in two contrasting colors.
Colors- Olive, Black, White, Rust, Natural
9. Kelly Galloup's T&A Leech
This fly is one you may not have heard of but it holds a special place in my heart because it was the first articulated streamer I ever came across, maybe 16, 17 years ago before this streamer thing blew up. It was right at that same time I was getting into euro nymphing, I met a fly fisherman and guide on the Upper Delaware on a forum (if you're under 30, think Facebook Groups but not on Facebook) and I saw this fly. He tied it for the giant migratory eels in the Delaware river. His version wasn't articulated- it had 5 different sections, and was probably 7.5-8" long. It had 2 hooks (front and rear) with cut hook sections articulated together with mono. It didn't know what it was, but I knew I needed some so I had him tie me a dozen.
Fast forward, I NOW know this was his localized variant of the Kelly Galloup pattern, the T&A Leech which was one of Kelly's first articulated streamers.
Colors- Olive, Black, Olive/ Cream, Black/Cream.
10. The Ken Lockwood Streamer
I'm not aware of who developed this fly, I'm sure it was created at the vises of multiple tyers desks around the same time- but it was named after Ken Lockwood, a noted outdoor journalist and leading conservationist. Ken Lockwood created what became a daily column for the Newark Evening News paper.
He is known for having the Ken Lockwood Gorge in NJ named after him, and for him pushing for adult trout stocking in NJ, and the creation of the Wildlife Management Areas in NJ, things I'm deeply indebted for.
As for the fly, it is very effective, easy to tie- and it really shines during Fall. I don't know if brook trout resist this pattern. Fly, photo, and video credit to Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions, who puts out some of the best fly tying content through Youtube and Orvis.
What are your favorite old school streamers? Comment below!
P R I M E F L Y