Favorite Searching Streamer Patterns

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Question: What are your favorite searching patterns, the flies you tie on when you have no idea or evidence of what the fish are eating? I’m looking for streamers, nymphs, and dry flies.

Peter M., Bainbridge Island, WA

Bead Head BuggerBeadhead Crystal Bugger, a variation of the classic Woolly Bugger. Photo courtesy of Fly of the Month Club.

Answer: That’s a pretty tall order, Peter. Tell you what, we’ll answer this question over the next three weeks, taking one category at a time. Since it’s still early in most of the country, let’s start with streamers. My favorite, which is hardly groundbreaking, is a Conehead Olive Woolly Bugger. I’ve caught some of the biggest trout, smallies, and largemouths on this pattern, so I aim to keep using it.

Let’s see what the rest of our experts have to say:

Tom Rosenbauer—host of the Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast and well known author: If I am ambitious, I like the Moto’s Minnow. It’s subtle, wiggly, and pushes a lot of water. It’s a great sculpin imitation, and I often fish it upstream on a dead drift. But the Moto’s is a bitch to tie. (It involves winding about 6 Hun feathers on the hook shank, although mottled hen saddle also works). So if I am feeling lazy and have not tied any up, an all-black Woolly Bugger with a black tungsten cone at the head seems to work equally well, and I can tie three of these in the time it takes to tie one Moto’s.

Brian O’Keefe—editor of Catch magazine and well known photographer: Bloom’s M.R.S. Bugger. This fast-sinking, sculpin-like streamer can probe deep, and tied on a loop knot it has a nice jigging action. From Alaska to Montana to Chile, this is a fish “gitter.”

Brant Oswald—Livingston, Montana-based guide: As an all-around streamer, it would be tough to beat some variation of a Woolly Bugger. Depending a bit on color, it suggests sculpins, other baitfish, leeches, big nymphs—a living, swimming, wiggly chunk of food. I’m sure basic black is the most popular color, but a variegated olive Bugger is my favorite.

Carl McNeil—New Zealand filmmaker and casting instructor: Olive Woolly Bugger. Again, no blinding revelations with this one. The Olive Woolly bugger looks like everything from a baitfish to a hellgrammite. And just so I don’t appear to be a total fly bore I’d go for one with a few rubber legs.

Greg Senyo—owner of Steelhead Alley Outfitters: Rabbit Zonker. This is a tough choice for me, but if it incorporates rabbit fur whether it is a sculpin, minnow, darter, etc. . . .he fish eat it!

Drew Price—Vermont-based guide and warmwater specialist: Olive Tungsten Conehead Woolly Bugger. Jiggy jiggy, catch the piggy! Looks like a crawdad, it jigs, and it slays fish from browns to smallies and muskies for me. Yes, it is a pretty basic fly, but it works great. Call me cheezy if you want to, but I love Buggers.

Dave Kumlien—director of Trout Unlimited Aquatic Invasive Species program:Woolly Bugger. This fly has many permutations, but I’d take the “family” of Woolly Buggers. The Woolly Bugger has caught saltwater fish, trout, steelhead, and salmon. It’s a great fly pattern.

Cathy Beck—Pennsylvania-based photographer and guide: Super Bugger, in tan, black or olive. Effective in all sizes from large to small for smallmouth to trout. Everything loves them.

Frank Smethurst—Colorado-based guide, rep, raconteur, and star of film and TV: For streamers, I use more Woolly Buggers than anything else, though I have been sensing that in some of my haunts, the fish are becoming somewhat averse to that silhouette. I mostly pick streamers on the basis of color, action and depth to be fished. Day in and day out, on a tailwater or not, a black Tungsten Bugger with a bit of bling and a tad of rubber legging will usually catch or reveal the location of some fish.

Larry Kenney—co-founder, Scott Fly Rod Co. and fiberglass-rod builder:Weighted Brown Marabou Leech in a pattern tied by my friends Percy Banks and Hal Beaver. Rather wedge-shaped toward the bend of the hook. Alternates: Marabou streamer that I’d be tempted to call a Platte Rive Special Variation, in  sizes 4 and 6.  It features a gold tinsel body, yellow marabou underwing, brown marabou overwing, and a sparse red hackle throat. Unweighted but on a pretty heavy hook.White Woolly Bugger, size 6—flashy, but it works.

Steve Hemkens—Divisional Merchandising Manager, Orvis Rod & Tackle: White Conehead Bunny Leech. Alternates: Black or Olive Zuddler and Near Nuff Crayfish.

Matt Supinski—owner Gray Drake Outfitters: Sculpin. Trout—especially big ones—relish sculpins for their slow swimming speeds and vulnerability

Jim Bartschi—president, Scott Fly Rod Co.: Conehead Woolly Bugger, size 6. Leech, crayfish, stonefly nymph—this pattern does a fantastic at job at imitating a variety of larger sized aquatic trout foods. It can be fished very effectively at a variety of depths and retrieve speeds.

Barry Beck—Pennsylvania-based photographer and guide: Super Bugger. Because of the unbelievable realistic life-like action it has in the water. The weighted eyes make the fly dive, and its marabou tail and silicon legs are the secret of its success.