Several years ago my brother, Jerry, and I were getting ready to fish the Gallatin River. He knew this stretch of the river better than I and suggested I walk upstream about a half mile to a good run where he had done well in the past.
It was late in the afternoon on a September day with a nice cloud cover, a perfect time for streamer fishing. Jerry gave me a couple of his favorite flies, black woolly buggers with some flashabou, and I headed upstream.
I always like to sit by the river for a few minutes before I start fishing to get a feel for the river and to see if any fish are rising. If you see a fish rise to a dry they are good candidates to take a streamer. Sitting on the bank watching the river and getting my tackle in order I heard some voices from upstream. To my disappointment a drift boat appeared around the corner with three anglers in it.
There were two men standing streamer fishing, and even the rower would occasionally make a few casts after he had straightened the boat as they moved down the river. I sat there mumbling to myself how there wouldn't be much use fishing the run after they worked through it, but at least I would probably get an idea of how the fishing was going to be. As they went by I noticed one of them was using a fly similar to mine while the other two were using muddlers. They drifted down the run and much to my amazement they raised only one fish, which wasn't hooked.
In looking upstream it didn't appear there was another good run for quite some distance so I decided to let this one rest a few minutes before working down through it using the Morgan Twitch. As I sat there I wondered whether or not my success would be any better than theirs.
After a few minutes I waded out into the stream at the head of the pool and made a cast against the far bank and started working the fly back. Bang! The first cast a nice brown grabbed the fly. I missed him but it was exciting to have action so soon.
It had been some time since my last trip where I did any streamer fishing so as I continued down the stream I reviewed in my mind my twitching technique. How I developed it is not clear to me because it evolved over many year's fishing with streamers. It is a specialized technique and even though it sounds easy, in fact it is very difficult to execute correctly.
An unweighted streamer is fished with a floating line and the fly is right at the surface. I have used a variety of flies but my favorites are the girdle bug in either black or olive, muddler minnow, white marabou muddler, weasel, and woolly bugger. Often the flies I use are smaller flies, such as #6 or #8, except for the marabou muddler which is usually a #2 or #4. However, in my opinion, the technique is more important than the fly pattern.
The fly presentation is very important so I will give a detailed explanation. It is best if the fly hits with somewhat of a splash that I think attracts the fishes' attention. The fly must start right at the bank, and I mean less than six inches. One reason for this is that many of the fish sit right next to the bank and you will bring the fly across in front of them so they see it with both eyes. The only exception to this is where the water is too shallow next to the bank to hold fish. Another good place is behind brush piles or rocks. I have also pulled many trout out of deep water when I was wading using this technique.
You must cast with a perfectly straight line, which takes some practice for most fishermen. When I make my cast the line is straight and the rod tip is pointed straight down the line, with the rod tip finishing just a few inches above the water. You must not have the tip two or three feet above the water because the line usually won't be straight and it limits the amount of line you can retrieve before you recast. I cast fairly hard so the fly does make a good splash. The fly must start moving the instant it hits the water, that is why the line must be straight. When fishing from a boat I like to sit and make short casts, 25 to 35 feet. By making short casts I can be more accurate, can quickly reach likely holding lies, and maintain better line control. Also the fish are less likely to be spooked.
I theorize that the fish thinks something has fallen in the water and anything that would fall into the water does not wait a second or two to start moving. It starts instantly. I can't stress enough how important it is to have the fly start moving as soon as it hits. In fact, I am getting ready to move the fly while it is still in the air.
When I make the presentation my left hand(I cast right handed) is right at the stripping guide so I can take up as much line as possible with the left hand before I recast. I do not strip any line in! For this technique you only need to retrieve the amount of line you can take in with your left hand and by raising the rod tip to about 12:00 o'clock. I never let go of the line in my left hand. From my experience the fish hits it within 1 to 10 feet and usually within 2 to 4 feet. By fishing this way you can get many more casts in than you would by stripping. You also have a measured length of line so when you cast back to the bank you will have the correct distance.
In my opinion, fishing from a boat is the most effective method because the fly is traveling essentially the same speed as the current and if you cast into the bank the fly is presented broadside to the fish as you retrieve it. You also have better control of the speed of the fly when fishing out of the boat because the boat is essentially moving the same speed as the water. When floating the boat should be held back slightly by rowing so it is going slightly slower than the water. This keeps a belly out of your line. However, wading and fishing the fly can also be very effective as my story will prove.
The fly rod is also very important. You want a rod with a fairly soft tip. Many graphite rods don't work well because the tips are too stiff. My favorite is a glass rod because of its soft tip. I like a 5- or 6-weight rod because you make a lot of casts during a day and the heavier lines are very tiring. You are not casting a long distance or weighted flies so you don't need a heavier line. I usually cast 25 to 40 feet and use a leader 8 to 9 feet long with a 3X tippet.
All of these details must be followed exactly to be most effective. Now comes the hard part. Moving the fly correctly. I have had a lot of trouble teaching people how to do this but most have picked it up after some practice.
I move the fly in what I would call a very rhythmic and even pattern where the fly "pulses" through the water. The fly movement is only 3 to 4 inches with about a 1/2 second stop between movements. And it must stop! This is what is hardest. Most people move the fly 6 to 12 inches or more in almost even movements with the fly moving all the time. This pattern just doesn't work nearly as well. It must make the rhythmic start and stop movements to be most effective.
I move the fly the 3 or 4 inches I want by raising the tip then dropping the tip down to make sure the fly stops. When I drop the rod down I take up the small amount of slack with the left hand. As the fly gets closer you also keep raising the rod until finally it is about 12 o'clock and your left hand has taken all of the slack it can. You are then ready to make another cast. I never false cast if at all possible, just up and down. If you try to move the fly in these small twitches just by raising the tip instead of dropping down after each twitch it is very difficult to stop the fly. From my experience the movements get too big and are too smooth.
As I continued to work on down the river I rose one fish after another where the anglers in the boat had just fished raising only one fish. They were using what I would describe as the standard streamer technique of moving the fly in big movements(12 to 18 inches) and smoothly through the water. That technique will catch some fish, but not anywhere near the number mine will.
As I fished down the run I ended up raising twenty six fish in the same run three anglers had raised one! I was feeling real good about the Morgan Twitch about then. How many fish I caught I don't remember exactly, but I think it was 7 or 8. For some reason, the technique does raise many more fish than will be hooked. I have kept track over the years when fishing from a boat where you can see fish flash at the fly or make a move for it compared to those actually hooked. From my experience, it runs one hooked to four or five seen.
Sometimes you beat this average. I remember a few years ago I was fishing on the Smith River with a friend of mine, Chase Hibbard, and I was trying to show him the twitch. I was casting into a riffle while he was standing next to me trying to learn how I moved the rod and the fly. I couldn't show him how because I caught either 8 or 9 fish in a row so fast he couldn't see what was happening. We had to move to another spot where there weren't any fish!
Another example occurred some years ago when I was floating Lambert Neidringhouse from Sheridan, Wyoming, down the Beaverhead River on another perfect fall streamer day. It was in late September and there was a good cloud cover with a light drizzle. It looked like Lambert was doing a good job of fishing the streamer but he had only raised a few fish.
We came to a run I knew well and I asked him if I could try his rod and fish this run because something seemed wrong, he should be raising more fish. He agreed and I waded and fished down the run. I raised 7 fish and landed two nice ones in just a few minutes!
We got back in the boat and I started coaching Lambert to start the fly right next to the bank, move it with the small rhythmic twitches, and pause it between twitches. I realized he had been moving the fly a little too much and wasn't paying strict attention to where the fly was landing. After about an hour he had the technique down and was raising one fish after another. He ended up catching twenty some odd fish and was a believer in the technique.
It will probably take you some time to work out the technique so you can present the fly just right with a straight line and then move the fly in the rhythmic pattern that has worked so well for me, but it is worth the effort. You will be amazed at the number of fish you move to the fly. In fact, if you are like me, many of the ones I miss are more fun than the ones I catch. Some will do back flips over the fly, make a rush and miss the fly, miss it several times before hitting it and sometimes two will fight to see who gets it first. The technique works anywhere from spring creeks to big rivers. It has provided a lot of fun on days which otherwise might have been unproductive. Some day when not much is happening give it a try-I think you will be surprised.