Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spring Streamer Bite--Are the Browns Making a Comeback?

There's a debate out there about the streamer fishing on the Mo and whether it's even worth the effort anymore. We seem to want to always go back to the good 'ole days when the bite was strong and we could count on catching multiple 20+ inch fish on a daily basis. The pics above represent some of the highlights of the last two days of early spring fishing where we devoted a good bit of effort to the streamers and did pretty well. Does this mean the browns are back?
I think in order to answer that question, one might have to ask, "Where did the browns go?"
Read this article from FWP and you might get some answers.
This article was written about the Big Hole River but the same fungal infection occurred in the Missouri about six or seven years ago. It wasn't publicized but it did occur and it does continue to have an affect on fish every year. Check out the video I took during the 2015 duck season. You can actually see one of those bruiser post-spawned browns swimming through the decoys with the tell-tail white patches, indicative of an infected fish.  
The naturally occurring fungus, Saprolignia is present in nearly every body of water, according to FWP. After reading some of the articles on this, it seems a major culprit to large numbers of fish being infected is over-population of those fish--specifically, brown trout. And why it happens to the post-spawners is because that's when there is the highest density of those fish in a small area and they are competing and beating each other up creating lesions for the fungus to enter the body. Nature does seem to have its way of keeping balance--at least with the less noxious of the non-indigenous species. Some folks have also suggested the warmer than normal water temperatures during the spawn also may contribute to the prolific nature of the fungus in recent years. (Of course, climate change is a farce, right?) 
It's been a while since I've seen really good streamer fishing on the Mo and to be honest, I haven't seen a legitimate two-foot brown in years. We've caught plenty of 18 to 20 inch fish and some 22's but the legitimate two-footers, although I know there are some there, are definitely much harder to find than when I started guiding 11 years ago.
Now before you all jump on me and tell me how wrong I am about those two-footers, let me be my own critic. To be fair, I don't do a lot of streamer fishing anymore for a few reasons. One is that there aren't a lot of folks out there that either want to do it because it's a lot of work, or have the ability. So instead of fishing to those fish, we tend to go after the pods of rainbows that are kind of easy pickings. So the argument might be that we're just out of the habit of fishing that brown trout water.
That is an interesting argument and I would get on board with it if it wasn't for two considerations. One is that I have a lot more dry fly anglers in my boat than I used to and "back in the day," we often would target huge browns sipping bugs right along the banks during caddis hatches and those fish don't seem to be in those spots anymore. At least not in the past few years. The other thing is we still throw a lot of hoppers in the summer and that's when half the two-footers that I would see were caught.
Some folks suggest that pressure from all these anglers coming to the Mo in the past few years have made those big browns more nocturnal. It could be. Other people have said that the lack of bugs in the Missouri, such as the caddis, seem to have changed the habits of rising fish. That could also be the case but I'd say that we do have good bug hatches still, although it seems they happen later in the evening. Maybe we just need to change our habits as anglers.
The point of this isn't to promote this doom and gloom perception of the Missouri and the brown trout population. That would be potentially detrimental to my business. I do want to be honest though and I think this past weekend was a good sign. We caught some really good fish where you might expect them to be and we saw a couple monsters. Is it back to what it was 10 years ago? Probably not and it could be because of a lot of reasons. I think we have a more sustainable balance now and what it does is makes those big browns even that much more special. In fact, given the fishing and how good the nymph fishing can be this time of year, when posed the question of whether or not to go after the easy fish or try to get that two-footer on a streamer, both days we chose the latter. That says something.
Keep 'em where they live...

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