Whether It Is Better to Twitch or Strip?

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Always Looking to Learn from the Rivers

A 14" brown caught twitching (he was almost a meal for an eagle!)

A 14″ brown caught twitching (he was almost a meal for an eagle!)

Trout season ended last week. I made it a point to end the season on my favorite river.

The sun was just about to peek over the horizon as I faced a big decision. There was no question where I would start fishing. The only question was how. Should I put on a big streamer and aggressively strip or resort to twitching?

Truthfully, pitching big heavy streamers and stripping them makes my shoulder ache just thinking about it. On the other hand, that can be an extremely effective way to cover water looking for big fish. I definitely had big fish on my mind – but decided to twitch as the fish had been particularly lethargic the past two outings.

The set-up is fairly simple. I start with a leader having ending with 2X or 3X tippet (I often decide which by what is still on my leader – yes, I know I can be lazy). It turned out I had a 3X leader already on so I went with that. Then I tie on one of my killer beetles or a Strike-Indicator-Fly. On this particular outing, I went with a black beetle with a yellow visibility strip on top. The finishing touches are a 4X dropper (one size less than the tippet so I only lose the dropper fly when I stick the fly in a tree or get stuck on a snag) to a girdle bug. It was a #10 black girdle bug with white legs (I tend to stick with black in low light).

The strategy is fairly straightforward; look for boulders, snags, edges of any sort, or current lines. Cast two or three feet upstream of where you think a fish is likely to hold and retrieve fly line so there is almost no slack. As the combo is drifting, I jostle my rod tip back and forth until it twitches the lead fly.

An 18" brown taken twitching

An 18″ brown taken twitching

Inevitably, the take comes right after a twitch. I can’t prove it, but it seems like the little twitch every so often triggers the strikes. Sometimes it is on the lead fly and sometimes it is the dropper. On this particular day, everything came on the dropper. The first fish was a 14” brown. It turned out this guy was having a bad week. He had a talon gouge on his side. Despite almost being dinner for an eagle, he fought admirably. “Not too bad” I thought as I landed the fish.

It only took a couple more casts when the beetle disappeared below the surface so quickly it made an audible pop. When this technique works, you usually don’t have to worry about detecting a take. It is self-evident. I set the hook and the rod doubled over. “Ooh, this may be a good one,” I thought to myself. It was quite a while before I got my first look at the fish. That’s when I started getting worried; it was a nice fish. I let him run around trying to tire him out and avoid a netting drama. When he looked tired, I lifted the rod tip and scooped him out of the water. Bad news, he had plenty left and promptly flipped out of the net. Drat, I hate when that happens. However, it was good news – the hook held and after a few more minutes, I was able to net him uneventfully. It proved to be an 18” brown.

A few casts later, the adrenaline rush was still surging and I over set on another nice fish – and he was gone. As it turned out, that was it for the morning. Three excellent fish in less than thirty minutes – not too bad for closing day of trout season.

An 18” brown reviving underwater after a good fight!

An 18” brown reviving underwater after a good fight!

I like to twitch early in the morning before the sun hits the water or on overcast days. Big fish tend to hold in shallow feeding lanes and can be aggressive. If you know you are fishing good spots and nothing is happening then switch to stripping a large streamer. Usually, when one isn’t working the other is. As always, fishing is one continuous experiment. If nothing is happening after a reasonable amount of time (15-30 minutes), it’s time to try something else.

Dropper Length Considerations: Early in the morning or in low light conditions, I find that big fish tend to hold in shallow feeding spots. In these cases I use a 12-15” dropper length. This allows me to fish in less than a foot of water without snagging too much. When you see the lead fly approaching a shallow spot, give the lead fly a couple of quick twitches. This causes the dropper fly to rise and will often help avoid snagging on the shallow spot. Additionally, fish frequently hold in front of these spots and twitching may induce a take. Longer dropper lengths can be used if you know you will be fishing deeper water. I typically use 18-24” dropper lengths in those situations.

In the fall and late winter when the water tends to be lower and clearer I usually start with 12-15” droppers and use unweighted flies tied on extra heavy nymph hooks (Daiichi #1530 or Tiemco #3769). This is sufficient to get the fly deep enough. During run-off conditions, I will use a longer dropper length and a beadhead or weighted fly to get the fly down into the fish range. You may have to experiment a little to figure out how deep you need to be to trigger fish.

Under the right conditions, twitching can be very effective for catching lots of fish and some big ones as well. It is a fun way to fish, as you never know whether they will take the lead fly or the dropper. It’s tough to beat when a method is fun and effective. So give twitching a try!

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