Fall is a classic time to throw streamers for Browns. Before and after the fall spawn Browns throw on the feed bag and it's a great time to stick a big one. However, in winter the giant fly and aggressive strip approach that works early in the fall season and early spring becomes less effective. Browns seek out soft lies when the water gets cold. These lies mostly consist of soft water on the inside of deep bends and at the elbow of log jams. When I say "elbow" I am referring to the spot where the wood meets the bank. This junction typically creates a soft spot or small back eddy where Browns will sit. I also love soft flats with wood on the bottom. These spots are some of the primary targets in winter conditions and they require a particular approach to be fished effectively.
With that in mind, the fly selection must change. As an obsessed streamer junkie it pains me to say that the perfectly crafted, double hook, deer-hair head killer needs to go back in the box. The better fly is a smaller pattern designed to sink in a hurry. A smaller weighted pattern is better at this time for a few reasons. First, your fishing window is very small in these circumstances. A deerhair head steamer relies on a long sink type to get down. It takes time and therefore distance/space for this set up to get the fly into the fishing zone. Even then a big fly doesn't get very deep and you need an aggressive fish to come up after it. Conversely, a smaller pattern with heavy weight dives right into the zone into the fishes face. A couple pops of the rod or short strips activate the fly and should trigger a strike. If not, pick it up and fire it at another spot. You could add a bullet weight to the front of the big streamer but casting starts to get pretty tough to handle at that point.
Second, monster streamers need to fished aggressively to swim properly. A smaller weighted pattern with breathable materials has inherent movement so it will continue to move while at rest or paused. This is important because a cold brown is not prone to chase for very long. A slow jigging strip with pregnant pauses has a better chance of getting the bite than a power jerk strip.
Third, because Browns aren't moving very far for the fly this time of year more accurate casting is required. I'm a decent caster but throwing an articulated behemoth into a target the size of a frisbee from a moving boat with little to no backcast room is a challenge to say the least. A little weighted fly is a dart. While still not easy, it is certainly easier to to deliver a smaller pattern to the target.
Now, before you get all hot and bothered, when I say small, I mean 3-5 inches rather than 7-9 (or bigger for some the crazies - myself included). Late season fish are hungry but also cold and tired from spawning. They are definitely in eating mode so it pays to make it easy for them. Put the fly in the face of a brown and give it no choice.
For example, my last streamer trip I had to make a conscious effort to slow down. Every fish that ate, ate on a substantial pause after the first or second strip. I moved a few big fish with more aggressive retrieves but they abandoned the chase very quickly. If I had a do-over, I would have slowed way down for those fish too. I'm confident that if I had a shot at those big boys (or girls) again they would have been mine.
Something to think about before your next trip.
P.S. There will certainly be occasions where fish will be in the mood to chase during cold water conditions so it's always important to experiment with flies and retrieves and adapt to what fish are looking for on a particular day.