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Why bother with streamers?

08/29/12 at 05:51 AM by Vince Puzick

Why bother with streamers?

You could be catching plenty of trout utilizing nymphs or dries. But how many of those fish will be over 5 pounds? The simple fact is that big fish eat little fish. They’ll eat anything that appears to be a minnow, smaller fish, crayfish, leech, or other critter. It’s no surprise that streamers account for most of the large trout taken every year in any type of water. In many ways this tactic mimics hunting more than fishing. You’re out there looking for trophy-sized fish. Anything under 18-inches is nice, but not the target. This means concentration on presentation and technique is key.

Streamer fishing is hard work!

Whether you’re on foot or in a boat, laying out heavily weighted streamers all day is tiring. It doesn't matter what kind of shape you’re in or how much fishing-time you log. It's particularly difficult from a drift boat since you're trying to hit every likely spot as you float down river. If you stop casting, you may be passing up water that holds the biggest fish in the river. Luckily there are a few tools you can leverage to make casting a little less tiresome and still have some strength left over to lift that beverage at the end of the day.

Brown Trout with Streamer

I can use my normal floating line, right?

Line, leader, and rod all need to act in unison to efficiently deliver what is typically a large and heavily weighted fly. That’s exactly why fly line manufacturers have designed lines with shorter, more concentrated heads. Scientific AnglersRio, and others are all making such lines. If this is your first foray into specialty lines, a sink-tip makes the most sense since it can be used on any significant body of water. A sink-tip line will allow your streamer to get down to the appropriate depth without having to add any split-shot, making casting much easier.


Rio Sink Tip

Let's take a closer look at RIO’s Density Compensated 24-foot sink tip. Rio has designed this line with a more heavily weighted forward portion to get the fly down quickly and keep your line straighter as you retrieve, making it easier to get a solid hook set.

Scientific Anglers Streamer Express

Another great choice is the Streamer Express series from Scientific Anglers. This sinking head line is built with a small diameter, braided monofilament core and a very slick finish, allowing it to shoot extremely long casts. It comes in a number of weight options and the below sizing recommendations apply to either line.

Rod Weight Recommended Grain Weight
7/8 200 gr
9 250 gr
10 300 gr

If you're planning to head out for a day of streamer fishing, the best way to be prepared for most situations is to have two spools setup beforehand,one with a sink-tip line (the one you'll probably use the most on bigger Western waters) and a floating line loaded on the other. If you don't have two spools for your reel, another option would be to just bring a floating line and buy a set of RIO Sinking Leaders, which attach loop-to-loop to your fly line. These leaders immediately convert your floating line to a sink tip with minimal effort and time.

Once you have chosen your fly line, the next piece of the puzzle is your leader. How often have you seen a fellow fisherman tie a streamer onto the end of their nine foot leader? There are only two instances when this makes sense. (1) You’re fishing a floating line in relatively shallow water and you’ve replaced your light tippet with something more substantial. (2) You want to try a streamer in a fishy looking spot and plan to return to whatever type of fishing you were previously engaged in. A better option, assuming that you're using a sink-tip line, is to use a heavy 4 to 6 foot leader. If you stay closer to six feet, you can step down the leader in three sections, ending with a 2-foot section of 2X or better tippet. Why? It’s far easier to cast, fish are focused on chasing the prey and not tippet size, you’ll lose fewer flies on snags, and when the monster hits you’ll have a reasonable chance.

Finally, connect your fly to your leader with a loop style knot. This will give heavily weighted flies a chance to "dance" in the water and add that last bit of realism to elicit a strike.

All I need are Black Wooly Buggers, right?

Wooly Buggers are great flies and have spawned a range of exciting new patterns, but it may be time to think beyond Russell Blessing’s incredible fly. Over the last 10 or 12 years there has been a huge influx in new patterns. Individuals like Kelly Galloup have thrown out the rule book and come up with large, meaty offerings like the Fathead, Zoo Cougar, Circus Peanut, Boogie Man, and many more. These flies are big, designed to move water, and look completely alive in the water.

A properly stocked streamer box

There has also been a tremendous gravitation towards articulated flies. These flies are built in two sections and are joined together by wire, steel sections, monofilament, gel spun backing, and so on. The hinge point in the back imparts an exaggerated swimming motion, which cannot be duplicated by flies tied on a single shank. Typically reaching 4-inches or better in length, many articulated flies have two hooks, which really helps on short-striking fish.

Top colors to consider are yellow, white, olive, tan, black, rust and assorted combinations of all these shades. If you're not sure which to start with, reach for olive. Sunlight is always a determining factor in how fish react to one color and not to others on any given day or time of day. If you don’t get any action in 15 to 20 minutes of fishing, change colors and fly style. Once you run through some color changes, start downsizing or up sizing until you find what's hot.

A wide range of colors in assorted sizes is much more important than lots of patterns in limited sizes and colors. Sizes 4, 6, and 8 are the meat and potatoes to have on hand. But don't forget that big flies catch big fish. Don't be afraid to occasionally whip out a really big fly. Sometimes it's just the ticket for bringing up huge trout from deeper runs in small creeks and large rivers.

Another common tactic, especially here on the Yampa and Colorado rivers, is to fish two fly setups. Start with a larger fly up front followed by a smaller fly (different pattern and color) at a distance of 24 to 30 inches. When small streamers (size 8 or smaller) are called for, stick with a single fly.

If I see a fish, I should chuck my streamer at it!

Instead of slamming a streamer down on top of a fish and ripping it back to you at a 90-degree angle, you should present the fly at more of a broadside angle. It is important to try to give a trout a broadside look at the streamer. What good does it do to tie a streamer which has the general shape and coloration of a real forage fish if the only view a trout ever gets is from straight behind? It is common practice to cast a streamer across and down and then strip it back with a boring retrieve. This causes the fly to behave exactly opposite from a natural baitfish - swimming directly against the current. Also, remember that not every fish in the river is holding next to the bank. Fish the fly through the adjacent area and make sure you are pausing prior to your pickup and recast.

My 6-weight rod is perfect

Brown Trout on a Streamer

There are a lot of anglers that actually believe in the ‘one rod can do it all' myth. While you can definitely catch a 30-inch fish on a 6-weight outfit, you'll probably end up sinking a fly into yourself or someone else in the process.

You need a rod that has the backbone to lift and cast sinking lines and big flies. We’re talking a fast action high-modulus graphite rod that’s lightweight. It will have top-end stripping guides and a strong well-designed reel seat. It will be 9-feet long and either a 7 or 8 weight. Needless to say, there are a number of rods on the market that meet these criteria – Sage, Loomis, Scott, TFO, and others. Test drive them with the fly line you have in mind on the reel you intend to use.

Streamers are solely a fall thing

This is like asking 'when is the best time to fish' - any time you can. Fall is perhaps the best time of the year to concentrate on fishing streamers because Brown trout are especially aggressive before they spawn. But streamer fishing can be good any time of year as long as the water does not get overly cold.

In general, streamers seem to work best on cloudy days, and early in the morning or late in the day. But of course there are exceptions to this rule.

A Single Retrieve is Fine

Everything in the water moves at different paces depending on an external stimulus or internal requirement. Fast or slow at a steady pace, stop and start, jerky movement, or any combination of these are all possibilities.

It doesn't take a whole lot of movement with the rod hand or the line hand to move the fly quite some distance. Take note how the your fly moves in clear water as you vary the retrieve.

Brown on a streamer

The objective is to make the fly look like whatever it is designed to imitate. If it is a minnow, make it swim like it is slightly injured. It should swim with short bursts and pauses. For a leech, swim with a slow, undulating, steady motion.

An increasingly popular method is the so called Jerk-Strip, originally developed by Kelly Galloup and Bob Linsenman. The idea is to get the attention of the fish by slapping the streamer down hard onto the water, and then immediately begin the retrieve. To provide the most life-like action you employ a fast-paced jerk of the rod tip of about 15-20" (moving the fly about 8-12") along with a rapid stripping of slack line as you return the rod to its starting position. The sequence is repeated throughout the retrieve.

Taking some of these tips into consideration should get you hooked into some nice fish this year, so open that streamer box and get chuck'in!



Picture of Kirk Deeter

The head shots in this article were contributed by Corey Kruitbosch. His work has been featured in many national publications includingThe Drake, Trout magazine, and American Angler. In addition, he’s provided commercial photos for numerous companies in the fly fishing industry including RIO, Redington, William Joseph and others.

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