Big streamers mean big prey. Leeches, crawfish, and baitfish represent a significant source of calories. Those who use fly fishing streamers need to prepare themselves for hard takes. Hard and exciting takes and controlling these large fish during the catch can be physically demanding. But well worth it after you bring it in. Watch this video to learn all about it.
Streamer Fly Fishing For Monster Trout
Streamers are popular among fly fishers because they are known to be successful for catching larger fish. Bigger fish will often ignore small baits, but they will respond more readily if they see what looks like a giant tasty morsel floating in the water.
Big streamers mean big prey. Leeches, crawfish, and baitfish represent a significant source of calories. Those who use fly fishing streamers need to prepare themselves for hard takes. Hard and exciting takes and controlling these large fish during the catch can be physically demanding. But well worth it after you bring it in.
When it comes to angling, there are few more exciting moments than catching a massive, 20-pound fish on the end of a streamer. That's one of the reasons why they're not so popular. People have a desire to get back to basics, but they also want rewards. And that's precisely what streamers offer.
Streamers are also popular because they are one of the most versatile flies. You can use them in practically any setting, including choppy and murky water. Their sizable physical presence means that fish find it easier to detect them, making bites more likely.
Types of Streamer
Sculpins. Sculpin streamers mimic the appearance of sculpins: small fish that make their homes in shallow water, ripples, and pools. They are a favorite food of trout and other large freshwater fish and therefore are one of the most prevalent baitfish in the fly box, usable in practically every setting. Sculpins come in a vast array of variations you can deploy selectively to maximize your chance of a catch.
Other fly fish streamer variations include baitfish, leeches, and crawfish, but you don't have to exactly match natural food sources. Most large freshwater fish will bite whatever streamer you throw at them if they're hungry. Matching the streamer to the season and the species can help too, but the majority of fish you want to catch aren't fussy. If they're on the prowl for a meal, they'll bite.
It is a predatory reaction more than it is a specific match of the hatch.
Streamers also come in a wide array of different colors. Whether the color is important, however, remains debatable. Colors could still make a difference to your chances of success. When you are starting your day, go with the old mantra, "bright skies, bright fly, dark skies, dark fly." If it is a bright, sunny day, choose a colorful fly. If it is a dark, dull, drizzly day, select a black streamer.
This is a great way to start your selection. I like to fish a run thoroughly with one color, and if I don't have any movement, I move on to the next color. If I'm fishing dark flies, I move lighter, and if I'm fishing light-colored flies, I move darker.
This also changes throughout the day. What might be a massive success in the morning might not be a success in the afternoon. As the day progresses, so might your fly selection.
When to Use Streamers
There's nothing quite like the thrill of fly fishing using streamers, but their usefulness goes way beyond catching just large fish. They're also helpful in conditions where you can't catch fish using any other kind of fly.
When you approach a body of water, it can be challenging to choose the right streamer. The choice often comes down to your judgment of the conditions. Typically, streamers allow you to catch fish in high and dirty water because of their size and how they move. Fish detect the telltale signature of what they believe is prey and then move in to feed. Thus, they can help you out enormously when there is dirt or sediment in the water.
Fly fishing streamers are also beneficial for when you don't know the type of fish in the water or what they're eating. Usually, you want to tailor your lure to the species that you want to catch. But if you're going in blind, that's not always possible. Thus, streamers give you a "catch-all" method you can use to pick up any large fish in the water, even if conditions are poor.
Streamers also allow you to cover a lot of water. Their large size means that fish can see them from farther away, making them an effective pattern even when stocks are sparse. It also means that you don't have to change locations so often if you don't want to. Streamers let you spend more time fishing and less time scouting for new patches of water to explore.
In many ways, streamers are ideal for choppy conditions. The combination of reels and heavy streamers means that you can toss them practically anywhere that looks promising and get a result
Streamers are a great choice if you want to fish in rising water levels after a rainstorm. As the water swells, baitfish and other creatures begin to move out of their riverbed habitats and into the main body of water. This process then attracts the large predator fish that you want to catch.
As fish like trout descend on the baitfish, it provides fly fishers with an opportunity to take advantage of the chaos and get a bite. Look for the telltale sign of predation: a sudden eruption of the predator fish out of the water. That's your cue to cast your line and dunk your streamer into the fray. Cast your line and then wait for the inevitable tug.
Streamers tend not to work as well on bright days. On some clear summer afternoons, you may find that they don't work at all. If you decide to use a streamer on a sunny day, choose a small one and fish it slowly and carefully. Fish can be afraid to bite in bright weather, but sometimes all it takes is for the sun to go behind a cloud to change their minds.
Why Are Streamers So Effective for Finding Trout?
Experienced anglers know that streamers are highly effective for catching trout. But the question remains: why?
The obvious answer is that streamers mimic the appearance of the food that trout would typically eat, such as crawfish or baitfish. But some designs that don't resemble typical food sources are also effective at catching fish. These oversized patterns are designed to trigger a predatory reaction from the trout by pushing large amounts of water and invading the trout’s space. As a result, they become a meal for that monster.
One theory is that the fish are acting on reflex. They see the fly pulsing through the water, and they can't help but come up for a bite. Another idea is that these larger insects look very similar to the trout's preferred prey. The fish can't tell the difference, so they come up for a bite anyway.
Finally, there's the idea that fish can't afford to pass up such a calorie-rich meal, no matter what it might be. They never know when their next meal might arrive.
What Type of Rod Should You Choose for Fly Fishing Streamers?
If you're using streamers, then going big with your catches is high up your list of priorities. For that reason, you need to choose a reinforced rod—something that can cope with the pulling and tugging of the kinds of species that you're likely to attract.
If you fish streamers a lot, you'll probably want to invest in a six- or seven-weight rod. These tend to be better at throwing larger flies than their four- or five-weight cousins.
For those who like to fish in shallower water, a floating line usually works. If you want to get serious about streamer fishing, then a sinking dip line should be part of your arable. It is more stable in fast-flowing deep water due to its heavier weight. And it allows you to attract big fish that might live farther down towards the bed, increasing your chance of a satisfying catch on open water.
Just remember not to go too light on your tippet if you're using large streamers. Sometimes fish will grab onto the line and violently tug. You need something that can withstand the force and keep your streamer attached to the line. Heavy-duty tippets are discreet and don't significantly alter the appearance of the lure. Typically, your tippet should be 3X, but if you're using huge flies, you might want to choose 2X or more.
How to Cast Your Streamer
It can take a lifetime for anglers to perfect their casting techniques with the precision characteristic of professionals. They make it look so elegant—and easy!
Streamers tend to be much more substantial than regular flies, meaning that the traditional overhead, double-haul casting method doesn't always work!
So what's the solution?
Stand upstream of the patch of water that you're looking to fish. Doing this prevents the line from coming back towards you and maintains tension so that you can feel a bit.
Pick the spot where you'd like your streamer to land. Look for a bank, hole, or current that is likely to harbor fish.
Load up the tension on the fly. You don't necessarily need to perform a back cast. As long as there is tension on the fly, you should be able to cast it.
Swing it once or twice. The streamer's weight means that you only have to apply a small amount of force to put it in motion.
Finish the movement with the tip of your rod in the air, at around 120 degrees, or 30 degrees relative to the water. Leaving the rod in this position will allow the fly to travel farther.
Another technique that is hugely successful is the Belgium-style casting technique. Instead of keeping a straight line front to back as you would with a dry fly presentation, you make an oval or Belgium-style cast. You do this by bringing your back cast low and to the side and then casting over the top in front of you. You can also incorporate an additional haul to get these flies traveling farther.
Importantly, always make sure that you cast within a few feet of the opposing bank (where one is available) if you're fishing in choppy waters. Most fish will congregate here, and so will their prey.
Also, try where possible to "fish the seam." The seam is a patch of water where currents of two different speeds meet. Fish will often congregate here to conserve their energy. It's a kind of underwater pit stop where they wait patiently for any food that might be passing by.
Finally, don't be afraid to fish deep with streamers. If the water is dirty, fish that are deeper down won't be able to see bait at the surface. I typically like to carry two sets of lines with me when streamer fishing.
- A typical floating line for the majority of streamer fishing
- A full sink line. The full sink line is excellent when using streamers that are not weighted. The full sink gets the fly immediately into the feeding zone while you bring it back with your jerk-strip retrieve.
How to Streamer Retrieve
Once you're set up with the gear you need for fly fishing, the next step is to perfect your streamer technique. Many people stand perpendicular to the river or lake bank and reel in with six-inch strips, mimicking prey trying to escape. Interestingly, though, that isn't the only way to fish with streamers.
If you find that the fish aren't biting for the six-inch strip method, try to switch up your retrieve.
There are many ways in which you can do this.
Swing it like a steelhead fly. Another common technique is to simply swing the line as you might a steelhead fly. Here you cast your line upstream and then let it tighten with the natural movement of the current.
Dead drift. Haul in the line in six-inch strips with a pause after every second strip. This pause-retrieve-pause method tends to be highly effective in water temperatures below 50 F (9 C). It seems to mimic how prey move when they get cold.
Quartering downstream. This technique aims to hide the line as best as possible from easily spooked species of fish. Cast downstream at an angle and then wait for the current to move the line. Fish will often follow it as it moves across the river before they bite, so it is worth leaving the streamer in the water for some time before recasting. When you do cast the line again, make sure that it lands several feet from the previous position to avoid sending the fish into a panic.
Cast upstream. When you cast the streamer upstream, it tends to bob about in the water, fluttering and pausing. Therefore, this technique mimics the behavior of certain prey items when they get scared or believe that there is a predator nearby. Casting upstream can help to attract types of fish that bite when they detect telltale prey movements. You can enhance this action as you strip.
The Jerk-Strip for Large Streamer Patterns
The last retrieve that I would like to talk about is the jerk-strip retrieve. The jerk-strip retrieve was developed for large body and articulated style streamers. This retrieve adds additional movement to the fly and takes advantage of the oversized pattern's ability to push large amounts of water.
The Jerk-Strip Retrieve
Start by casting out your fly to a bank or an are feeding lie. The minute it hits the water point your rod tip at where it landed.
As soon as it sinks just a little, jerk the rod downstream about 14 to 24 inches. This retrieve will get the fly to move fast as if trying to escape a predator. The rod is moving the fly, not the retrieving hand.
Next, return your hand to the starting position and, at the same time, strip in the excess slackline off the rod.
Continue as you retrieve the fly back to you. Check out the short video above on the retrieve.
Streamer Techniques for When Fish Won't Connect
Freshwater fish will often boil around a streamer but be unwilling to connect. If that happens, you may need to adjust your technique. If you notice that fish don't want to bite, try going back to the same spot of water using a different type of retrieve. Sometimes, a SLOWER retrieve can incentivize the fish to connect. At other times, being more erratic can help. Fundamentally, you want to convince the fish that you're genuine prey and that it is worthwhile going in for the bite.
When fish persistently refuse to take the bait, some fly fishers try using a different streamer. Experienced anglers, however, know that this approach rarely works. If a trout doesn't want to take the lure right now, it probably won't if you switch it out for a new one.
Sometimes fish are unwilling to move toward a streamer because of the current conditions in the water. If the temperature is cold or it is full of sediment, it doesn't pay to continually cast the line to the same spot, over and over again. A much better approach is to move to a new area to see if you have more luck there.
If it is a cold, slow day, try to cover as much water as you can. Your goal should be to lure the hungriest fish out of their hiding places. Cast the streamer into spots that you think likely harbor fish, wait for a few minutes, and then move on if there is no bite. Remember, fish will rarely change their mind if you repeatedly cast the line. Moreover, it could put them off taking the bait altogether.
Streamers are among the biggest flies. Any fish in the water is likely to see them on your first cast. If they get the impulse to move, then they will. If they're too cold or fearful, they won't. Sometimes you just have to accept their mood on the day.
Streamer Technique in Choppy Waters
Typically, people use streamer retrieves in choppy, dirty waters where visibility is low. In these conditions, it doesn't make a lot of sense to fish out in open water. Even with a sizable lure, fish will struggle to see it.
In choppy, silt-laden waters, fish will usually retreat to the banks and areas of cover. For this reason, experienced anglers cast and retrieve closer to the banks, rocks, and the seam in the bend of the river, increasing the likelihood of making a catch.
If the water is particularly choppy or dirty, adjust your streamer technique to add some motion to the lure. Fish won't always be able to detect the bait if it is fixed in one position. Either use the techniques described above or gently tug on the line now and then to encourage fish to strikeout. Remember, if there's a lot of debris in the water, like twigs and leaves, the streamer may blend in. Adding motion tells fish that it is alive and something tasty to eat. Be careful to retrieve slowly. Going too fast could make it difficult for larger fish to bite.
Fish detect prey using the lateral sensing array that picks up vibrations in the water. When conditions are choppy, it becomes harder for fish to distinguish these vibrations from the general noise in the environment, making them less likely to bite.
Choosing a bunny sculpin or another large-bodied streamer might be the best option here. These flies emit telltale vibration patterns that overcome ambient noise, making it easier for fish to detect them.
How to Dead-Drift Streamers
Dead-drifting is fast becoming one of the most popular streamer fly fishing techniques, thanks to its almost unparalleled ability to get results. Fish perceive the bait as a tasty morsel, floating down the river with the current. To dead-drift a streamer, cast it slightly upstream and then gently strip it back, maintaining tension on the line by reeling it in slowly.
If you find that you're still not having any luck, you can try attaching both a dropper nymph and a strike indicator to your line. The nymph attaches to the end of the fly streamer and helps to tug it under the water to a level at which fish are more likely to bite.
For many fish, the combination of the streamer and the nymph is deadly. They can bite either fly. This technique is excellent for days when the fish don't seem to want to venture out of their hiding places.
How to Set the Fly Strip Set Versus Lift Set
If you are typically used to doing a lift set when fly fishing. When streamer fishing, you will lose more fish doing this than you will catch. After you cast and are stripping in line, make sure that your trigger finger is always on the rod and line. As our stripping in and you feel a take, strip one more time with the rod tip in the water. One of these two things will happen:
- On that second strip, you will feel the hook set.
- You know that you didn't have it hook.
If you have scenario 1, game on, you can now battle the fish like you would during any other catch. But if you don't feel the hook set and the fish fly away... stop everything. You will most likely have a second chance at that fish as if it is still in its feeding zone. It will come around to finish the meal. After you feel the second take, strip set again, and you are off to the races.
- If you’re fishing in high water, hit the banks. Fish will be holding along those banks. This can be done by casting across the river or by casting to the shore from a boat.
- Keep the ROD TIP DOWN. We are not high stick Nymphing here. You will have greater success if your rod tip is in the water, making a straight connection between your stripping hand and your fly.
- Cast where you typically wouldn't. I know we have talked a lot about trout location, but the great thing about streamer fishing is you can get them into areas that you would otherwise not be able to drift or cast.