Fly Fishing: Swinging Streamers for Trout in Deep Water

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This nice brown trout was caught swinging a streamer through a deep hole. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Most streamer fisherman out there would agree that pounding the river banks with a streamer will catch trout just about anywhere. If you’re willing to put in the time and hard work, eventually you’ll be rewarded with a big fish. During high water flows on rivers where habitat is insufficient out in the main river, many trout will relocate to the banks where they can use the irregular banks and it’s abundant cover to shelter themselves out of the excessive current. There next move, once they’ve gotten to the banks, is to find prime ambush spots where they can easily pick off prey moving by. This is why casting to the bank and ripping streamers back to the boat is so effective. You’re repeatedly putting your streamer right in the kitchen where good numbers of fish will be holding and regularly feeding.

The majority of the time, this scenario works great, but what do you do when you find yourself in areas where the water is super deep and the fish are sitting on the bottom? These places make it extremely difficult for anglers to keep their streamers down deep in the strike zone while using the pounding the bank technique. Even with a full sinking fly line the cards are stacked against you. Don’t get me wrong, it can still work at times, especially if you cast upstream of your target water, throw couple of big mends, and give your streamer time to sink before you begin your retrieve. Unfortunately, in many situations, you won’t always have the time or the room to pull this technique off, and that should have you searching for an alternative fishing method that’s better suited for fishing your streamers in these deep water locations.

Swing Streamers through deep water hot spots

The best method I’ve found to consistently get hookups from deep water fish is to swing your streamers across their noses. This allows you to keep your streamers in the face of the deep water fish longer, which often will yield more strikes.

Step 1: When possible anchor your boat upstream and slightly across from your prime deep water. (It could be a nice drop off, a series of buckets, or just a long deep run or pool. The main point is that the water is too deep for you to use a standard strip retrieve, and anchoring up will provide you time to work the area thoroughly).

Step 2: Make a cast upstream and inline with your target water directly downstream. As your streamer passes by you heading downstream to the target water begin mending and kicking out extra fly line. This will give you sufficient slack, so your fly can sink into the strike zone.

Step 3: As your fly begins entering your prime target water you’ll want to strip in any excess slack, drop your rod tip to the water, and slowly begin moving your rod to the left or right (depending on what side your target water is located on). This will create a belly in the fly line and initiate the swing of your streamer. Your goal is to have your streamer right at the fish’s eye level as you begin your swing. This will bring it right across their noses.

Step 4: When your streamer gets to the end of the swing it’s really important to let your streamer dance in the current for several seconds. Quite often you’ll get bites at this point from the fish following your streamer up in the water column. Another method for triggering bites at the end of your swing is to pull your arm back and forth (similar to hand cranking an outboard motor) a few times at the end of your swing which will swim your fly upstream a few feet and then slowly drift back. I learned this deadly technique guiding in Alaska. Some days it works awesome, others days the fish don’t react to it.

Swinging Streamer Rig

I prefer a 7-9wt 9′ fly rod with a reel spooled with a 250-350 grain full sinking fly line. I go lighter if the flows are less and the water is shallower. I’ve found many anglers fish too long of a leader (5-6′). All you need is about a 2-3-foot section of 12-20lb. Fluorocarbon. Trout usually aren’t leader shy when their chasing after a 3-6″ streamer in high water, and the shorter leader will help keep your flies running deep where you want them. Always change fly colors to determine the hot color during the day. Be aware it can change, particularly when light levels change. Doing this, you can turn an average fishing day into an epic day.

Summary

If you get in the habit of pinpointing, then fishing good swinging water as your drifting and pounding the banks, you often will increase your success for the day. Be willing to work the water thoroughly when you’re swinging your streamers through your target water. Sometimes the sweet spots are really small that you have to work your flies through, and it can sometimes take several swings to trigger fish to eat. Understand the weather plays a big role in how active and aggressive the fish will be. Just because you have one slow day on the water, doesn’t mean you can’t have a great day on the same stretch during different weather conditions. I’ve learned certain rivers fish better in completely opposite conditions. Always remember persistence usually pays off with streamer fishing. Remember every cast made with a streamer is one closer to a hook up. The key is to streamer fish hard all the way through the day. Louis and I will often take turns, one rowing, one fishing. That way we can stay fresh and fish strong the whole day. It makes a big difference for success.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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24 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: Swinging Streamers for Trout in Deep Water

  1. Good informative article, Kent. I try to use this tactic quite a bit when out fishing the hooch. I’ve had some good luck with letting my streamer sink before beginning my retrieve. I agree with you, sometimes that last few seconds of the streamer hovering in the water can trigger fish to bite. I recently purchased a one man pontoon boat and have been exploring deeper water where this tactic would be great although rowing, navigating the boat, and fishing at the same time can be difficult.

    Keep up the great work!

    Matt

  2. I’ve found swinging streamers a great way to hook up not only on deep water trout, but also for wintertime fish that are moving slowly due to cold water temps and lowered metabolisms. Great article, Bud!

  3. Do you ever swing a tandem streamer rig? We tend to pound the banks with tandem rigs when floating the Eagle and Colorado. Two big nasty bugs might be tough to control on the swing?

  4. I love swinging streamers, as well as another fly not to be named here ;). I’ve always had good success swinging streamers. My favorite setup for when I’m swinging is a big ugly streamer as the lead fly and an attractor pattern (particularly eggs) about 12″-18″ behind it. Typically I’ll hookup on the streamer, but every few fish I net, at least one (if not more) will be on the attractor pattern. It’s meant for those trout that follow my streamer, but don’t want to commit. Then they see this bright colored egg or whatnot and whamo! They just can’t seem to resist that second offering…. Most days anyways. Great post dude. Definitely need to find a spot to swing some deep water streamers in front of some hog noses!

    • Justin,

      The dropper off the back of a streamer has accounted for many hookups that would have otherwise been trout that turned off at the last second. Great tips and comment.

      Kent

  5. Kent:

    I think you have the makings to be proficient at swinging streamers with a spey rod :-)

    I fish some good sized rivers, sometimes with deep swift water, for steelhead and salmon here in OR. You have skillfully described how to fish those deep spots to get a streamer down to where the fish are hanging out. And yes, MANY times the hit is after the streamer has reached the end of the swing. I totally agree that twitching the fly for a while at the end of the swing, mimicking a bait fish struggling in the current, will often entice a hesitant fish to make a hit.

    Keep swinging !!

    Jeff

    • Trev,

      5-6′ would be the most attainable, which is much deeper than the typical 1-3′ with a fast paced retrieve that you get by pounding the banks. The extra depth and seductive action of a swinging streamer does a good job of pulling up trout holding deep to eat.

      Kent

  6. Great article Kent. I spent last season dealing with way too many high muddy water days on my home river which helped me focus on streamer fishing. I found swinging streamers the most effective way to generate strikes in borderline unfishable conditions. What it also did was to make me really look closely at the rivers structure during regular flows. In doing that, I was able to key in on prime high water holding areas, and also helped me understand where I could safely get into swinging positions without a boat. Once there, across and down throwin’ slack all the way through the drift hooked me up with some of the best fish I have seen and released on my home water! Let that swing ride at the end!!!!!

  7. Great article Kent. I spent last season dealing with way too many high muddy water days on my home river which helped me focus on streamer fishing. I found swinging streamers the most effective way to generate strikes in borderline unfishable conditions. What it also did was to make me really look closely at the rivers structure during regular flows. In doing that, I was able to key in on prime high water holding areas, and also helped me understand where I could safely get into swinging positions without a boat. Once there, across and down throwin’ slack all the way through the drift hooked me up with some of the best fish I have seen and released on my home water! Let that swing ride at the end!!!!!

    • Nick,

      Putting in the Time on the water and learning the ins and outs of a specific type of fly fishing is the key to becoming a Jedi on the water. Thanks for the comment and great points.

      Kent

  8. Couldn’t agree more Kent.
    Here in BC we’ve started fishing streamers with light spey and switch rods a lot. We swing them just as you describe and recently I started using full sinking scandinavian style heads on mono running lines. They’re actually quite difficult to cast but they fish amazingly well (made by Loop). It’s steelhead fishing scaled down, and a great way to practice your spey casting outside of steely season.
    Keep the great topics and info coming! Cheers..
    Paul

  9. good article; these are techniques I’ve used for smallmouth bass, big browns and rainbows, king and silver salmon, steelhead and even grayling — that belly in the line is critical, as is swinging the streamer so it moves perpendicular to where the fish is likely to be, and letting the streamer hang in the tail of a pool for x time before stripping in line — have had most of my takes during that final stage, including often very aggressive strikes when I’m stripping in line, especially by silvers

    • I always have to grin when I am stripping in line and am already mentally preparing for the next cast only to have a big ol’ steelhead or salmon slam my streamer and head off taking all that line back. Just proves, never, never, never quit !!

  10. My fishing partner and I were anchored and pulling streamers up current through a hole with sinking line. While letting the hole rest, my partner did something that surprised the heck out of me. He turned 180 degrees and cast upstream into the fast and shallow water directly above our anchorage. The retrieve had to be immediate and extremely fast. I’m talking 24″ strips and I mean, right now. The technique was very productive. And as you may have guessed, the hole was ready for us when we turned back around. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not been there. Give it a try, maybe it will work for you as well.

  11. Great article! I love chuckin’ meat for villainous browns on the South Fork and Henry’s fork here in trout nirvana. One tip I have is taken straight out of a mucky fishermans repertoire: sink you rod tip. Yup. After you’ve finished your regular repertoire on a hole take a minute and cast three more times, but this time, immediately after the cast and the line is still slack shove your rod tip into the river, a foot or two and then do your retrieve routine. I’ve stood on the edge of drop offs and shelfs and had my rod 3-4 feet in the water and had takes. I don’t understand the mechanism behind the success of a buried rod tip but it works! It could be the currents influence on the complete line, maybe the vibration of the water over the rod, or the fact that its just that much lower in the column. Those big fish will attack when provoked or see a opportune target, but putting a streamer on their nose works more often than not.

  12. Pingback: How To Fish Meaty Flies And Articulated Streamers - The Fly Crate

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