I’ve talked in great detail about streamer fishing since I began writing articles for Gink & Gasoline. Most of my time has been spent talking about color and pattern choice, streamer gear/rigging for both big and small water and how to locate and target prime trout water with streamers. One area of streamer fishing I’ve yet to talk about in detail is retrieve speed and candor with streamers.
I’ll never forget a trip several years ago I made down to Patagonia, Argentina, where my expert guide taught me the importance of matching my streamer retrieve speed to the speed of the water current I was fly fishing. My guide had watched me for several minutes as I stripped my streamer through a very productive looking run, loaded with buckets. Despite completing two dozen casts, I had failed to get even a single follow from a trout. About the time I was ready to give up and move on, my guide walked up to me and respectfully asked for his permission to make a few casts of his own with my rod. He claimed he could catch a fish in the same water I had just beat to death with my streamer in just a few casts. This is when he made me feel like a total schmuck and rookie. It didn’t take him a few casts to catch a big brown trout out of that hole I had just fished. It took him exactly one cast, that’s all. Grin on his face, he told me, “the water we’re fishing is really fast. You don’t want to rip your streamer through that water with long quick strips, because the fish won’t feel like they’ll have a good chance at success running it down.” He went on to add that just like in nymph fishing where most of the time you want your nymphs drifting close to the bottom, you also want to keep your streamers running deep as well. Then he handed my fly rod back to me and told me to make a cast myself. This time however, he instructed me to dead drift or twitch my streamer lightly as it was drifting through the fast water, then impart a short, strip…strip..pause, strip…strip..pause, for my retrieve as I entered the areas where the water speed began to slow and the deep water buckets were located. My first cast, I missed a strike and my second, I landed a nice 18″ brown trout. I was completely blown away that I had previously had zero success on the water, and just by altering my retrieve speed and shortening my strip I had turned it all around. On the walk back to the lodge, my guide wrapped up my streamer lesson by telling me that slow moving water most of the time, you want to do the exact opposite. In situations where your streamer fishing slow moving water he recommended speeding up the retrieve and length of strip.
Years have past since that day of streamer enlightenment in Argentina. I’ve never forgotten those words of streamer wisdom my Argentine guide graced me with. I’ve learned that every day of streamer fishing is unique. It’s very important for anglers to experiment with their retrieve speed and strip length to figure out what the fish prefer over the other. And when you’re streamer fishing and catch a fish, pay attention to the exact retrieve that you were using when you caught the fish.Try to consistently copy that same retrieve as you go on fishing productive water. Doing so, you’ll often be able to identify one retrieve over the others that will trigger more bites. Be prepared to go back to experimenting with different retrieves if the fly fishing gets cold. Time of day, water temperature or type of water you’re fishing can change conditions enough that will, in turn, change how the fish will prefer to forage on food or how they will be triggered instinctively by your streamer. Lastly, try different retrieve angles and directions with your streamers as well. Quite often, you’ll find a down and across retrieve to work the best when fishing streamers, but sometimes, a dead-drift with a couple twitches here and there or a quartering upstream cast and retrieve back to you will bring more success. Your goal as a streamer fisherman is to always adjust and experiment with your retrieve and candor styles until you can dial-in to what the fish want. Don’t make the mistake of automatically thinking pattern choice is the only thing that drives success with streamers. It’s definitely something you want to look at if you aren’t catching fish, but quite often, it’s your retrieve and action that you put on your streamer that makes the real difference in success.
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