The Streamer Game

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Couldn't Resist The Voodoo Child, Photo by Louis Cahill

Streamer fishing is addictive. It’s almost become a cliche, but it’s true. Guys get into it and hardly want to do anything else. I’m kinda one of those guys. I do lots of kinds of fishing, but if I’m out for trout and there’s nothing obvious going on, a streamer is likely what I’m tying on. I can’t say for sure why other folks get hooked on streamers, but I know what it is for me.

Obviously, there is immense skill in fishing dry flies and nymphs. Each is an art unto itself but the very nature of a dead drift is inherently passive. Streamer fishing is active. What I mean by that is, you are directly imparting an action to the fly which fools the fish. For me, it just feels more personal. I am “making” that fish eat. Again, this is totally personal but when I see the fish chase and eat my streamer it’s incredibly rewarding. The really cool thing about this is that it leaves a lot of room for personal expression on the part of the angler. My action is my action, by my hand. It’s different from yours, and every dedicated streamer fisherman I know has their own style. Those styles vary widely, so I thought I would share some of the gear and tactics that are successful for me.

Here’s how I play the game.

I want to get in the fish’s face with a big fly that looks alive but vulnerable. I want that fly to look like a bait fish that’s disoriented and in a panic. I want a lot of room between me and the bank. I want to identify and hit multiple holding zones between me and the bank. I’ll drop my fly a few inches from the bank just upstream of a likely pocket, then as I work it back to the boat, I mend, or pause, or speed up my retrieve to work the fly through as many holding zones as I can identify. Fifty or sixty feet is an ideal distance. It’s a challenging way to fish, but for me, it’s deadly.

Here is the setup I use to overcome some of the challenges.

Loaded for Bear, Photo by Louis Cahill

The Rod
The way I like to fish is demanding. You need to make long accurate casts with a heavy fly and do it all day long. I’ve tried a lot of rods and here’s what I’ve found. I like a six weight. I started with heavier rods but they wore me out. A six weight trout rod will not give me the power I need but a six weight salt water rod combines light weight, fast action and it’s designed to fight tough fish. In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect rod for streamer fishing. I like the Thomas & Thomas Apex and the Scott S4s.

The Reel
The reason I fish streamers is to catch big fish. When I hook a big fish I want some authority and a lot of that comes from the reel. You need a good drag and a large arbor. I use a Nautilus 7/8 and overload it with backing to increase the effective arbor size with a six weight line.

The Flies

My flies are heavy…really heavy. I want that fly to get down fast. For that reason, I also favor synthetic materials that have little buoyancy. All my streamers are articulated. If you’re swinging a fly there’s no real benefit to an articulated pattern but if you are stripping across the current, you can’t beat the action. Most of them are about four inches long and ride hook up.

The Line

Sinking lines are a last resort for me. A sinking line pulls the fly down. But it’s a pain to manage and if you are fishing an unweighted fly by the time your fly is at the depth you want, it’s already too far from the bank for the big trout that lurk there. With a floating line I also get the benefit of mending to change the direction of my retrieve which is a huge benefit. I like a line with a short, heavy front taper to turn over a heavy fly and give me accurate delivery.

The Leader
Your leader could be the most important piece of the puzzle. I like a long leader, 9 1/2′, because it helps me get deep. When my fly reaches a deep pocket I can pause my retrieve and that heavy fly will dive without having to pull the floating tip down with it, but a long leader has some liabilities too. It’s much harder to turn the fly over and be accurate. Making a long accurate cast with a heavy fly requires a stout leader. I build mine from 2′ sections of fluorocarbon in 40, 30, 20 & 17 lb. then finish with 18″ of 15 lb. When fish eat streamers they aren’t looking at your tippet. No need to be shy.

I’ve tried a lot of streamer techniques and this is what works for me. You may hate it. It’s challenging, it’s a workout and a lot of it flies in the face of what you’re going to read on the news stand but the results are hard to argue with. I hope it helps to put you on some fatties!

 
Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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20 thoughts on “The Streamer Game

  1. “It’s cold there’s no hatch,but instinct tells me that somewhere in there bottled up next to the bank, is a hungry trout”. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS carry at least 3 streamers with you anywhere you go!!!

  2. streamers are my first option as well. i differ in line choices though. i prefer a full sink or a sink tip. i have found that weather/season depending of course, that even if the streamer is not hugging the bottom, if a trout wants it it will chase it down. i do prefer heavy articulated streamers as well, which is mostly what i tie, but have caught more then my share of fish on unwieghted types like articulated zoo cougars and T&A rainbows, with sink tips and sink lines. just my preference though,unlike everyone else i fish with.

  3. Nice work! In addition to fishing them, tying streamers is also a joy of mine. You can get really creative and try new things. There are really very few rules when tying a streamer pattern. And sometimes the uglier, the better.

    I agree with you on the floating vs sinking line in rivers, but I do like to use my sink tip line when fishing streamers in the lakes from the float tube. They don’t need to get down quite as fast, and I am usually fishing them deeper that I do in rivers. In that case, I use a short leader paired with my ghost-tip sinking line.

    Also, you nailed it with the rod type suggestion. My favorite rod for slinging streamers is my 6wt Redington SuperSport, which I originally purchased for bonefish. Too bad Redington doesn’t make this model anymore; it is the PERFECT streamer rod for me.

    Cheers!

    • Redington makes some surprisingly good rods. Have you fished the new predator? I broke my S4s in the Bahamas last month and fished the predator for three days. It rocked, even in high wind. It’s a great little rod.

  4. Great post man! By the end of this year, I swear, I am gonna try fishing streamers with a floating line thing. I can see the merits. I’m having a hard time imagining it from the boat but walking it makes sense to me for sure.
    I vary what I tie when it comes to weight. Almost everything gets lead wraps, cone heads make an appearance often, but I tend to avoid the lead eyes. I hate casting them mostly though the action is pretty awesome. I did play with some of the fish skulls and sculpin heads this year and while I’m sure it isn’t true, they seem to cast easier than eyes. My guess is that I just slowed down and opened the loop more subconsciously b/c I know those things have some girth.
    I actually moved up from a 6 to a 7 for streamers this year… and its a saltwater rod. I’m loving it. The only time I will go back to the 6 is in water that has single hook regulations… that is, until I get a 5wt switch.

  5. I’ve been reading a lot of Kelly Galloup’s stuff on the internet. Sink tips with short (4′) leaders and un-weighted flies are his general recommendations and I’ve had good success with the system.

    However, I can see the merit of a different set-up (floating line, long leader, HEAVY flies) especially in the high Wyoming mountains (long hikes, deep lakes) where I’d rather not carry multiple reels/spools and just make one line/spool work. There aren’t many drift boats at 11k ft…

    Good “food for thought”.

    • Kelly is a great guy and a great fisherman. His tactics work, no doubt. I started out fishing streamers his way. I learned a lot from Kelly. That said, I moved on and found something that worked better for me.

      Here’s a quick example of something you can’t do with a sinking line. Fishing sculpin patterns on the White river I’ve seen big trout get selective. They will follow a streamer but not eat it. I found that if I put a mend in the line and give it slack, letting that heavy streamer sink to the bottom like a sculpin hiding in the rocks, the fish would pounce on it. A sinking line will not let you do that.

      That’s just an example. Sinking lines are great. I have and use a bunch of them for specific applications. Lake fishing is a great example. Tail waters on generation are another. I always use one fishing stripers in the river. It’s just not my first choice.

      • i agree you definatley can’t do that with a sinking line. i do sometimes throw my floater with heavy streamers, i think the main reason i throw a sink line is that i have better control of it when casting and it is much easier to roll cast.

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