4 Proven Ways To Effectively Fish A Streamer

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Every angler wants to catch a trophy trout and there’s no better way than fishing a streamer.

While it’s fair to say that there is no “wrong way” to fish a streamer, there are some proven techniques which will help make that trophy dream a reality. Presenting big, heavy flies to the largest fish in the river brings with it a whole new set of challenges, including a new way of thinking about presentation. Your presentation is no longer passive, but active, and it is the action of your fly which must excite the predatory instincts of the fish. In the end, you will find your own style of fishing streamers but here are four techniques that have been proven to bring big fish to the net time after time.

Stripping the fly

This is what most anglers think of as streamer fishing. Tossing the fly to the upstream side of a likely lie and ripping it back. It’s exciting and visual and usually productive. It plays on the predatory instinct of large trout by imitating a fleeing baitfish. I favor the jerk-strip retrieve, popularized by Kelly Galloup. A very young Mr. Galloup demonstrates in this video.

The speed of your retrieve is key. Have you ever made an impulsive purchase that you later regretted? Then you have some insight into the mind of the fish who eats a streamer. Like a bargain shopper, fish don’t like to miss an opportunity. Your fly must be a limited time offer. If the fish has too much time to inspect and think his decision through, he’ll decide to pass. On the other hand, no fish wants to engage in the pointless pursuit of a bullet train. Remember to think about the environment where the fish and fly meet. If the water is moving slowly, your fly should scorch off the bank sending the message that it’s now or never. If your fly is in fast moving water, it’s already moving quickly in relation to a holding trout. Slow your retrieve down and give the fly a twitching action like a wounded baitfish. Always remember, a predator takes what he wants. It’s your job to make him want the fly.

Swinging the fly

If we set aside for the moment, the argument over whether steelhead are trout, this is how I have caught my largest trout. If a 42-inch steelhead will grab a swung fly, you’d better believe a big brown trout will, too. I like to employ the swing when fish are following a stripped fly, but not taking it. I’ll size down my streamer and often drop a Soft Hackle 16-24 inches behind it. You will catch more small fish this way but you’ll catch the big ones too.

Swinging the fly is an effective way to reach fish holding in deep water. Use a heavy sinking line and stage yourself upstream of your target. Cast across the current and make a big mend or two, putting slack in the line, which will allow your fly to sink, and allowing the fly to move downstream of the line. This way the fly will not tear off at top speed when the line comes tight. Keep your rod tip low and sweep it upstream as the fly reaches the target. Then follow the line downstream with the rod as the belly forms in the line.

This will let you put your fly right in the faces of those deep fish. Often the take will come as the fly rises in the water column at the end of the swing. The streamer/Soft Hackle combo is especially effective at this point, offering both fleeing baitfish and emerging insect. Be patient. Let the fly hang in the water for ten or fifteen seconds at the end of the swing.

Dead drifting the fly

Sometimes a big fish just wants an easy meal. A dead drifted streamer can be just the thing when conditions are right. Especially in the dead of winter when everything is moving a little slower. This is never more true than when temperatures dip into the brutal sub-zero range and many tailwater rivers experience shad kills. I have seen days when literally millions of dead and dying shad float down stream and are gulped down like spinners by huge trout. An appropriately sized white streamer dead drifted among them, on or near the surface, can make for a day you will never forget.

Dead drifting big flies is productive even when shad kills are not on the menu. In deep runs with boulder strewn bottoms I like to suspend a streamer under a strike indicator. This meaty offering has the potential to wake a sleeping giant who would never come to the surface during the day. Think of it as nymphing a streamer. This is a great time to try out those crawfish patterns.

Finessing the fly

I have friends who crush fish with this technique. It’s sort of a hybrid of the other three methods and it’s all about feel. The idea is to cast the fly across the current, usually on a medium to short line where you can see the eat, and sort of dangle it out there on a tight line, occasionally giving it a twitch or a pull. Work the fly softly through likely holding water and swim it into harm’s way. Let it dive and drift and swing it’s way through the feeding zone. Stay on your toes. The fish that take a fly fished in this way seem to come from nowhere.

This technique works equally well whether wading or fishing from a boat. Of course, finessing a fly from a drift boat gives you the chance to make some long, sweet drifts and cover a lot of water. This method is especially effective along undercut banks and in fast pocket water. It’s very visual and a lot of fun.

I love the active nature of streamer fishing. 

I feel completely engaged in the act of fooling the fish. It’s the ultimate game of strategy and tactics, and when big fish are present, both the stakes and the rewards are high. Never be afraid to try something different. Study the water and think about how it might affect fish behavior. Experiment and find the presentation that works. When you find it, send us a photo of that trophy!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “4 Proven Ways To Effectively Fish A Streamer

  1. Question for you. Are you trailing a weighted soft hackle behind the streamer in this scenario? Or are you letting the streamer supply the weight and letting the soft hackle drift naturally behind it?

  2. Pingback: 4 Ways to Fish a Streamer | MidCurrent

  3. Pingback: 4 Ways to Fish a Streamer - Fish

  4. Pingback: 4 Ways to Fish a Streamer – BestFitnessDirect

  5. Clear, concise, instructive – a big difference from some of the other articles I’ve read about fishing streamers, which leave me feeling I know less about how to do it than before I read the article.

    Well done, and thanks!

    I’d like to see you write more about something you’ve touched on here, which streamers fish well in different water types and with which methods.

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