Fishing Streamers Is Still All About Presentation

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Streamer junkies, and I include myself, get a bad rap from the dry fly crowd.

In some places they even go so far as to call them lures, rather than streamers. The dyed-in-the-wool purest would portray those of us with the nerve to fish a four- or six-inch fly as neanderthals. The mantra of the dry fly purest is this.

“Imitation and presentation, that’s fly fishing.”

When I hear those words, I think to myself, “Is there a better description of streamer fishing?”

That’s what we’re doing, isn’t it? Imitating a type of forage food and presenting that Imitation in a manner that makes it believable. The fact that the forage food we have chosen is not an insect makes it no less artful. If your streamer is not presented in a way which the fish can appreciate, it’s still not going in the mouth.

I was reminded of this the other day when fishing a great Tailwater river with my friends Dan and Garner. Water conditions were perfect for streamer fishing and we were working the banks, buckets and blow downs hard. Each of us, streamer fishermen but each with his own style.

I worked my big articulated patterns and snaky sculpins on a long leader and intermediate line, while Garner fished a Sex Dungeon in full Galloup style with a short leader and sinking line. Dan tossed his beautiful classic Maine style streamers. All of us caught fish, but none of us caught the fish we wanted.

I’m not complaining, it was an awesome day of fishing. We caught chunky wild browns and rainbows fourteen to eighteen inches all day and even ended the day casting number twenty-two Blue Winged Olives to picky sipping trout, but there were fish we saw and never hooked. On a seven-hour float, the three of us moved about a dozen fish in the Nimitz class. Twenty-four to twenty-eight inch brown trout which would follow and charge our flies, but wouldn’t eat.

The first of them came up off the bottom of the river like a nuclear submarine, to inspect my fly, less than a quarter mile from the put-in. When it turned and sank back to the bottom I combined some childlike body gestures with some very adult language. My friends, who never saw the fish, laughed at me. “You don’t usually get worked up about missing a fish,” Dan told me.

“You didn’t see this fish!” I replied.

Over the course of the day we each had that experience multiple times, and none of us got an eat from one of the leviathans. The fish would follow and charge, then veer off at the last second, just as they would if refusing a dry fly that didn’t pass inspection. Three different imitations, three different presentations, zero success. These were very educated fish.

I have confidence in the flies that each of us chose. I am convinced that the problem was in the presentation. Where exactly I can’t say for sure. A few things were obvious. On a couple of occasions the fish followed the fly so far that they were at the boat when they charged. It was impossible to accelerate the fly to imitate a fleeing baitfish without resorting to a musky style figure eight. I tried the old stop-and-drop with a heavy sculpin pattern which will dive down into the rocks on the bottom like a natural. Still no success. The only thing I didn’t try was tying on some 6X. In the end, these fish were too smart. Just like a wily brown refusing a dry fly, except these fish were never going to look at a dry fly. Not without a cicada hatch.

But, hey, that’s fly fishing. No matter what the purests say.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Fishing Streamers Is Still All About Presentation

  1. Fishing for huge predatory brown trout is probably more like bass fishing than fly fishing. Those big ass streamers are eliciting reflex reactions or territorial chases rather than feeding responses. There were probably dozens of browns on your 7 hour float that made half-hearted follows, charges, and missed slashes. Those Leroy Browns you encountered were more curious, excited, or angry than hungry and I have no doubt that they instinctively understood that your streamers were not food items. Big fish on the feed will not waste their energy without eating their prey and judging from the size description, those trout don’t miss much. Did you try scaling way down to the size baitfish they normally eat? And please, please de-barb those streamer hooks, us purists are getting tired of catching beautiful wild brown trout with mangled jaws.

    • Agree, one of my fishing buddies loves to tie and fish big, long articulated streamers, he sees the same thing, lots of follows and few eats. I’m fishing 2-3″ flies and more often than not out catch him everyday. Funny part is, I was thing the same thing your saying, those bigger fish are just being territorial and chasing junior outta their water.

      Bow River, Calgary Ab

  2. If you are using a fly rod and “flies” it is fly fishing. A fly rod with corn on a bare hook for carp is fishing, but not fly fishing, or is it? (although my intent is not exactly to argue what is fly fishing).

    I just don’t understand the argument against streamers, or that somehow a reactionary take is less than an eat from feeding. I fish largemouth bass – and it is fly fishing. I tie my own flies, use fly rods and several different techniques.

    And when I use those same flies for trout I am no longer amazed at how productive it can be.

    As for the selective large browns….they are large for a reason! And it makes the pursuit and catch all the more enjoyable.

    • No argument here against streamers or reflex strikes – they can literally be a blast. Whatever floats your boat; just please mash down those barbs.

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