Streamers,  Fish ‘Em Deep Enough

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Photo by Travis Tolliver

By Louis Cahill

How deep should you be fishing your streamers?

I had the chance to fish with my brother Tom the other day. It’s a shame we can’t do it more. I always enjoy talking about fishing with him. Tom is a very technical bass angler. He does the vast majority of his fishing with conventional tackle, a sparkly boat and plenty of electronics. It blows my mind how technical that game is. If I had a lifetime I’d never understand it as well as Tom.

We were throwing streamers for striped bass in the river, my favorite summer fly fishing. Tom does most of his fishing in still water so he had lots of questions.

“How deep do you want that fly?” he asked me.

That’s often the $64,000 question, and remember, it’s coming from a guy who’s used to marking fish on a graph and knowing exactly how deep to fish, in feet. As a fly angler, used to targeting fish in moving water, my approach is very different. I figured out years ago how I like to address the problem and it’s worked pretty well for me.

When fishing streamers, there are a handful of variables that come into play when deciding the depth you should be fishing. Water depth, speed and clarity, lighting, water and air temperature, and species just to name a few. Of course, some of those variables are constantly changing so you need a strategy that will work consistently as that happens. A simple answer like, five feet, doesn’t work.

I base my opinion, and to be clear it is my opinion, on some constants which do not change. It’s based on conditions, but based more on what I know about fish. 

Fish your streamers just out of sight. Here’s why:

First, fish are delicious. They know this and are keenly interested in their own self preservation. This means that fish do not like to be seen and have spent millions of years becoming good at hiding from view. Whether it’s stained water, broken water, lighting or just depth that hides them from view, the same thing will hide your streamer. After all, it’s just a little artificial fish. If your streamer is deep enough to disappear from view, it’s deep enough for a fish to take it with confidence, knowing he too is invisible.

Second, predatory species, like bass and trout, don’t look down much. They prefer to sit below their prey. Their mouthes are designed to eat things that are above them. It’s how they are accustomed to feeding. The worst thing you can do it be below the fish you are targeting. So, the rule isn’t just, out of sight. It’s, “just out of sight.” Remember that as fish look up at our flies, they are always lit from behind. This makes the silhouette more visible in dirty water or low light. So, you want that fly deep enough that you can’t see it, but not much deeper.

The rule of fishing a streamer, just out of sight, has worked very well for me for years. With the exception of very shallow or very deep water it lets me adjust how I’m fishing very quickly and always be confident that I’m in the strike one. Give it a try and see if you don’t catch more fish on a streamer.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Streamers,  Fish ‘Em Deep Enough

  1. I am not interested in Bass fishing! I fish trout and steelhead only!

    Please omit all options and return me to Gink and Gasoline where I was prior to this fiasco. I very much enjoy the weekly fly tying demo and the news items. What ever else you offer I can live without.

    Thanks Lowell Tveit

    • Plenty – likely most – G&G subscribers don’t limit their fishing to trout and steelhead, and really like the other subjects.

      As a fisherman who chases trout, smallies, large mouth, pike and muskies with a fly rod, I’d be pretty bummed out to see G&G limit themselves to trout and steelhead…that’d be duller than dirt…

      • Have to agree with you. I’ve been fly fishing & Tying for 40 years. Sure, I was a die hard trout/ dry fly guy with nothing but natural furs & feathers. I even resisted synthetics … until about 15 years ago. I live in WNY & realized then how much more & diverse fishing time you get in by spreading my wings. I can’t find anything wrong with Bass, Pike, & even Muskie. All quite prevalent here in addition to Salmonids. Still trying for that Muskie though! Never would have crossed my mind to tell Fly Fisherman, Fly Tyer etc. magazines to change their articles to suit only what I like.
        These days just press another button on your iPad & find a sight that suits you. G&G has been a fun & informative sight for ALL fly fishers. Keep it up.

  2. So, I like to fish streams about the size of the Logan River, UT and smaller. A 6 foot pool is about as deep as I usually fish and often it is more likely to be about 4 foot. I’ve gotten into the habit of bumping streamers along the bottom, like I was fishing for white bass on their spawning run. In any case, in my experience, it seems like trout (and spotted bass and smallmouth) are usually holding really close to the bottom and it seems like that is where the sculpins, darters, and crayfish are hanging out and those are the patterns I generally imitate, too.

    Now, that said, a white shad pattern about 2-3 feet under the surface in a pond or lake for bass is my go to method. Just not in moving water. But maybe in bigger water things change a bit- in any case it is always interesting to try something new and break the old habits to see what happens.

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