Sunday Classic / 13 Proven Streamer Patterns for Trout

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Louis Cahill Photography

A trophy landed shortly after dawn in WY 2009. Photo By: Louis Cahill

By Kent Klewein

This past Monday I wrote an article stressing the importance of experimenting with different streamer retrieve speeds and stripping lengths, until you find a winning combination that the trout find the most enticing.

Generally, when you’re paying close enough attention when your streamer fishing, you’ll notice one type of streamer retrieve that works hands down better than the rest. If you don’t find this to be the case, and you’re not catching fish with streamers, it probably isn’t the best tactic that given day. My testimony and theories provided in my previous post were gathered from many years of streamer fishing for trout, but were validated and backed up further from guide trips as recent as this past week. We had several comments on the post, with one of our followers requesting I write a follow up post showcasing some of my favorite streamer patterns. Here you go Matt.

It’s important to note, before I provide you with my list of streamer patterns, that I should probably inform everyone that I tend to lean more towards fishing streamer patterns that are weighted heavy at the head. I prefer this style of streamer for two reasons. First, because a weighted head provides a nice up and down action in between strips, which trout seem to love. Secondly, because the extra weight allows me to get my streamer down  into the strike zone quicker and also stay there throughout my retrieve. That in turn, maximizes the amount of water I can effectively fish with my streamer per cast. I also love articulated streamers for their great action, but you can often save time and tie streamers none-articulated that will catch just as many fish, and provide close to the same action. Just make sure you tie your streamers with materials that breath well in the water (ex. marabou, rabbit, arctic fox, racoon, bucktail, craft fur, ect.). Lastly, tying streamer tube flies should be considered for their great action, high hookup rates and durability. I just haven’t gotten into tying and fishing them much yet, so you won’t find them on my list.

That being said, I will also showcase streamers that are tied unweighted or lightly weighted. I prefer to use these streamers when I’m dealing with low water, spooky fish or slow moving water conditions, where depth is not needed. Occasionally, I’ll also use them when I’m using full-sinking lines on a short stout leader or with an intermediate fly line for fishing wiggle/diving streamer patterns. There are some streamer guru’s out there that prefer to fish unweighted streamers 24/7 on sinking lines. I’ll concur that somedays the specific action they provide in the water can prove to be more effective than weighted streamers, but day in and day out, I’ve personally found weighted streamers to work much better for me.

Below is a list of examples and variations of streamers I like to fish. Many of the patterns I’ve chosen to showcase, are tied by well-known commercial by fly tiers that you can purchase at your local fly shop or online. I’ve done this because there are a lot of you out there that don’t tie flies. If you do tie, you should be able to tie reasonably close replicas of your own, by reviewing the pictures provided. Click links for more information or to purchase the patterns.

12 Proven Streamer Patterns for Trout

1. Sculpzilla


The sculpzilla, at 3″ is not a huge streamer, but it’s caught me a ton of big trout over the past four years. I never leave home without a couple in my streamer box. The color shown above has been my top producer in in the Sculpzilla, but I stock it in white as well. I’ve caught fish with it just about everywhere I’ve fished, from small streams to giant rivers, and all species of salmonids seem to like it. Fish it with confidence, because if there’s trout hungry, it will catch them. It’s modest size helps to keep even smart wary fish comfortable snacking on it, and the sharp stinger hook seems to aid in getting solid hookups that end with a fish in the net.

2. Jawbreaker


Everyone should have some streamers tied on jig hooks. They ride hook point up which allows you to work them deep in and around structure without getting snagged on the bottom. They also have a fantastic jigging action in the water, especially when you tie them with a loop knot. The Jawbreaker is like a giant woolly bugger with rubber legs and a curly tail that flutters during the retrieve, much like conventional plastic grubs used by bass fisherman. Even smart fish fall victim to this pattern because of its up and down swimming action and life-like moving materials.

3. Kingfisher’s Heavy Metal Sculpin


This great streamer by Montana Fly Company is one of my favorite streamers when I’m dealing with off-colored water. The colorado blade on the tail gives off crazy flash and vibrations that trout can hone in on no matter how dirty the water is, and it’s fantastic for low light or night fishing. Strip it back to you like a normal streamer or swing it down and across. You’ll feel the thumping of the blade in your hand, and quite often, a vicious strike will occur. Be warned though, this fly is heavy and harder to cast than most streamers. It will give you a work out stripping it in and pounding the banks. It has mega resistance in the water, primarily due to the blade. It’s well worth the extra work though, believe me. I don’t use it all the time, like I said, it’s a dirty water, low light, or night pattern. No sinking lines for this streamer. It gets down quick and works fine on a standard flowing line and tapered leader.

4. Krafts Crawdad


I’m not a big fan of most crayfish streamer patterns out there. Most have been tied to look way too realistic and either have terrible action or aren’t weighted enough in my opinon. The Krafts Crawdad is the one exception and I’ve fallen in love with. It’s basically a fly tying version of a conventional bass jig, which mimics the same great action and profile. It’s simplistic design throws all the unimportant details of a crayfish out the window and focuses on a few key traits that instantly shout out crayfish to trout when they see it. In my opinion, it’s the only crayfish pattern you’ll ever need to own, and it will not only work for trout but for just about any other gamefish that forages on crayfish. Try it on water where you know there are good populations of crayfish.

5. Muddler Minnow


This old school streamer has been catching trout long before I was born. It’s not as fancy as most streamers on the market these days, nor is it articulated, but that doesn’t mean you should keep it out of play and on the bench. The Muddler Minnow is a simple sculpin pattern that has just the right amount of flash and fish attracting profile to catch trout coast to coast. I like to use it when the fish are being finicky or when they’re failing to commit to my larger streamers. The great thing about the pattern is you really can’t fish it wrong. You can dead drift it, strip it or swing it. Hell, you could even fish it below a indicator if you want. I’ve heard Kirk Deeter’s fished a deer head version as a floating/drowned hopper imitation with success. That’s about is versatile as you can get in a streamer pattern. There has been days when I couldn’t keep trout off this fly and that’s why I always keep at least a few patterns on hand.

6. Galloup’s Heifer Groomer


If you like streamer fishing, this pattern should be very familiar to you. Kelly Galloup, has been one of our greatest pioneers in the industry for teaching streamer tactics, and his patterns are proven to catch trophy trout everywhere. The Heifer Groomer, is his articulated version of a Zoo Cougar on steriods. It’s one of the first fly patterns I found success with when I began fishing high water flows on my home tailwaters. It’s landed me some giants I’ll never forget. Although Kelly’s version is tied weightless and has caught fish for him on all his travels, I like to tie mine with either the hook shank wrapped in .30 to .35 lead or with heavy dumb-bell eyes. I’ll then keep the deer hair collar but will finish off the head with wool instead, to help it sink faster. He probably wouldn’t agree, but that’s how I like to fish it. I’d recommend you stock both unweighted and weighted in your box. Yellow is my go-to color but I also carry it in black/brown, olive/brown and white. One last recommendation if you plan on purchasing this pattern. Check out the hooks before you drop cash for a dozen of them. There’s a lot of knock offs out there tied on cheap hooks. Buying and fishing them and you’ll run the risk of losing a fish of a lifetime.

7. Galloup’s Sex Dungeon


I couldn’t bare to only showcase one Kelly Galloup streamer pattern in this post. Fact is, a lot of my streamer tying inspiration has come from Kelly’s streamer patterns, and if you looked in my box you’d likely see a Kelly Galloup theme. His articulated Sex Dungeon is tied on the end of my line quite a bit actually. What can I say, it produces. It’s wads of rubber legs produce great action and it’s two-tone color mimic the sculpin pattern perfectly. There’s almost limitless color variations you can tie this pattern in. I like to add a little synthetic flash material here and there to give it some extra pop in the water, and barred marabou to copy the sculpins look in the wild. Black and Brown is my favorite color combination.

8. Mike’s Meal Ticket


Looking for an articulated streamer that also has a wide baitfish profile. Look no further, Mike’s Meal Ticket is just what the name says, a full meal. It’s ram wool head maintains a large profile weight and pushes water well. It’s rubber legs, flashy body and zonker rabbit tail provide a wide range of attraction and lots of movement in the water. I guess you could say this fly has a little of everything in it. It a consistent producer for me and I’m sure it will be for you, if you give it some time on the water.

9. Charlie’s Air Head


Charlie Bisharat is the mastermind behind the Airhead and popular Pole Dancer. The man is a genius behind the vise and he’s an exceptional fly fisherman. I could be wrong, but I believe this pattern was originally created for large predatory gamefish, like striped bass. Right or not, it doesn’t matter, because it sure as heck works for catching big brown and rainbow trout. I’ve played around just twitching it ten feet in front of the boat sipping a beer, way out in the middle of the river, and seen fish come out of no where 12-14 feet down to inspect and eat the fly. I’ve never seen trout drawn so strongly and travel such crazy distances, to run down a streamer. It looks just like a juvenile fish in the water and it’s clear durable head and synthetic body makes this fly damn near indestructible. Be prepared though, it’s a pricey streamer at around $8, but if you’re a serious streamer fisherman, you should invest in some of these. It comes standard with a quality wide gap hook that will hold the biggest of fish. I either fish it on a clear intermediate fly line, for low to moderate flows or a sinking line when I need to get it deep. Make sure to pause it a couple seconds every few strips to mimic a wounded fish, that’s where it shines.

10. Wiggle Bugs/Minnows


I’ve lumped the wiggle minnow and the wiggle bug streamer patterns together, because they’ve got the same action and overall look. If you’re looking for that Rapala swimming action, look no further. I prefer to tie them with an articulated sparse tail that gives the fly a little more wobble and slightly longer profile. Just like the Airhead, I fish these patterns on an intermediate or sinking fly line to keep them running deep. Tie them on with a loop knot and retrieve them with long steady strips for the best action. Make a cast and let it drift several feet on the surface before you begin stripping it in, and also throw in pauses now and then. I’ve had tons of fish eat these patterns on the surface, mistaking them for a dying or wounded fish. If the streamer bite seems slow, tie this pattern on. I’ve had days where I couldn’t buy a fish on any type of fly and then tied on a wiggle minnow, and caught fish after fish, the rest of the day.

11. Walker’s Wiggler


I’ve looked up to Walker Parrot from Davidson River Oufitters since I first started guiding. He’s the jack of all trades, fly fished all over the world and can catch anything that swims with a fly. I guess you could say he’s the Jeff Currier of the Southeast. Veteran fly fishing guide and talented fly tier, he has far more skills with a fly rod than most, yet doesn’t flaunt it, unless you’ve got an ego that needs checking. His Wiggler has unbelievable action in the water, it’s durable as heck and it can be tied to match just about any baitfish where trout live. Works very well for bass as well, and suspends in the water when you stop it during the retrieve. If you haven’t fished the Wiggler, give it a try and you’ll become a big fan, I promise.

12. Hot Flash Minnow


I could have used a dozen different patterns to showcase this style of streamer, but I chose the Hot Flash Minnow because it’s super easy to tie, and it’s a good pattern to model your own fly tying versions after. I often opt to fish streamers similar to this tied on heavy hooks, because they have great action and are easy to cast. They actually will sink pretty quick if you don’t tie them too bulky. Wrap the hook with some lead if you need too, but in many cases, you should find you can fish them just fine on an intermediate fly line. Rivers where you’ve got big trout that eat juvenile trout or fingerlings are good places to fish this. It’s a double winner if the river also flows into a lake or larger river, because usually that means there will also be an abundance of baitfish as well. Fishing this style streamer on such water should prove to be highly effective. A little color swapping and you can mimic a baby rainbow or brown trout, which is a perfect strategy when you’re fly fishing waters with substantial natural reproduction.

Overall, I think this style of streamer gets under utilized in trout fishing. Maybe, it’s because in general, these patterns are tied for mostly saltwater applications, but I think that often makes them more appealing in the trout’s eyes because they aren’t seen as much. Trout don’t seem to take the time to follow and study them as much before eating them. They commit or don’t commit at all. I regularly use them when I’m dealing with low water conditions because they enter the water quietly and take less false casts in between presentations.

13. Snag Free Delight


Here’s another saltwater fly pattern that can be converted into a trophy trout magnet. Ever heard of Capt. Chris Newsome? He’s a saltwater guide out of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and ties extremely innovative fly patterns. Even better, his website provides killer photographs of his flies so you can tie up your own if you want. You got to love a guide that’s confident enough to put his secret flies on the internet for everyone to see. His Snag Free Baitfish patterns are tied on a bass worm hook, and are designed to tuck up in the middle of the body to provide outstanding weedless capabilities. And the combination of bucktail and feathers makes for easy casting and killer action in the water. Wrap the front of the hook with lead and it will keel the fly upright in the water and will also get your fly down in the strike zone. Fish this pattern on a intermediate or sinking fly line and hold on.

That wraps up my list of my favorite streamer patterns. I started out with about 20 patterns, but narrowed it down to 13. Try them out, support the fly tiers who created them, by purchasing them if you can and let me know how they work for you all.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline 
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8 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / 13 Proven Streamer Patterns for Trout

  1. Kent- Thai you. I always enjoy and learn from your take on fishing for Trout. My old school favorite is the versatile, effective, and easily tied and tailored wooly bugger. Easy tie in colors, materials, and add-ons in many of your favorites. Never failed me and no fancy hooks required. I learned streamer fishing with it more than 40 years ago, and it still delivers more consistently than any fancy fly I have tried since. Ten years ago I would have bought flies from your list and materials to tie them. Now I just reach for materials I already have and emulate colors, features, and add-ons that might make a wooly better for a given situation. I know, I am old-fashioned, cheap, and dull. Guilty. But also satisfied and successful. At my age each moment on the stream is precious and I rely on the wooly because it is a proven pattern for me.

  2. Hi Ralph,
    What color woolly bugger works best for you and the trout? Do you do anything besides adding flash in the tail?

    Some of those minnow patterns do intrigue me. I may have to give one of two a try.

  3. Bruce,

    My favorite go-to for Trout: I tie a camo wooly, which is a mix of black and OD green in body, hackle, and tail. I do use flash in tail. I tie them weighted, unweighted, with dumbbell eyes and without. I sometimes add rubber leg features or use chickaboo hackle. You can tie variations on a theme. But I find the the black and olive combo is quite universal and may work where black or olive aren’t.. It is also a great high, off-color water fly. But I use all colors and add-ons like egg sucking leech, flash, rubber curly tail (as on some of Kent’s favorites) etc. in differing conditions. But if I could only choose one, it would be the weighted camo pattern.

    Woolies can be tied as minnow patterns as well, and white is another good color. But I would not dissuade you from trying Kent’s favorites. Find a fly you have confidence in and you will fish it better and what works for me may not be your favorite. I just have not had a lot of success with a box full of different flies that I find on line or in a catalogue. But I am.not a guide who needs the variety and works to adjust when something is not working. Instead, I adjust retrieve, tactics, size, etc. and that is what works for me. Learning never ends, which is why I read Louis and Kent’s blog every day.

  4. Hi Ralph,
    Can you email me a photo of the camo bugger and maybe the steps to tying it? I tie the basic woolly’s in black olive and brown in size 8. Thanks if you are able, Bruce

    • I do not know how we get each other’s email. You can email me as Advocacy Chair of Georgia State Council of Trout Unlimited (email address is online). I will send you steps to tie. Very easy if you already tie buggers. Just adjusting steps to mix colors. This was a fly we taught at Blue Ridge Mountain TU fly tying, so I may have pictures somewhere. If not I will take a picture for you.

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