I Must Have Washed My Streamers On Hot

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Sweet meat, or too much? Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

How did all of my streamer patterns get so small?

I must have left the box in a shirt pocket and thrown it in the wash on hot. It seems like just the other day that all of my buddies would look at my streamers and shake their heads, often with a look of disgust. Seriously, it was like five minutes ago, the idea of throwing a four inch long fly at a trout was considered absurd. For a minute it wasn’t, and now I’m getting looks again.

These days it seems like half the guys I fish with are heaving eight- or nine-inch feather snakes at cowering trout. Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe there is some wisdom in fishing a fly the size of the average fish in the river. I’m sure of one thing, and it’s proven to be true my entire life. When I am the voice of reason, things have gotten way the hell out of hand.

I firmly believe that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to fly size. A quick survey of YouTube videos under the topic “Streamer Tying for Trout” will quickly make you believe I’m in the minority. Everybody with a vise and a GoPro is in a race to see who can pile the most material onto the greatest number of hooks. Are those things really catching fish?

My feeling is this. You’ll get the occasional fish on those huge flies, but you’re asking an awful lot of a fish to attack something like that. I find I do better by sizing down. Even for musky, I’ve had better hookup rates than my buddies by fishing a smaller fly. When I’m pulling streamers for trout I’ll drop a #10, dare I say it, Wooly Bugger behind my streamer and double my catch rate. All of the fish who eat that trailer aren’t small either.

Four inches. Thats the deal.

In my experience a trout streamer becomes less effective when it’s over four inches. That’s my opinion and there’ll be plenty who disagree with it, but I did not just pull it out of my hat. I’ve burned through truck loads of marabou coming to that conclusion. I also don’t see any need in putting a hook larger than size 4 in a trout. It’s just too hard on them. I’ll happily fish a size 4 with a pinched barb to any trout you put in front of me.

Of course, I’m not going to get a seat at the cool kids table with such a modest fly but I don’t need that. I don’t even need a seat in the bow of the boat. Me and my little guy will do just fine in the back seat.

Are you a streamer junkie? What’s your opinion?


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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17 thoughts on “I Must Have Washed My Streamers On Hot

  1. Man finally someone reveals the elephant in the room. There are exception to every rule sure, but I really agree with what you say. There is a lot of tying going on out there to catch the tyer and angler less so the trout in our rivers.

  2. I’m not a streamer guy but glad to hear a voice of reason on this issue. When your strike to hook-up ratio is close to 10 to 1, you must be doing something wrong. Those quadruple sex dungeons are getting more territorial chases than true predatory eats. Louis, your point (pun intended) on hook size and de-barbing needs repeating. Far too many wild fish getting mangled by those giant barbed hooks. And isn’t hooking and playing a 20+” trout on a 7 or 8 wt. with a 10 lb.. tippet a bit of over-kill?

    Your advice on the wooly bugger is excellent but I’d suggest running it in front of the big streamer. Trout will see the big fly trying to eat the smaller bugger and their natural competitiveness will trigger them to take the bugger.

    Great article and a great wake up call. This trend has gotten completely out of control and I hope to see the pendulum swing back to a scale that matches the quarry.

    • Rick-

      Amen. There is room in fly fishing for all kinds of approaches. Diversity is good and helps us appreciate new things. But aren’t fly fishermen supposed to be concerned about the health of the fish? The face of trout stuck a few times with a #4 hooked mega-streamer and a “rip lips” hook set…not pretty.

      I’ve not seen too many trout mangled with a size 18 fly but I sure have mangled a few jaws with huge cone-head woolly buggers. Hard to eat well with half your jaw ripped off. It’s no wonder that some of these fish become snakes.

      • I just recently started de-barbing all of my dry flies. Hook removal is easier, flies don’t get damaged by hemostats. and the trout like it too! There are some exceptionally high quality barbless hooks available now thanks to competition fishing. Not a fan at all, but the barbless hooks out of Europe and Japan are a fantastic boon to preserving the resource.

        Time for all of us to keep ’em wet and go barb-less.

    • I agree that smaller size flies are less intrusive and I prefer to use them over large flies, but I do think that overkill with rod weight and tippet isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You’re bound to play fish much longer with lighter tippet than having 10lb test on and having the power to get them in quickly. Depending on what you’re targeting I think we all need to be conscious about appropriate rod weight and set ups to make sure lactic acid build up is minimal and the fish live to see another few anglers.

  3. in my experience, 4-6 inches is basically the sweet spot. I’ve got some bigger ones that I might bust out in high water on a tailwater or something, but usually im throwing something 4-6.

    I think a moderately sized streamer with a good design (i like bulky heads and tail hooks tied with material that has a ton of movement) will get you more hits. I like to tie flies that kind of “jack knife” on the pauses in the retrieve

    The articulation shanks are something really good as well, I have been tying more with just a single #4 or #2 and a shank for the back section. they dont foul as much, and it’ll do less harm to the fish. the only point is in their mouth and there isnt a second point flailing around in the fight.

    in anything but colored fast water they seem to just slash at the super big streamer, but they will come out an T-bone a “smaller” streamer

  4. “Shrinkage Jerry, does she know about shrinkage?”

    Im with Chris on this one. I have my lifetime membership card in the “streamer junkies of America”, and I have boxes of flies the size of a small woodland mammal. I love to throw them at high water, northern NH trout. Ive landed some big ones.

    But more and more I’m throwing flies in the 4″-6″ range more than anything. Its all about movement, movement, movement! If a streamer moves, it will catch fish IMHO.

  5. I was watching a video just a few days ago guys fishing for pike in Canada. They were catching 50 inch monsters on 6 and 7 inch Swimming Baitfish flies. And my thought was why in the world does the guide insist I must throw a a bath towel size fly for musky???!!! I have pretty much always been a go small kind of guy. And a lighter rod is so much more fun to cast all day. Just saying!

  6. Big Streamers (hook +3 articulation shanks, or longer than 4 inches) are more fun to tie, and inspire dreams of massive trout turning and giving chase. I’ve had occasional success with such monstrosities (mostly with other species like pike and bass) and it IS exhilarating. But when it comes to catch rate, I don’t think that there’s any question if a sparsely-tied and smaller streamer is a better fish catcher… they are, and it’s not even close. Now, that being said, will I tie and fish a behemouth fly in water where there is potential for a 25″ trout to chase and eat? Heck yeah. Will I also tie on a size 8 thin mint and fish it just as hard. Yep, and I know I’ll catch more fish with it. If you want fish in the net, feed ’em what they normally eat. If you want to hunt giants, fish when they eat, and offer them the biggest meal that’ll fit in their mouth.

    • And it goes without saying that EVERY hook I throw in freshwater is barbless. Even on the furbearer streamers, it is the thinnest hook I can get away with, and no barb.

  7. Large streamers won’t catch more than a bad cold if predisposed to smaller freshwater riverine and Stillwater fly fishing. If, however, a big river that holds big browns is your venue – big, articulated flies will catch. You would, of course, be less catch prone – think willing to get skunked.

    Spawning fish hit flies for reasons other than food so color, size, hook, tube are not made of the same “stuff.”

    Larger animals is briny waters eat big flies, predominantly.

    Yes, there are a gazillion tying vids out there of which 99% are familiar or copies of, variations of.

  8. I’m amused with this idea that somehow debarbing or going barbless is something new. I’ve been doing this since the late 70s early 80s.

  9. I’m with you 100% on streamer size Louis. ON our Driftless region spring creeks I usually fish size 6-10 woolly bugger, leech, and sculpin patterns with the occasional size 4 in high water. Do a stream seine and look at the sculpin and dace minnows, and leeches that show up in it-average size is between 1.5 and 3″. Creek chubs are the main baitfish that’s bigger and most resident trout would choke on a big creek chub. Here’s another question to ponder How many times a week or day do you eat a thanksgiving turkey? Most of us not often, same probably holds true with trout. Hooks bigger than size 4 and multi hooked streamers make me cringe when looking at a trout’s mouth.

  10. I enjoy swinging flies for trout, and my top two flies are a size 8 conehead Muddler and a size 8 sculpzilla. So, I work successfully with 2″ flies or less.

    if the day and run has been fun, I may switch to large flies on tubes or articulated flies, but rarely go above above 4″, as I too believe the opportunities really diminish after this. Yes, I have some big pulls and fish on these!

    I do throw large junk for Stealhead, if the water is warm and definitely for pike, but I look at the those at 6″ as too big for my trout waters. I can see large waters and large tail waters working 6″, but you also need to bring the big rod too and you must be willing to have limited success.

    if you want to throw large flies, I would hunt for Pike.

  11. It’s “THE FLY FISHING INDUSTRY.” We’ve been catching trout on streamers for years, and one guy has convinced a jillion people that it can’t be done unless we use musky flies. And then he convinced the same people that his 90 very slightly different patterns have differences that really matter. I think that big streamers are fine for big trout in big dirty water, but they aren’t the be all and end all. Also, what’s with the teenage boy names? The Butt Monkey? The Pearl Necklace? What will he come up with next? The Rusty Trombone? The Filthy Sanchez? Oh for the days of the gray ghost and the Parmacheene Belle. Why does the class have to be taken out of so many things.

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