Fishing Streamers Is Still All About Presentation

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo 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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12 thoughts on “Fishing Streamers Is Still All About Presentation

  1. Great article! I fished the lower Gunnison Gorge on Tuesday, and I also love to fish streamers. Although I only netted and released 3 20 inch Browns, it was a Great Day! I had several strikes, but was unable to get a hook set , and maybe It was my presentation also? Anyway, it was fun! And like you said that’s fishing!

  2. I think that maybe dry fly purists and nypmhers are offended by the pure raw aggression of fishing streamers. No delicate sips, or soft mouthing of the fly when swinging streamers. Just slashes, chases and hard aggressive strikes.

    I went out fishing last night, and met someone on the water. I was just getting on the water as he was leaving. He asked what I was doing, and I said fishing at dark and into the night. He asked what I was using and I told him, big streamers and large spinners. He looked at me with a bit of disdain in his smile, and nodded as he said, “Throwing meat, huh?”

    I smiled and said, yep, and hoping for big trout.

  3. I was fishing with my 6-year old son yesterday for panfish. I threw a small generic white bugger out and it was hammered by a decent sized sunfish. No matter what you’re fishing for, strikes on streamers are awesome.

  4. Streamer fishing is a blast. High water and a sink tip…short leader is my preferred method/time. I’m growing more fond of streamers with trailer hooks or articulated hooks because long tails are giving up too many short strikes. Smaller streamers like Size 6 hare sculpin or Stanley streamer are a couple of my favorites. I love covering lots of water too.

  5. Streamers are also one of the last places to see true innovation in fly design. I’m not a big fan of Chocklett’s Game Changer, but streamers like Tommy Lynch’s Triple D, Mike Schmidt’s Meal Ticket & Red Rocket, and Galloup’s Zoo Cougar and Sex Dungeon are a blast to tie and ultra effective.

    I’ve paired down my streamer box to pretty much just these patterns in white/white, black/purple, olive/black, and yellow/brown.

  6. Great article! Sometimes no matter what we try the code of the day remains hidden from us. I couldn’t agree with you more about how critical imitation and presentation is in our sport. I’m rather new to fly fishing but as I hone skills using different methods I an always on the look out for new techniques of fooling fish on a fly. Love the blog! Keep up the awesome work!

  7. I booked a guided trip in WY on a popular tailwater, but decided to fish a more unpopular spot in search of some bigger fish. The guide was fantastic, and really it was an eye-opener on how you should be presenting streamers different times of year….

    Colder water the fish are more lethargic and lying on the bottom, not banked up. He was having us dredge the crap out of some deeper holes with heavy sinking line, very slow strips and just bouncing it off the bottom.

    This was much different than how I normally fish them, which is bang the banks from the boat and long hard strips! Granted we usually do this in warmer weather…

    I’ve been fishing the Upper Colorado River with a ton of success using different size streamers and tandem with different colors. Its amazing how slight changes in conditions turn the streamer bit on/off. With the sun out, fish would swing at the flies but not take. As soon as the cloud cover rolled in they were committing and inhaling the flies.

    All things to consider when chucking the meat. Its so much fun, its hard for me to pick up the nymph rod sometimes…

  8. As usual, good blog, Louis. As a guy who started fly fishing in salt, I guess I will never understand disdain and disrespect for streamer fishing.

    Re: presentation: I try to improve presentation for streamers (and many other flies large and small) in fresh water and salt with loop knots. The loop gives more freedom of motion during pauses and drifts and is no less secure than traditional knots from tippet to fly. I think loop knots are particularly helpful for streamer fishing.

  9. I read your blog post The Streamer Game a couple of years ago (the photo on that post is the coolest fish photo I have ever seen). From that, I found out about Kelly Galloup and last year I spent two days fishing nothing but streamers with one of Kelly’s guides. It was so much fun. To me, it is a great thrill to see a trout come out from under a bank after a streamer, even if it doesn’t hit it. Plus I think the big streamer flies are cool. I like just looking at them.

  10. Pingback: Tippets: Streamer Presentation, Rising Temps & Small Streams, Extended-Body Mayfly Tying | MidCurrent

  11. don’t know if it was possible to do, but i would have rollcasted to accelerate the fly close to the boat and hope for the take.

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