Streamer Retrieves For Different Current Speeds

22 comments / Posted on / by


Streamer fishing and current speed. Photo: Louis Cahill

I’ve talked in great detail about streamer fishing since I began writing articles for Gink & Gasoline.

Most of my time has been spent talking about color and pattern choice, streamer gear/rigging for both big and small water and how to locate and target prime trout water with streamers. One area of streamer fishing I’ve yet to talk about in detail is retrieve speed and candor with streamers.

I’ll never forget a trip several years ago I made down to Patagonia, Argentina, where my expert guide taught me the importance of matching my streamer retrieve speed to the speed of the water current I was fly fishing. My guide had watched me for several minutes as I stripped my streamer through a very productive looking run, loaded with buckets. Despite completing two dozen casts, I had failed to get even a single follow from a trout. About the time I was ready to give up and move on, my guide walked up to me and respectfully asked for his permission to make a few casts of his own with my rod. He claimed he could catch a fish in the same water I had just beat to death with my streamer in just a few casts. This is when he made me feel like a total schmuck and rookie. It didn’t take him a few casts to catch a big brown trout out of that hole I had just fished. It took him exactly one cast, that’s all. Grin on his face, he told me, “the water we’re fishing is really fast. You don’t want to rip your streamer through that water with long quick strips, because the fish won’t feel like they’ll have a good chance at success running it down.” He went on to add that just like in nymph fishing where most of the time you want your nymphs drifting close to the bottom, you also want to keep your streamers running deep as well. Then he handed my fly rod back to me and told me to make a cast myself. This time however, he instructed me to dead drift or twitch my streamer lightly as it was drifting through the fast water, then impart a short, strip…strip..pause, strip…strip..pause, for my retrieve as I entered the areas where the water speed began to slow and the deep water buckets were located. My first cast, I missed a strike and my second, I landed a nice 18″ brown trout. I was completely blown away that I had previously had zero success on the water, and just by altering my retrieve speed and shortening my strip I had turned it all around. On the walk back to the lodge, my guide wrapped up my streamer lesson by telling me that slow moving water most of the time, you want to do the exact opposite. In situations where your streamer fishing slow moving water he recommended speeding up the retrieve and length of strip.

Years have past since that day of streamer enlightenment in Argentina. I’ve never forgotten those words of streamer wisdom my Argentine guide graced me with. I’ve learned that every day of streamer fishing is unique. It’s very important for anglers to experiment with their retrieve speed and strip length to figure out what the fish prefer over the other. And when you’re streamer fishing and catch a fish, pay attention to the exact retrieve that you were using when you caught the fish.Try to consistently copy that same retrieve as you go on fishing productive water. Doing so, you’ll often be able to identify one retrieve over the others that will trigger more bites. Be prepared to go back to experimenting with different retrieves if the fly fishing gets cold. Time of day, water temperature or type of water you’re fishing can change conditions enough that will, in turn, change how the fish will prefer to forage on food or how they will be triggered instinctively by your streamer. Lastly, try different retrieve angles and directions with your streamers as well. Quite often, you’ll find a down and across retrieve to work the best when fishing streamers, but sometimes, a  dead-drift with a couple twitches here and there or a quartering upstream cast and retrieve back to you will bring more success. Your goal as a streamer fisherman is to always adjust and experiment with your retrieve and candor styles until you can dial-in to what the fish want. Don’t make the mistake of automatically thinking pattern choice is the only thing that drives success with streamers. It’s definitely something you want to look at if you aren’t catching fish, but quite often, it’s your retrieve and action that you put on your streamer that makes the real difference in success.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

22 thoughts on “Streamer Retrieves For Different Current Speeds

  1. I really enjoy the streamer articles! I am hoping you will do an article about your top streamer patterns in the near future!

  2. I can remember a recent trip here in good ole GA where the the retrieve was the deal breaker. It was a great day for streamer fishing, water up and a little stained with overcast skies. That day the trout were looking for that same “strip, strip, pause” retrieve. Cast across the current, letting the streamer sink and dead drift a bit, then using only short, abrupt 6-8inch strips each time, with a second or so of pause in between the next set of strips. Any other retrieve did not produce, and may have only resulted in a follow. It was definitely the most fun I’ve had with a streamer rod for sure.

    • Justin,

      You don’t know how good that streamer day was for you man. I tried it today and we couldn’t buy a fish on a streamer. They weren’t having it my friend. I think my client thought I was nuts. Man I shouldn’t have talked up the streamer bite :). That’s how it goes somedays.


      • It was awesome no doubt. The conditions were just right and I was stoked to have that much success with my streamer setup. It was just one of those great days on the water and I can’t wait to get back up there with you man.

  3. Hey Kent. Great article. What about a post about streamer tactics from a drift boat? We seem to be hit and miss on the Bow and would love some advice.
    Also, ever tried nymphing some of those Tenkara patterns? Might be some possibilities there.
    Good job man!

    • Johnny,

      Funny you bring up nymphing tenkara patterns. I pondered tying them up several times and trying them with a regular fly rod setup, and I always find an excuse not to. Per your request I will soon and provide you my results. Thanks for the suggestion.

      I have wrote a post on fishing streamers on high water that was meant for rivers that you may find helpful. I have only fished the Bow River once so I’m no expert. As big as the river is though, you should be able to catch them along the banks or out in mid stream eddies, slow water seams and dredging deep water holes.


      • Thanks for the quick reply.
        Good tips on the high water tactics,can’t wait for May to try them out!
        Have a good time in the Bahamas!

        • Johnny,

          You don’t need to wait until may as long as the river is open to fishing and it’s floatable. Some of our best winter fishing is on streamers. Try them out now if you get a chance.


          • Back to the Tenkara patterns…… I’ve been experimenting with some of these patterns but havent had the chance to fish them at all. I’ve been curious about tenkara, but figured I’d try it out with my 10ft rod first before buying a dedicated tenkara rod.

          • Justin,

            Thats it man, both of us need to spend some time each fishing a few tenkara patterns with regular nymphing gear and post our findings.


  4. That would be cool if u guys tried those and put up a post. Where I live in Alberta not much chance until march or so to try them. Would really like to know if they work. I think there is some possibilities and early and late season would be a killer for BWOs and midge patterns. Thanks guys!

    • Johnny,

      Just goes to show that just because it works for you at home doesn’t mean its going to work every where.

      Thats too bad your streamer bite is dead during the winter. Even in water temperatures close to freezing I’ve had epic streamer days by me. Have you ever tried dead drifting streamers on an indicator with small, paused out twitches and slow strips? I know it works even in the Northeast.


      • With the sub zero temps we have had so far this winter I have not been able to get out. It’s about a four hour drive and as soon as my days off coincide with a Chinook that blows into Calgary I will get out and swing my 7weight. I will let u know how those techniques you mentioned work!

  5. Good stuff, Kent. Sometimes it’s the small adjustments that make the difference between catchin’ and just pitchin’. I have been teaching kids, wounded vets, and other new fishermen drag free drift nymph fishing and streamer fishing. Every strip in length and frequency seems to be the same for them until I tell them to try something else. Your tips will help me clearly explain trying different techniques and why.

    One other point re streamers: Sometimes stopping the strip turns a fish off. Fishing for snook is a good example (on the lights and otherwise). They rarely tolerate stopping or long pauses. In some cases even with trout a consistently moving retrieve is the ticket, especially in still water. However, for me river trout sometimes need the pause and sink to get a strike. I guess some of it may be a prey trigger and some of may be instinct on whether the chase will be successful and worth the energy expended. Also depends on the type of streamer.

    • Ralph,

      I agree that most of the time its better to keep the fly moving or try changing strip length or speed for a following fish that’s not committing and eating, however stopping sometimes is the ticket as well. Here’s two quick examples. First, sculpins when chased usually dart a off quickly with a few bursts and then try to hide and camouflage on the bottom. Stopping a sculpin pattern can mimic this and has caught fish that would just follow with a constant strip. Second, today I caught a bonefish close to the boat by stopping my retrieve and letting it eat my fly. If I would have stripped in any more it probably would have got spooked and I would not have caught it. It all depends on species and scenario. Thanks for your comment.


  6. Kent, how ’bout a tutorial on polyleaders? There’s so many of them out there, that I don’t know which ones to buy and what waters to fish them, let alone HOW!

    (I’m still trying to figure out the single-hand game, so I’m not even READY to learn about Scandi and Skagit heads, grain tips, etc.!! 🙁

  7. Pingback: Change Up Streamer Retrieves | MidCurrent

  8. Pingback: Change Up Streamer Retrieves – Specialist Fishing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...