Streamer Season: Getting into the Game

About 5 years ago, I was out at a spot on Spring Creek throwing a size 4 Weamer Streamer without really knowing much about fishing streamers (other than dead-drifting, swinging them down-and-across, and stripping a bit). The water was up and off-color, the weather was rainy, and on the first cast in a new spot I missed one of the biggest browns I’ve seen on Spring. The fly hit the water and a split second later this large fish porpoised (I could see the entire back of the fish) going after the fly.

Naturally, I did what any fisherman with buck fever would do: promptly pulled the fly right out of the mouth of this brown then stared at the water where it came from, slack-jawed.

That experience, coupled with a trip to Montana in 2011 where I first had the chance to fish articulated streamers, made me want to learn as much as possible about the streamer game.

Even in the digital age, I still prefer print books, and there have been some helpful ones that are worth mentioning (in no particular order):

Plenty of information can also be found on the web, too. Domenick over at Troutbitten has a number of articles on the streamer game that are worth taking the time to read. Gink & Gasoline and the Orvis Fly Fishing blog are also great resources.  One podcast that I keep returning to is an interview that Tom Rosenbauer did with Mike Schmidt of Angler’s Choice Flies where they discuss all things related to streamer fishing.

All of these resources have given me some rails to run on in my own streamer fishing.

The Gear

Before getting too far along here, let me first say that you can fish streamers with a 5-weight, no problem. It’s helpful to make some adjustments to the rig if you want to fish larger, articulated streamers on your 5 weight, but it’s possible.

If I’m going to be doing a mix of fishing nymphs and streamers during time on the water, my go-to rod is a 10 foot, 5 weight. It’s a great all-around rod for those tactics. However, I also have a 9 foot, 7 weight that I use if I’m committing to fishing streamers for the whole session (it’s also a great rod for light saltwater, smallmouth bass, carp, and other types of fishing).

After reading Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout (which is a great book) I was convinced that I needed a sink-tip line to fish streamers well. While that might be the case in some Michigan waters and out West, that’s not a necessity around here. Instead, I use a floating line and carry Polyleaders, which give the option of adding a 7-foot sink tip to a floating fly line.

Lessons Learned

Everyone has to learn the ropes with anything new, and even though I knew how to fly fish well, I realized there was a whole new world that opened up to me. The early articulated streamers I tied were too big for most of the waters around here (5-6 inches), but I didn’t know that yet. There were fish that I rolled but didn’t catch, and it was mesmerizing watching the articulated fly do its thing in the current while I was stripping it back to me.

There are a number of things I’ve learned on both the fishing and tying ends since then. For starters:

  • Actively nymphing and dead-drifting streamers is okay – they don’t always need to be stripped back aggressively. Joe Humphreys addresses that specifically in Trout Tactics, and references the live-minnow fisherman that he has observed. Domenick has articles on Troutbitten highlighting the same tactics – check out this one and this other one for starters. George Daniel also mentions this a few times in Strip-Set.
  • Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to the size of your fly. The better question to ask is, “What’s an appropriate prey size for the waters that I fish?” For some places, that might be 6 inches or longer! For around here, it’s typically 3-4 inches. You’ll probably even increase your hookup ratio if you go in the 2-3 inch range or smaller. (There will be more on this in a forthcoming post on streamer patterns.)
  • Certain patterns have certain actions in the water. This is a no-brainer, but if you put heavy eyes or a tungsten bead on the front of a hook that fly’s main action is going to be a jigging motion up and down. Brass beads lessen the jigging action, and weightless is okay too (you just need to add weight to the leader). I once watched a great streamer fisherman fish a weightless woolly bugger and gradually add weight until he caught multiple fish in consecutive casts. How much weight was needed? If I remember correctly, it was seven size 4 split shot spread out on his leader.

More lessons will be coming – it’s a game where I’m constantly learning more and more, tweaking things here and there. Stay tuned for another post on streamer patterns – I had originally intended that this would be an all-in-one article, but realized that was too ambitious!


The 7 weight and a Chowtime Sculpin.


One thought on “Streamer Season: Getting into the Game

  1. Pingback: Streamer Season: The Flies | Oak Hall Outfitters

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