Becoming the Streamer
By Bob Kinderman
I began my fly fishing journey with no background with the fly rod. I didn’t know anybody who fly fished so during my first few years I learned by trial and error along with a few things I had read on the subject. Because I didn’t know how to cast worth a damn, I was hesitant to delve into dry flies and nymphs because of all the casting I thought was involved. This led me to fishing only streamers my first two years on the water.
So just what is a streamer? They are usually imitations of small fish that big fish eat. Some are made with hair wings, others with feather wings, and still others designed with a combination of hair, feathers, and even synthetics.
The following information is by no means an instructional guide to streamer fly fishing, but I’m confident you’ll gain adequate information to get you started in the right direction.
Streamer fly fishing didn’t evolve until the early 1900’s. Most fly fishing before then was done with dries, wets, and nymphs. One of the reasons was that minnows themselves are tough and using them as live bait was the way to go, where as trying to put an adult or nymphal mayfly or caddis on a hook and expecting it to stay there after making a cast was pretty difficult. Thus early fly fishers learned to tie insect patterns and didn’t bother with minnow imitations.
One of the reasons why streamers work is simply, because big fish eat little fish. Also, trout don’t just eat chubs, sticklebacks, and the like. Big trout eat little trout, which is the reason why some of the streamers I use resemble baby brook and brown trout. Today’s streamers also take on the likes of crayfish, leeches, and sculpins
As is pretty well known, streamers account for a good portion of the large trout taken every year. It’s often thought that streamers are made for fishing larger streams and rivers. The fact is they are equally effective in smaller streams and spring creeks.
Many years ago I read a traditional archery book by Byron Ferguson titled Become the Arrow. In a nutshell the author describes how using your natural instincts and knowing your equipment and target intimately you can, “Become the Arrow”, and blend into an excellent archer. I use Mr. Ferguson’s strategy in my own way for what I call, Becoming the Streamer. Three main steps are involved in becoming the streamer. The first is developing casting skills and experimenting with rod and line to learn what it and you can achieve. The second is learning to read the water so you can place your streamer in the most likely fish holding locations. The third and maybe most important is learning how the prey you are presenting to the trout acts in its natural environment. Whether your fishing a baby bookie, chub, sculpin, crayfish, or leech pattern you need to be familiar with where they hang out and how they move about to be the most effective in your presentation. Combining these three steps results in, becoming the streamer.
Streamers are a very versatile fly and can be fished upstream, downstream, across and down, plus just about everything in between. The more you fish them the more imaginative you’ll get. Fishing downstream while wading generally requires longer casts to prevent spooking fish with stirred up bottom sediment from your boots, wave action from walking, and because most likely the trout will be facing upstream with you in their site window. As with most trout fishing, work from the bank whenever possible to cut down on the chances of being detected.
Many different fly rods can be used in streamer fishing, usually a longer rod in the 8.5’ to 9’ range with a shorter leader than used when fishing dry flies is the way to go. I say usually here because the size of the fly you are casting and the intimacies of the stream you are fishing will sometimes dictate a shorter and lighter rod. Some rivers will require a 9’ 5wt. or 6 wt., while a smaller stream may only require a 7.5’ 3wt. or 4wt. The longer rod will make line mending and fly manipulation easier on bigger water while the shorter rod will enable you to work in close quarters on smaller streams.
Much less casting is involved with streamer fishing because you can cover so much more water with a given cast. This is a great style of fishing for beginners with not having as many chances for wind knots from false casting and fewer flies caught in trees and bushes. It’s also a nice method to use to relax a bit on the stream while waiting for a hatch to occur.
The basic fishing technique for streamers is across and down. It consists of laying out a cast, doing the appropriate mending for the situation if needed and then follow your fly with the rod tip just about touching the water. The latter helps keep sag out of the line to ensure a better take by the trout. Often times fish will hook themselves when swinging a streamer. Other times a light sideways flick of the rod will do the trick. Another method used when swinging a fly down stream is a slip strike. This is accomplished by having a small loop of line between the reel and your rod hand index finger. When a hit is detected let the loop slip through your index finger and then set the hook. This technique can cut down on short takes resulting in missed fish.
Streamers are effective wherever trout are found. Figuring out which ones will work best is determined by the types of prey living in a particular body of water. There are also attractor patterns that don’t resemble any type of prey, but their design and color combinations cause a trigger reaction in predator fish to attack. Whether your fishing muddler type streamers like a Zoo Cougar or Wooly Sculpin, crayfish and leech types like the good old Wooly Bugger or Marabou Leech, baitfish styles like a Gray Ghost or Baby Brookie, or attractor patterns such as the Mickey Finn and Edson Tiger, the key is to just have fun with them. The flies and techniques used in streamer fly fishing are open to your imagination and remember to, Become the Streamer.