October 5, 2022

Streamers: A Fly for All Seasons

Whether you are just beginning or have several years of fly fishing experience, streamers should have a significant share of space in your fly boxes. Streamers will catch more fish, a larger variety of fish and bigger fish in moving or still water during all four seasons.The reason is simple — streamers imitate baitfish, and big fish eat little fish! This is true for any species – panfish, trout, bass, steelhead, salmon, the pike family – even catfish!

How to Fish Streamers
The beauty of fishing streamers lies in its simplicity. You can fish short leaders and they need not be tapered! A four to six-foot leader is sufficient, matched to the fly and species you are targeting. Common sense rules here.

When fishing still water, start from the top down. As soon as your streamer sinks a few inches, begin your retrieve. Vary the speed until you find out what triggers a strike. Allow your streamer to sink using the countdown method until you find the depth where the fish are holding. If you can sight-fish, work your streamer just over the top of submerged weeds or on the edge of weed lines. As with any kind of fishing, target structure.

Keep in mind that a variety of techniques work in moving water.

My favorite approach is quartering a cast upstream and drifting the streamer with occasional twitches. At about the time the line is quartering downstream, begin an erratic stop-and-go retrieve.

Another method is to position yourself in a current and cast downstream, allowing the vagaries of the current to give action to your streamer. Gradually strip and feed line, allowing the streamer to move downstream. This is a sneaky way to present your streamer in front of structure like a boulder or log jam. It reduces the risk of “lining” or spooking fish with your casted fly line. Once a reasonable amount of line is out, fish the line back with a variety of retrieves then move on to the next fishy-looking spot on the stream or river.

During a guided day of fishing on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, the guide instructed me to cast upstream and retrieve the streamer downstream as fast as I could. This was a new method for me and I had my doubts, but did it ever work! I have tried the same technique in my home waters, but not with as much success as that trip.

A Beginning Selection of Streamers
Streamers come in endless combinations of sizes, colors and materials. A few basic patterns will get you started.

Clouser Minnows are essentially a jig. The weighted dumbbell eyes allow you to work the depths. This is my favorite streamer for warmwater fish in rivers or lakes. I’ve caught perch, bluegills, crappies, white bass, large and smallmouth bass, channel cats and walleyes on Clousers.

Meat Whistles are another bottom bouncer with a reputation for catching lunkers. The long tail on this streamer works enticingly well with the downstream fishing tactic mentioned above.

Wooly Buggers aren’t considered by some to be streamers. Nobody has asked fish what they think they are. At least, they haven’t gotten an answer. It could be a minnow imitation or a large nymph. It’s hard to fish Wooly Buggers wrong, though. They catch everything that swims. Stock your fly box with white, black and olive in both unweighted or bead heads.

Muddler Minnows were originated in 1937 by Dan Gapen. This versatile pattern suggests sculpins, dace, chubs, nymphs, leeches, even grasshoppers. I caught my first trout on a fly using a Muddler Minnow. When I didn’t know any better, I used them on the surface as a popper for bass and bluegills with great success.

Marabou Streamers round out a good starter streamer box. It is the simplest of flies using color and the unique action of marabou to entice strikes. Small sizes – eights and tens – are the perfect size for panfish and trout.

Use Multiple Lines
You will get fishy returns on your investment in a spare spool loaded with a sink tip line. Sink tip fly lines are easier to cast than a floating line with a split shot on your leader. Sink tip fly lines come in a variety of sink rates. Choose the one that matches up with the waters you fish frequently and your style of fishing.

A Great Way to Learn Fly Tying
Tying your own streamers is a great way to learn to tie flies. Chances are your local Fly Fishing Club conducts classes, or you might have a good friend who can show you how to get started. Tying small dry flies and nymphs can be tedious and take a while to master, but tying streamers can be learned in an hour. Starter kits, such as the Wapsi Fly Tying Starter Kit can be purchased for $59.95. It includes tools, materials and an instructional DVD. The materials in the Wapsi Kit do not limit you to streamers.

Few things are as satisfying as creating a streamer from your own imagination that catches fish. The first trout I caught on a fly I tied was a variation of the famous Mickey Finn. I wanted a Mickey Finn in marabou rather than bucktail and none were available commercially. So I made one myself. On my next fishing trip, I caught a nice brown trout on it. I still copy some streamer patterns, but now I tie far more flies that I have concocted on my own.

You may have heard of One-Fly Fishing Tournaments. I’ve never entered one, but I have gone all day, many times, fishing nothing but a streamer. You can be sure, if I ever have the opportunity to enter such a tournament, my one fly would be a streamer, maybe even one of my own design!

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John Scherrer

Erie, PA John is a freelance writer and a life-long Erie resident who has fished across North America. Fly fishing, light spinning tackle, and ice fishing are his preferred methods to fish his home waters of Lake Erie.

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