Fish are opportunistic predators. Although bugs are the most prevalent food source within their environment, that doesn’t stop them from being on the lookout for bigger sources of protein.
Streamer fishing is a method of fly fishing using a submerged fly called a streamer. Streamers imitate those larger sources of protein (leeches, baitfish, minnows, sculpins, crayfish, and even mice).
When should you use streamers?
Generally, streamers are most reliable during abnormal conditions such as high/off-color water, decreased light, or lower temperatures.
However, fish will hit streamers during the middle of the day so never be afraid to try one out.
Because streamers imitate a bigger source of protein, they are often favored by anglers targeting bigger fish. When compared to other methods you probably won’t catch as many, but you may catch that coveted trophy trout you’ve been after!
It is also worth noting that trout are territorial. They may see your streamer come stripping by and attack!
Think like a fish
Creativity pays off when it comes to streamer fishing. Since you’ll be utilizing an active retrieve, it is the most active form of fly fishing. Just like in nymphing and dry fly use, you’ll need to teach yourself to think like a fish.
As fish grow, they become even more opportunistic, pouncing on larger prey. They’re likely to only eat every 1-2 days when keyed in on larger food sources.
When you use a streamer, you’ll be trying to imitate food, the way they are used to seeing it. Below are some basic guidelines to follow for whatever part of a fish’s diet you’re trying to mimic – remember these are general rules, so don’t be afraid to break them and get creative!
Examples of what a fish might want to see out your streamer:
Minnow – injured/fleeing/hiding – Short, fast, quick bursts
Crayfish – short bursts and pauses
Leech – slow, undulated, steady motion
How to fish streamers
There are three common ways to fish streamers:
**Keep in mind there may be some unfamiliar techniques/words within these explanations. Try watching the video below, then come back to the written explanations after.
1. Basic Retrieve – Cast the streamer either slightly upstream or perpendicular to the bank. Strip it back towards you in six-inch increments. Keep in mind that you are imitating food that has come out of hiding, is wounded, or is trying to swim through the current. Be sure to vary your strips, some fast, some slow, multiple in a row, a long pause. If one retrieve isn’t working, try another. You never know what fish are looking for on a given day.
2. Swing it – Cast the streamer slightly across and downstream. Make an upstream mend, then hold the line tight and let it swing with the current! Once the line is directly below you, give it a couple strips. Occasionally fish will follow the streamer all the way up to the end of the swing. An important element to swinging is achieving the correct depth. If you want it deeper, cast further upstream or tie on a heavier fly.
3. Dead Drift – This is essentially nymphing, but with streamers. If you need to get deeper or are fishing faster water, tie on heavier flies. Presentation and mending are not as critical with this set up, in fact, you might even want to play around with an occasional twitch or strip. This will make the flies seem like they are struggling prey, an easy meal for hungry fish.
What streamer should you use?
This all depends on what type of water you are fishing and the time of year. Obviously chucking a 6” streamer into a small high-mountain stream is going to spook every fish nearby. In that situation, it might be best to use a small size 8 Woolly Bugger.
If you are fishing a large river such as the Green here in Utah, a large articulated streamer may be warranted. Use your judgment and observe your surroundings.
If you are walking through a shallow spot in the river, watch for minnows or crayfish. If the minnows look dark in color and are 2-3” long, match that to a similar streamer in your pack.
If you are set on trying to catch fish on a streamer, shuffle through a variety of colors and sizes throughout the day until you find one that works.
The Streamer Collection
If you are confused on where to start or want to easily find the right streamers, we’ve put together the most well-thought-out collection of streamers on the market.
As mentioned, shuffling through a wide variety of colors and sizes on the water is a great way to catch more fish.
This assortment covers an enormous variety of colors (White, Olive, Black, Brown, Gray, Yellow, Orange/Red) and sizes (from Size 6 Woolly Buggers to Size 2 Articulated Dungeons). Be ready for anything!
It also includes helpful streamer identification cards and a fast-sinking poly leader (to get streamers deep quickly). Check it out here
Give it a try
Streamer fishing is one of the most adrenaline-rush filled forms of fly fishing. While you usually won’t catch as many fish, you’ll likely hook into the big ones. Don’t hesitate to give it a try.
If you have any specific follow-up questions about streamers, ask them in a comment below and one of our team members will reply with our best answer.
This was an excellent article, thank you!