Streamer Tactics For Trout
By Michael Hatfield
Streamers are patterns tied to imitate a larger food source such as a leech or baitfish rather than a small aquatic insect. Depending on the fish species you are targeting a streamer can be as small as, say a #8 micro bugger or something as large as a ten inch shad pattern. For trout, streamers normally don’t go much bigger than a few inches in length. Because of what these patterns are imitating, different tactics are used when fishing them.
Larger streams and lakes are excellent areas to use streamers. Since you are trying to imitate a baitfish or similar food source that is swimming in the water column, an active retrieve is preferred rather than just a dead drift. A dead drift can still be very effective so don’t put that tactic away completely but rather think more of an erratic swimming retrieve as your first choice with hopes of generating a reactionary strike.
When streamer fishing it isn’t necessary to get your fly to the stream bottom as in nymphing but it is necessary to get it down in the water column and into the strike zone. There are several ways to achieve this. First, consider the streamer itself. Beadheads, coneheads, barbell eyes or a weighted hook shank will give you the weight required to get a streamer to the depths needed. Another way to address getting the fly down in the water column is by using a sinking fly line. This could be the use of a line like the Mastery Series Uniform Sink which is a sink tip line or the Professional Series Full Sinking line. Each of these lines comes in varied sink rates for different depths and fishing situations. When going with a sinking line I recommend to shorten your leader. A shorter leader will give you better casting control and allow your fly to follow the line more closely as it sinks.
Sometimes heavy flies can be hard to cast so you will need to adjust your casting stroke. With a weighted fly, don’t worry about getting a tight loop. Lengthen and slow down your casting stroke and throw a wider loop. You may also want to shorten your leader and go to heavier tippet. Both of these adjustments will give you better control and take the “shock” out of casting the additional weight.
Whether using a weighted fly, sinking line or both, rod tip positioning is important during the retrieve. Having your rod tip low and close to the water will allow your streamer to stay in the strike zone longer. If you are wading, take this one step further and put your rod tip a foot under water for the retrieve. Now your streamer is in the strike zone even longer.
There are endless variations of retrieves and I have three recommendations to find the right one, experiment, experiment and experiment. One day you may find that a quick jerk followed by a pause is the ticket. The next day you may find that just ripping the streamer hard and fast is successful. Just remember that with an active retrieve you are trying to initiate a reactionary strike from the predator fish looking for a meal. In most situations I will cast across and slightly down and cover all the water with my retrieves. Don’t be afraid to let the current pull on the line and help with the drift. Many times a fish will take the fly at the very end of the drift so let the fly stay in the water for a few seconds before you pick it up for the next cast.
So next time you are fishing a deep run or big water, tie on a Zoo Cougar or a zonker and start ripping it through the current and be prepared because strikes come hard and fast.