By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor | Featured Image by Ryan Kelly
November 14, 2017
For the longest time I wasn’t a big fan of streamer fishing.
I didn’t get the appeal. I watched videos of guys nailing huge trout on streamers, but it never looked fun enough to actually do. Those giant rods and huge flies made my shoulder hurt just looking at them.
Then I spent a day with two of the best streamer fishermen I’ve ever seen, let alone met, and my attitude changed.
What I learned from that day on the water has changed everything about how I fly fish. I always have a few streamers along now, and some thicker fluorocarbon tippet and sinking line. When my usual favorites aren’t hitting, I’ll pull out the streamers and get to work. Hell, sometimes they’re my first choice now.
I’m far from an expert at streamer fishing, and I still have a ton to learn. What I’ve learned so far, though, has made me better a streamer fishing, and none of the tips or techniques I’m just starting to get the hang of are advanced. I’m a decidedly middle-of-the-pack angler skill-wise, which means if I can feel confident with these tips, an average fisherman should see his streamer fishing success skyrocket.
Use the right gear
I’m a big gear nerd. I have more fly rods than most folks do house plants. That being said, I’m fully aware great gear can’t turn an average fisherman into a good one; I’m living proof of that.
Just as dry fly fishing is a specialized niche within fly fishing, so is streamer fishing. You wouldn’t use an 8wt to chuck size 24 midge patterns at rising trout; you likewise wouldn’t use a 2wt to throw articulated streamers.
Something I learned from watching my two buddies – Ryan Kelly and Charley Card – fish streamers is how important it is to get your fly down to the fish. It feels a lot like nymphing in the sense that you want your fly to go to the fish, as opposed to dry fly fishing where you get the fish to come to your fly.
I use about a 5-foot length of sinking line I just looped onto the end of my floating line, with another 3-4 feet of fluorocarbon line. I don’t use tippet; just a level piece of 8 or 10-pound test. Ryan fishes that way and it’s rubbed off on me.
The first few times I went streamer fishing on a river, I made the classic mistake of stripping line in way too fast. Yes, it’s important to keep a tight line between your streamer and your reel, but ripping the fly at twice the speed of the current isn’t going to catch you many fish.
Ryan and Charley, master anglers they are, would throw their flies into the seams, pockets, and pools along the Green River and just . . . well, casually retrieve them. While they stripped line in the way you might take a walk with your significant other (slowly and deliberately) I stood in the bow of the drift boat trying to see how fast I could wear out my shoulder.
As soon as I slowed down my retrieve, I hooked into a fish.
Ryan Kelly (@greenriverflyfisher) with a nice Green River brown caught on a streamer.
Don’t trout set
This is hands-down the most important tip I learned from Ryan and Charley. A traditional trout set is performed by holding slack line in your non-casting hand (usually the left) tight and lifting up with the rod.
That doesn’t work with streamers.
You’ll need to strip-set if you want to hook and land any of the fish that swipe at your fly.
The guys from Gink & Gasoline know their stuff, and this is a great example of how to strip-set versus a traditional “trout set.”
I’m far from any kind of expert streamer fisherman. I still have a ton to learn, and as Ryan and Charley can attest, it’ll take me some time.
But if you’re thinking about swinging streamers throughout the rest of fall and into whatever winter we end up with this year, these tips are a pretty good starting point.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and outdoors columnist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, TROUT Magazine, Hatch Magazine, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.