It’s often said that big fish eat big flies, and when searching for aggressive fish, we think this is true. As we enter into fall, most of the big hatches are behind us, and while we’re always game to try a BWO or work on our Czech nymphing technique, fall marks an ideal time to transition beyond just wet and dry flies, and venture into the realm of streamers. For one thing, it’s the end of the summer season and change is in the air, so why not switch it up and try a variety of streamer fishing techniques? More importantly though, streamers are often deadly and a good way to prospect water when you’re not quite sure what the fish are hitting as the leaves begin to fall.
Streamers, which resemble high-calorie aquatic prey such as sculpin and other baitfish, leaches, big insects, and even crayfish, help attract big fish looking for a juicy meal. These flies are effective in attracting fall browns eager to defend their territory as they begin to spawn.
Streamers are probably the closest things to lures in the fly fishing world. While casting a streamer may not be the most elegant thing on earth, by implementing a few basic techniques, you might reel in the monster you’ve been after.
1. Gear Up
Probably the most well know streamer is the iconic wooly bugger. While the wooly bugger is an undeniably effective classic, you may want to try experimenting with other patterns such as such as clouser minnows, bunny leaches, slumpbusters, muddler minnows and zonkers. Tied a variety of materials including feathers, bucktail, rabbit and pine squirrel strips, or utilizing synthetic materials like EP fiber, streamers are as fun to fish as the are to tie with a broad range of patterns ranging from simple to complex.
Streamers are generally much bigger than conventional flies, heavier, sometimes articulated, and tied in both bright colors as well as dark colors. We encourage you to put both light and dark colored streamers in your fly box. While both are attractive to fish on any given day, dark colors are often more visible on overcast days or in off-colored water, while lighter colors are better suited for brighter days and clearer water conditions.
2. Choose the Right Rod
In a perfect world, your fly should dictate which rod you use. When it comes to streamers, a medium-fast to fast action rod should do the trick. While most of us can get away with our trusty, do-it-all 5wt for the majority of our streamer casting, it might be a good idea to go up a weight class (or two), especially if you’re chucking larger streamers, or elect to use a sinking line. By going up a weight, you’ll be better prepared to resist your charging fish and cast heavier streamers… which brings us to our next point.
3. Adjust Your Cast
Throwing giant streamers is something of a different ballgame. Streamer fishing isn’t the elegant casting of storybooks, although having a good fundamental cast never hurts. Adjust your cast to the heavier fly by casting slower and wider. Forget about the graceful tight loops you painstakingly mastered. Open up your range of motion across a three-dimensional plane to prevent your streamer from tangling in your fly line, hitting your beautiful rod, or worse yet, hitting you in the back of the head.
As one Rocky Mountain angler explains, “just remember, ugly casts catch fish too.” Autumn is the time to ditch any pretensions about artfully casting. The point is to get the wooly bugger, leech or sculpin in the water and in front of a fish.
4. Start With the Right Line
The bigger the fly, the bigger the fish, and when you’re fishing with streamers it’s important to choose a setup that can handle a bit more action. Fluorocarbon leaders and tippet work great for streamers because the material is heavier and more durable. Start with a shorter leader of 4 feet max for increased control. You could even ditch the leader altogether.
Because explosive strikes by aggressive fish will easily break your tippet, go for anything between 0-3x. Predatory fish aren’t as likely to be spooked by a visible tippet, so tie on the heaviest you think you can get away with. While you may feel tempted to switch from a dry fly to a streamer to your same 6x tippet, a more careful transition to heavier line may be the difference between triumph and getting broken off – losing both fish and streamer.
Finally, if your serious about getting your streamer into fast, deep runs, or fishing on a lake or in the ocean, you may want to experiment with sink tip line. While a floating line will usually work for shallow and smaller water, sometimes you just need to get the streamer down to where the fish are, and an extra spool with a sinking line may be just the ticket.
5. Play Around on Presentation and Retrieval
Steamer fishing is the most physically active method of fly fishing, and arguably the most exciting. The most popular streamer presentation is cross-stream. Cast your streamer perpendicular to the bank into a seam or protected area. As we said, using a denser fluorocarbon leader can be advantageous here because it allows the streamer to sink. Strip the streamer back toward you in either short or long pulls to mimic the movement of a swimming fish.
Alternatively, downstream casting allows you to get a little more distance between yourself and the trout you’re after. This is effective when your target is easily spooked and allows the current to do some of the work for you. Strip your fly before casting again, and you just may get a strike.
Last but not least, you can cast upstream or even dead drift a streamer and let the current pull your streamer deeper, tossing and turning it, adjusting your strip to keep some tension on the line. The trick is to imitate scared or injured prey trying to escape. More akin to spin lure fishing, the point of streamer fishing is to make your fly look alive, even if that means letting the current do the work.
Fall Fly Fishing With Streamers All Summed Up
Larger fly. Stiffer rod. Shorter leader. Heavier tippet. And potentially uglier casts… Add this all together, and you’re well on your way to hooking that trophy trout this fall.