Euro Nymphing: Streamers

It was just before the first rays of the morning sun had struck the river when I slowly approached an extremely promising looking spot. While the river was small and easily crossable almost everywhere, here it narrowed and a swift current hit a tree fallen parallel to the direction of flow in such a way that a deep pool was formed. The current on the surface was ferocious and the drop-off abrupt. I knew even my heaviest tungsten nymphs couldn’t get down to the slow water under the fast surface current where I suspected a nice trout to be holding. 

The spot in question.

I also wanted to present a larger fly, my thinking being that the fish was likely under the fallen tree and something with a larger profile would draw it out. I switched out the nymphs on my Euro Nymphing leader for a heavily weighted streamer and was immediately rewarded with the best fish of the day.

A group of fish in a rocky area

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The fish I encountered from the spot pictured above.

The past several years, I knew there was something big missing from my river approach but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Sure, I’d been catching plenty of fish Euro Nymphing, but I’d get to certain situations where it just didn’t fit.  Places like fast, deep plunge pools, heavy woody cover, and pockets of slack water with only a bit of current. I knew fish were holding in all of these areas and I knew Euro Nymphing wasn’t the best technique, but I wasn’t sure what was. 

When currents are slow and the pool or run is long and uniform, a standard streamer approach on fly line is certainly a good option. However, when current speeds vary or when the target area is small (as is the case the example above), the drag of the fly line on the surface is ultimately going to lead to an ineffective presentation. The solution I found is not a new one, but I feel it is little known and vastly under-utilized in the fly-fishing world. I found that a very heavily weighted streamer fished on a Euro Nymphing leader filled the gap that had been missing for me.

A person holding a fish in the water

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I spotted this cutthroat in a tight pocked surrounded by heavy current and was able to get a good presentation by standing on a cliff above it and dropping a heavy streamer straight down in front of it.

The Technique:

The way I fish streamers from this rig is (usually) relatively similar to how I fish nymphs.  My approach is typically upstream or upstream and across. Before I cast, I like to determine when I think my streamer is most likely to be eaten. If I’m casting into an area where I think my fly will need to attain depth before a fish will see it, I tuck cast and allow my streamer to hit the water with some slack, so it will sink faster. However, when casting to a spot where it is likely a fish will eat it almost immediately, I don’t give the fly slack when it hits the water to avoid missing a take.  

A person holding a fish in the water

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A downstream jigging approach in some shallow water led to this brown.  The long leader streamer approach is deadly during periods of high water when fish push into small pockets along the banks.

Casting initially results in a dead drift, which can be maintained if that is the desired presentation. I usually like to add some movement as it drifts, which can be attained by jigging the fly with the rod tip, stripping line in, using the rod tip to shift current seams, or any combination. Play around and find what’s working best on any given day. The beauty of this system is its versatility. I also strip flies upstream, across currents, or swing them downstream using this set up, as you would typically do with a traditional fly line approach.

A person holding a fish

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A swung bugger took this brookie in the late evening.

The Setup:

How I most often transition from Euro Nymphing to streamer fishing is by replacing my terminal nymph with a streamer. Part of the draw of this system for me is the simplicity, in less than 10 seconds I can entirely switch approaches. For example, if I nymph through a deep pool and think there are still more fish to be caught, I will often try a streamer for a few casts before switching back and moving on. The leader I currently use for most of my fishing is made from a 12 pound Maxima Chameleon butt section, which works well for both nymphing and streamer fishing. However, if I were to exclusively streamer fish from my rig I would likely switch to a heavier butt section for ease of casting and line-handling.  

When I plan on fishing streamers for a long period of time or planning on using a more active, stripping retrieve, I will use heavier tippet than I would nymphing. However, when a more dead-drift oriented approach is taken, fish eat the streamer in much the same way they would eat a nymph, so I never really get broken off on takes, even on lighter tippets. This being said, I don’t like going lighter than 5x because a heavily weighted fly is often going to find the bottom.  

A fish swimming under water

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A downstream jigging approach failed to entice this brown, but a slow, upstream stripping approach did the trick.

Fly Selection:

I find proper weight and sink rate to be the most important factors when choosing the appropriate streamer. This past year, I spent most of my time fishing flies tied on 1/16 ounce jig heads, with some heavier flies as well as lighter flies with tungsten bead heads in the mix (think your typical buggers, sculpin patterns and articulated streamers). I’ve borrowed many of my fly patterns (and techniques) from George Daniel, Lance Egan and Domenick Swentosky of Troutbitten.  

A picture containing person, hand, holding, person

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The Kreelex is a favorite of mine. It sinks quickly, is highly visible and moves like crazy. George Daniel demonstrates and effective high-water use of this fly here. (Materials: Wapsi Super Jig Heads, MFC “Kreelex” Fish Flash, MFC Kreelex Fish Flash Blend)

What all these flies share is they are quick to tie, have profiles that allow them to sink quickly, and fish like to eat them. Here Domenick outlines some of his favorite patterns for this type of streamer.

This is a good starting point but feel free to play around with materials, colors, etc. and see what works for you and your trout.  

A person holding a fish

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Recently I’ve been working on some jig crayfish patterns.  Early trials have been a success.

About the Author

Calvin McClellan @jah_eel_vt

I’m an Environmental Science major at the University of Vermont who spends way more time fishing and tying flies than I probably should.  Although I do enjoy a good dry fly or streamer take, I most often can be found using European-nymphing techniques to target the wily wild browns, ‘bows, brookies and salmon of the Green Mountains and neighboring states.  While I’ll always have a love for the challenging (and sometimes frustrating) streams of Vermont, I often migrate West during the summer to fish remote rivers and alpine lakes.

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