Using a fly that is easy to use, easy to cast, and catches trout is why I think streamers are a perfect match for a newcomer to fly fishing. Let’s be truthful, fly fishing requires skills that most newcomers haven’t acquired as of yet. Being skillful at casting, dry fly or nymphing techniques, and even fly selection, for example, all take time, practice and can be a little intimidating. Streamers can help in all those areas and the biggest reason why newcomers should use streamers, they catch trout.
Why should a newcomer to fly fishing use streamers? Streamers are relatively easy to cast, easy to handle, and simple to fish. If you don’t know what trout are feeding on, streamers are a great fly to choose. The fly selection itself is more simplified. Unfamiliar with the creek? Streamers are great explorers fly. You can cover a lot more water with a streamer. Best of all, they catch trout and usually bigger trout.
As a newcomer to fly fishing, catching trout is why you’re on the water, but often you can find yourself overwhelmed. What fly should I use to start with, should I nymph, is there a hatch happening, does that means dry flies would be better, ah? Fishing streamers help simplify fly fishing while building a foundation for the other forms of fly fishing, and I can tell you it’s also lots of fun too. So let’s take the “where do I start” question away by having a closer look at streamers.
What Are Streamers?
Streamers are flies tied from materials to imitate baitfish, crayfish, leeches, or aquatic insects. They are big flies and are usually fished with an active retrieve. Streamers are tied using natural and synthetic fibers that shed or repel water. These fibers are generally long to imitate the length or slender shapes of most baitfish. Bucktail (deer hair), Yak hair, and rabbit fur are popular natural fibers often used in their construction along with a wide range of synthetic materials. Feathers like marabou are also a commonly used material.
Streamers are similar in concept to lures or spinners used on a spinning rod in that they provoke a trout to strike. Strikes can be explosive too because, unlike a drifting fly, streamers are in motion and a trout normally gives chase to take one. Because streamers mimic many forms of aquatic life they are a good year-round fly.
Why If I’m a Newcomer To Fly Fishing Should I Use Streamers?
Most beginners to fly fishing are naturally in the learning stages of fly fishing. Typically unfamiliar with things like fly selection, leader lengths, nymph rigging, and of course, simply getting the hang of casting well.
Fishing streamers won’t require near the amount of false casting that, say, dry fly fishing might. It also doesn’t require the casting to be as “accurate” and leaves room for being a bit more “clumsy”. Shorter leaders are normally used when streamer fishing too and that helps with casting and general line management.
Another advantage of a streamer is, you can use the current itself to help you let line out a little at a time once you have the fly into the water. Because the streamer is mimicking a baitfish, it appears as if it is swimming in the current as you let out the line or retrieve the line in. Wooly buggers are great at catching trout by simply letting them “sit” in the water. Add a sudden “strip” to your line by pulling the line, provokes a trout to strike. This quick movement of the streamer resembles a baitfish is trying to escape.
Streamers Keep It Simple
Streamers simplify fly fishing to a large degree because they don’t need to be changed very often or require additional attention. As an example when I fish a nymph, I have to be concerned with finding the right nymph, color, size which translates into changing up nymphs often. I need to experiment to find the proper amount of weight. My leader length will be longer making casting a little trickier. Then try and present the “perfect dead drift”.
For a newcomer to fly fishing, all of the above can become frustrating. Not to mention the time it takes to tie on different flies and the knots themselves. Any number of other possible unfamiliar tasks add to lost fishing time and problems. When fishing a streamer all of the above is reduced greatly. The need to changing up streamers is way less and not usually as necessary as other forms of fly fishing. It’s possible to fish all day with one streamer assuming you don’t lose it to a tree limb or an aggressive trout.
The beauty of streamer fishing is there is no right or wrong to it either. Because the streamer is fished “actively” with movement or motion it’s hard to do anything wrong. Basically, if you can get the fly into a strike zone of the trout chances are real good he’ll take the fly and as a newcomer to fly fishing using streamers makes it a bit easier to get into the strike zone.
How Do I Fish A Streamer?
The object of streamer fishing is to learn to “swim” streamers. Remember a streamer is mimicking a baitfish so try to make it look like a small fish and don’t be afraid to play around with it. Casting across and a little downstream stream is one of the effective ways to fish a streamer. Your line will “bow” as it lays on the water and will eventually straighten out downstream. Once your line has straightened out downstream, let it sit there for a bit. Then strip it in short 4-6 inches increments back upstream towards you. Once the streamer has been retrieved, take a few steps downstream and do the same process again slowly working your way down the creek. During this process pulling or “stripping” of the line to have the streamer “dart” will cause the trout to strike.
Stripping is a technique whereby you pull line with your reeling hand quickly, in spurts, to imitate the movements of a baitfish. The combination of stripping and having the fly “swinging” across the current takes advantage of the trout’s aggressive behavior provoking a chase and strike. The timing between strips, the length of the fly line, and depth in the water column factor into the streamer fishing technique.
In shallower waters or riffles, short casts and keeping a tight line to effectively swim the streamer, stirring it between rocks and pockets of water with the rod tip, is another very product approach.
Why Do Streamers Work For Catching Trout?
As trout age and grow their diet also goes through changes. Typically smaller and younger trout feed largely on insects but as they grow they need a more substantial diet. Generally, as they reach 12 – 16″ they begin to focus their feeding on baitfish like sculpin, minnows, and darters. Crayfish become another favorite and larger trout especially browns are well known for taking a mouse or two that ventures into the water.
Trout are aggressive in nature as well. They are instinctively a predator and like all predators, they take advantage of an injured or fleeing prey. They often strike even when not feeding because of their aggressive nature. So fishing a streamer plays into the three basic behaviors of trout, aggression, territorial defense, and hunger.
What Streamer Should I Choose To Fish?
Two factors come into play when choosing a streamer, size, and color. Here in Pennsylvania most of the streams I fish are small and trout range in size from a few inches to over 20″. My streamer choice regarding size is generally 10 or 12 which fits this size range of the trout we have. So that being said, the fish size will help you decide the size of the streamer. The bigger the fish potential the bigger the streamer.
Color is then dictated by water clarity and weather conditions, with weather conditions simply meaning, is it cloudy or sunny. Water clarity generally refers to how dirty or off-color a stream may be. Dirty or off-color water usually calls for darker color streamers. Darker streamer patterns give off the best silhouette against a dirty water background.
If the creek is clear then I would say let’s consider the weather. On dark and gloomy days, fishing a darker colored pattern is a good choice. If it’s a bright, sunny day, try a lighter-colored streamer like tan, light grey, or white. Olive is a good color and effective in a variety of situations.
My Favorite Go-To Streamers Are The Following:
Muddler Minnow: The Muddler minnow imitates baitfish or sculpin and it creates vibration with its dense deer hair head as it pushes water during the retrieve. It can also be fished as a dry or wet fly.
Clouser Minnow: The original patterns were intended for smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River. It has proven to be a trout catcher as well due to its versatility. This streamer was created in 1987 by Bob Clouser, a Pennsylvania fly shop owner.
Wooly bugger: The amazing wooly bugger resembles many creatures in the water from nymphs, leeches, salamanders, or even small sculpins. It is possible the most widely used streamer by all fly guys.
Grey Ghost: It was intended originally to imitate smelt. The streamer’s wing gives it a swimming action when retrieved or if it is dead drift.
Gartside Soft Hackle Streamer: This is another streamer that was tied to imitate smelt. It is tied using soft marabou feathers primarily and is a great trout catcher. By far my favorite of all the streamers mentioned here.
Side Note: The Wooly Bugger. I was lucky enough to have met and fished with Russell Blessing on one of our local streams here in Pennsylvania. On the many occasions Russ and I talked and fished, he never mentioned he invented this fly. One day a friend of his brought it to my attention. When I asked Russ about it, he smiled and said: “It’s true I invented it, but a guide friend of mine made it famous”.
Streamers are easy to fish, easy to cast, and catch trout in most all conditions. I truly believe as a newcomer to fly fishing, fishing streamers are a great starting point. As you fish a streamer your casting will improve and that will help you immensely when it comes time to fish dries. Fly selection is simple with streamers as well. If you have the streamers I mentioned above in your box you’ll have all you need. Additionally, you really only need two sizes unlike the need to have a variety of sizes for nymphing and dry fly fishing.
Leaders can be of a heavier weight too. 4x to 6x is perfect for our PA streams and for streams that can support larger trout simply use a thicker leader. As a beginner, most likely, reading the stream is new to you and over time you’ll develop that skill. Fishing a streamer takes that out of the equation, for now, and lets you concentrate on just one aspect of fishing. – swimming a streamer.
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What Color Streamer Should I Use?
A streamer with a lot of bright colors is ideal for sunny days because of the flashes produced by the sun but isn’t effective for dark days. Cloudy days dark colors or even black are best.
Do I Need A Special Leader for Streamer Fishing?
Big fish eat bigger flies so having the right thickness to your leader when fishing streamers is important. Heavier leader for bigger trout is good and don’t worry it doesn’t spook the fish.