The Streamer Game | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying

Couldn’t Resist The Voodoo Child, Photo by Louis Cahill

Guys get into it and hardly want to do anything else. I’m kinda one of those guys. I do lots of kinds of fishing, but if I’m out for trout and there’s nothing obvious going on, a streamer is likely what I’m tying on. I can’t say for sure why other folks get hooked on streamers, but I know what it is for me.

Obviously, there is immense skill in fishing dry flies and nymphs. Each is an art unto itself but the very nature of a dead drift is inherently passive. Streamer fishing is active. What I mean by that is, you are directly imparting an action to the fly which fools the fish. For me, it just feels more personal. I am “making” that fish eat. Again, this is totally personal but when I see the fish chase and eat my streamer it’s incredibly rewarding. The really cool thing about this is that it leaves a lot of room for personal expression on the part of the angler. My action is my action, by my hand. It’s different from yours, and every dedicated streamer fisherman I know has their own style. Those styles vary widely, so I thought I would share some of the gear and tactics that are successful for me.

Here’s how I play the game.

I want to get in the fish’s face with a big fly that looks alive but vulnerable. I want that fly to look like a bait fish that’s disoriented and in a panic. I want a lot of room between me and the bank. I want to identify and hit multiple holding zones between me and the bank. I’ll drop my fly a few inches from the bank just upstream of a likely pocket, then as I work it back to the boat, I mend, or pause, or speed up my retrieve to work the fly through as many holding zones as I can identify. Fifty or sixty feet is an ideal distance. It’s a challenging way to fish, but for me, it’s deadly.

Here is the setup I use to overcome some of the challenges.

Loaded for Bear, Photo by Louis Cahill

The Rod
The way I like to fish is demanding. You need to make long accurate casts with a heavy fly and do it all day long. I’ve tried a lot of rods and here’s what I’ve found. I like a six weight. I started with heavier rods but they wore me out. A six weight trout rod will not give me the power I need but a six weight salt water rod combines light weight, fast action and it’s designed to fight tough fish. In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect rod for streamer fishing. I like the Thomas & Thomas Apex and the Scott S4s.

The Reel
The reason I fish streamers is to catch big fish. When I hook a big fish I want some authority and a lot of that comes from the reel. You need a good drag and a large arbor. I use a Nautilus 7/8 and overload it with backing to increase the effective arbor size with a six weight line.

The Flies

My flies are heavy…really heavy. I want that fly to get down fast. For that reason, I also favor synthetic materials that have little buoyancy. All my streamers are articulated. If you’re swinging a fly there’s no real benefit to an articulated pattern but if you are stripping across the current, you can’t beat the action. Most of them are about four inches long and ride hook up.

The Line

Sinking lines are a last resort for me. A sinking line pulls the fly down. But it’s a pain to manage and if you are fishing an unweighted fly by the time your fly is at the depth you want, it’s already too far from the bank for the big trout that lurk there. With a floating line I also get the benefit of mending to change the direction of my retrieve which is a huge benefit. I like a line with a short, heavy front taper to turn over a heavy fly and give me accurate delivery.

The Leader
Your leader could be the most important piece of the puzzle. I like a long leader, 9 1/2′, because it helps me get deep. When my fly reaches a deep pocket I can pause my retrieve and that heavy fly will dive without having to pull the floating tip down with it, but a long leader has some liabilities too. It’s much harder to turn the fly over and be accurate. Making a long accurate cast with a heavy fly requires a stout leader. I build mine from 2′ sections of fluorocarbon in 40, 30, 20 & 17 lb. then finish with 18″ of 15 lb. When fish eat streamers they aren’t looking at your tippet. No need to be shy.

I’ve tried a lot of streamer techniques and this is what works for me. You may hate it. It’s challenging, it’s a workout and a lot of it flies in the face of what you’re going to read on the news stand but the results are hard to argue with. I hope it helps to put you on some fatties!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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