When it comes to fly fishing for trout everyone tends to think nymphs and dries. We’re trying to “match the hatch” so we focus on bugs, however at certain times of the year odds are the fish are, in the words of Hank Patterson, “slurpin’ a sculpin hatch”. Streamer fishing can be foreign and often intimidating to most trout fishermen, but once perfected it can lead to some of the most phenomenal days on the water you’ll ever witness. It just so happens that Fall is one of the best times to fish streamers, so get out there and huck some meat!
If you are just diving into the world of streamer fishing you can get by with whatever fly rod and floating line you’re already fishing. In order to vary you’re depth and presentation you can buy a couple versi leaders in different sink rates (listed in IPS which stands for inches per second). I’d recommend a slow, moderate, and extra fast sinking versi leader in order to be able to hover your streamer in whatever zone in the water column the fish are liking. After that, buy a few streamers in different sizes and colors, buy some heavy tippet (a 20lb spool and 0x3x) learn a non slip mono loop knot in order to allow the fly to swim freely, and hit the river!
Once you’re dry fly purist buddies start calling you bad names and try to trick you into an intervention it’s too late. You’re addicted. A full blown streamer junkie. This is when you’ll want to start thinking about getting a dedicated streamer rod. What you’re looking for in a streamer rod for trout is a fast action rod in a 6 or 7 weight. My personal favorite is a Scott Meridian in a 7wt for two reasons. First, Meridians cast phenomenal and have crazy power. Second, the finesse and feel on a Scott Meridian is insane. You can feel everything your streamer touches through the rod which results in more hooked fish and less streamers lost on rocks in the river. I fish a Ross Evolution R Salt on it with spare spools which allows me to take it to the saltwater for bonefish and reds. If you’re not planning on crossing over to saltwater fishing a cheaper reel will do, but spare spools are critical. I run one spool with Scientific Angler Amplitude MPX, a couple different Scientific Angler Sonar Sink Tips, and a full sink line. This allows me to cover every depth the fish may be lurking in.
When it comes to streamer fishing most anglers cast across current or slightly downstream and strip the fly back. A few anglers will vary their stripping speed and cadence every once in a while but other than that they don’t change much else. Coming from a background in saltwater fly fishing has taught me that presentation and action have a lot to do with success. Having watched no telling how many fish chase, stalk, reject, nibble, and devour flies has taught me that you have to figure out what they’re looking for. Are they smashing fast fleeing bait? Are the inhaling it on a pause while it sinks? Are they slurping dead drifting bait? How long do I have to let my flies sink before I’m in their zone? How quickly does stripping pull my flies out of their depth? Where will the fish be holding and how much should I lead them? You should be trying to figure out the answers to these questions every time you fish streamers, and the answers can change throughout the day.
While wade fishing you are able to present your streamer in every way possible at each spot you fish. Let’s say I am fishing a deep run. I like to start out by casting from the top of the run straight across with fairly fast strips and short pauses. This keeps my fly fairly high in the water column. I’ll fan this cast and cadence downstream in order to cover the entire run. Starting with the flies high in the water column means I’m not hitting fish in the face and bumping them out. If they want to come up and eat great. If nobody was interested I’ll start my fan over again but this time I’ll give it a slower retrieve and longer pauses in between strips. No dice? This time start the fan over again but let the fly sink a bit before retrieving. My cast starts a little upstream from where I want my retrieve to begin so my flies will sink before the retrieve. Feel free to walk upstream or downstream to change your presentation. Try to picture the entire underwater area of the run, which is 3 dimensional. You want your streamer to drag through every coordinate on the x,y,z axis. Lastly, I’ll dead drift every section in the run as if I’m nymphing. Keep very little slack in the line so you can feel the pick up, or at least see a little tick in the tip of the fly line when a fish eats or your fly bumps a rock. You can add an indicator if needed. Dead drifting streamers can be deadly, and is often overlooked. After every retrieve I like to wiggle the rod tip and hold the streamer in a little longer in case a fish has followed it all the way in.
Fishing streamers on a float trip is very similar, but you have to read the water a little quicker. Hit the banks and strip or wiggle your streamer 1015 feet with a pause or wiggle at the end for following fish. On deeper banks let your streamer sink a little first, in shallow water retrieve immediately. Dead drift down cutbanks a little before retrieving. Change things up until you start sticking fish, then get in the rhythm of what worked. Assume what depth and where the fish will be and make sure you are in that zone. If the fish are short striking or you have a lot of follows but no eats speed up or slow down your retrieve first, then change the size or color of your streamer if that didn’t work.