As a lifetime practitioner in the church of conventional spinning gear, I struggled to wrap my mind around the fact that most of the presentation techniques that I was accustomed to using were no longer applicable. When it came to tempting wild trout in the streams and lakes of the eastern Sierras of California, fishing dry flies and nymphs offered very little in the way of familiarity. It wasn't until I learned the magic of fishing streamers that I would find an approach that would provide a common ground between the techniques I already knew and my newly adopted fishing habit. I quickly learned that fishing streamers was an extremely productive way to catch fish in both moving and still water. Here are some of the basics:
Presentation Objectives - Streamer fishing is very different from all other fly-fishing presentation methods in that it is one of the few instances where drag works in your favor. Drag can be defined as what happens when the fly moves opposite or side-current in relation to the natural flow of the water. The streamer mimics the type of prey that would have the strength and mobility to move between lanes within the current. Smaller fish, minnows, and frye are imitated well by a properly presented streamer. This type of presentation creates a reaction as displaced water triggers a feeding mechanism. Sudden movements of the fly trigger a fish’s natural feeding response. Creating lively movement in the fly is extremely important. I will explain how to achieve this below.
Sinking Lines - Your ability to control the depth of your fly is paramount when presenting a streamer to a waiting fish. When fishing dry flies or even nymphs, your standard floating line will get the job done. Streamer fishing requires that you quickly get your bait down to where the fish are holding quickly and that you can keep a consistent depth during your retrieve. If you have only one fly reel with one spool you don’t have to dump your weight forward floating line. Many fly line manufacturers now offer sinking leaders or sink tip lines that cover the water column at various depths that sink at various speeds. These fly fishing leaders work extremely well in shallow steams. River sections or in lakes during times of the day when surface temperatures might be cooler. If you have access to a second fly fishing rod and reel or spool, you can also use a full sink line which allows the entire line to sink at the same rate. I find full sink lines extremely useful when I am fishing faster, deeper, moving water in streams and rivers because this allows my fishing line and my fly to quickly reach the slower moving water on the bed. I also prefer a full sink line when I'm fishing lakes where the fish may be sitting deeper and I am switching between fishing nymphs and streamers. Most fly lines and fly leaders are designed to specific sink rates notated in IPS or inches per second. For example, the card or packaging on your fly leader material might read 5.6ips. This means your line and bait will sink at a rate of almost 6” per second. This method of presentation is also highly effective for other freshwater gamefish including bass, crappie and perch or in the surf for bonefish species including corbina.
Streamers in Still Water - Fishing streamers from the vantage point of a boat or a float tube is straight forward. You can cover a lot of the water column easily by timing your sink counting in seconds. Make your overhead or roll cast allowing your line to unfurl and count off in seconds until your line has reached the desired depth and begin your retrieve by lowering your rod tip and reverse stripping your line. If you get bit, continue reverse stripping to set the hook. Raise your rod tip to begin fighting the fish when you are sure the fish is on.
Streamers in Moving Water Cast cross stream at a 45-degree angle downstream. Next, allow the moving water to pick up any remaining slack in your fly line, holding tension so no more line strips off the fly reels. At this point, your line will begin to sweep back across the stream towards the side that you are standing on. When your line crosses the seam or lane you want to fish. Pay close attention. Often you can get bit on the sweep. Once your line is in the desired lane, lower your rod tip, holding it into the seam and begin your reverse strip. It is also important that you sink your rod tip into the water as deep as you can without hitting bottom. Doing this will keep your streamer closer to the bottom where the water is moving slower and the fish wait of an easy meal. Just as you would in still water, if you get bit, continue reverse stripping to set the hook. Raise your rod tip to begin fighting the fish when you are sure the fish is on.
Retrieve - In this article, I've mentioned the term “reverse strip” several times. All this means is that you manually pull in the line with your left hand (for right hand retrieve) with some tension created by holding the line between your right index finger and the forward section of the cork handle on your fly rod. Pull in the line in 3”-6” lengths at different speeds to imitate prey swimming upstream. In slower water, you can reduce the rate of retrieve in your reverse strip and wiggle your rod tip to create movement. The goal in either example is to make your fly fishing look lively. If you can achieve this even with minimal success, you will have upped your fly fishing game considerably.
Credit for the method - Never underestimate the value of fishing with an experienced guide. What I have learned is that no matter how long you have been fishing or how much you know, there is always new knowledge to be gained. This is one of the things I love most about fly-fishing. The best way to keep learning and keep fly-fishing interesting is to fish with someone who knows the water and the fish better than you. The technique described above was taught to me by Pat Jaeger of the Eastern Sierra Guide Service. Even if you consider yourself a veteran, I highly recommend booking some water time with Pat if you want to experience the Eastern Sierra Nevada in a way that only Pat can share.
Suggested Gear (for trout)
5wt Piscifun Sword Fly Rod
5wt Piscifun Sword Fly Reel
You can also buy the 5wt fly rod and reel on Amazon
Full Sink / Sink Tip line or Sinking Leader
5x or 6x Tippet
Streamers - I recommend starting with a wooly buggers or mini buggers in black or olive.
Author: Graham P Day