I’m going to paint a little picture, it’s late afternoon, I’m at a spot on the river that I know is “fishy”. I sit down for a moment, relax and watch to see if trout are rising.

Nothing

I look into the sky and bushes for bugs.

Again Nothing

From those observations, dry fly fishing is out. I could have setup my rod to nymph (which can be super productive), but I choose to tie on a streamer.

What is a Streamer in Fly Fishing?

A Streamer is a fly (lure) used in fly fishing that simulates a bait. Examples of what a streamer imitates: minnows, shad, crayfish and other aquatic bugs. Streamers are typically made with a hook wrapped in natural (feathers and fur) or synthetics materials like polyester and Mylar. Streamer Fishing is the ACT of fly casting and retrieving the streamer fly.

I really enjoy fly fishing with streamers, it’s an active form of fly fishing more like using a spinning outfit. Some days on the water, I want to keep busy. Retrieving a streamer and really working a section of dark, deep water can be rewarding. As a bonus when a trout hits a streamer you know it!

I will say that streamer fishing isn’t the most effective methods of catching fish. Dribbling a nymph through the same water will most likely catch more, but with streamers you can GO BIG and you may CATCH BIG.

Examples of POPULAR Streamers Used in Fly Fishing and How to Fish Them

Streamers for Fly Fishing Deceiver Clouser Wooly Bugger Half and Half
Streamers for Fly Fishing: Deceiver, Clouser, Wooly Bugger, Half and Half

Clouser, excellent for deep streamer fly fishing. The hook-up attitude of a Clouser makes it perfect for skipping this fly along the bottom. The prominent eyes tied to the bottom of the hook are the tell tail to identify this fly. I’d recommend size 6-8 with a variety of light and dark colors.

Deceiver, this streamer fly typically has an eye glued onto the head. I like the lighter color versions with white and chartreuse or white and red. I fish this fly with a weighted sinking tip described farther done in this article. I don’t carry many of these in my fly boxes, but the ones I have are a size 6.

Wooly Bugger, this streamer is a “do everything” fly. I have 6 or 8 flies that I still tie and a wooly bugger is on the list. I mix-up tie theses streamers in a full gamut of colors ranging from whites and blues to earthy tones like brown, black and olive. My favorite size is 8, but again these are so easy to tie I actually have some small size 12.

What’s great about the wooly bugger is that it can be fished like a streamer in the typical ¾ across cast, on the next cast you can “high stick” nymph with it.

Half and Half, if given a choice between carrying deceivers or a half and half. Pick the half and half, the Clouser dumbbell eyes and the wrapped head make this streamer effective. Just like the Clouser, this another weighted fly suited for swing through deep pools and runs. Size 4-8 seem to be popular with freshwater fishermen. (You should be thinking about using this fly for smallmouth – it’s deadly!)

Streamers for Fly Fishing Mickey Finn Zoo Cougar Muddler Zonker
Streamers for Fly Fishing: Mickey Finn, Zoo Cougar, Muddler, Zonker

Mickey Finn, a classic streamer. This is the first fly I tied, and then caught a trout with it. For sentimental reasons I still have a half dozen of these in my fly box. I don’t fish with them much anymore, but some days I’ll tie one on. Size 6 through 12, the smaller sizes work great for bluegills.

Zoo Cougar, this streamer was developed by streamer fly fishing legend Kelly Galloup. The mallard feathers give this fly a nice flutter that looks like a bait fish swimming. The materials used to tie this fly tend to make it float so a sinking line or a sinking tip on your fly line might be needed to get it down into the fishy water. Two favorite colors I use are Yellow and White. I like size 2’s and 4’s. BIG STREAMERS can equal BIG TROUT!

Bunny Muddler, this is my personal favorite streamer fly. I like the white and brown combination best. My home waters have freshwater gobies that dart around on the bottom of the river. Brown Trout just seem to love these things. A smaller size 8 long shank hook seems to work best. I’ve fished it with a cone head, but it hasn’t seemed to work as well as the ones that have a nicely shaped deer hair head the is cut with a wedge shape.

Zonker, streamers typically have a sparkly “formed” body the imitates shad and other schooling bait fish. I have a bunch of these that I’ve used on the White River in Arkansas. If you can fish during the early spring the shad kill can be amazing below Bull Shoals dam. Sizes 4 through 10 are a good bet in whites and greens.

What Kind of Fly Rod is Good for Streamer Fishing

The rivers I fly fish are tree lined. 90 percent of the time I’m roll casting a weighted fly or weighted line and fly. All of this describes a “Fast” rod. The TFO BVK series of fly rods have been perfect. I would recommend a 5 to 7 weight rod that is either 9 or 10 feet long.

Different Ways of Rigging Up Streamers for Fly Fishing

I have three main ways to set-up my fly rod to fish with streamers. Both ways are dependent on how strong the current is and how deep I want to fish. I typically use straight tippet for streamers. I’ve found that a tapered leader just isn’t needed.

All three setups below use a FLOATING WEIGHT FORWARD fly line. I’ve tried using sinking fly line in the past, but found it to be difficult to cast in addition I lose some depth adjustment flexibility.

The objective is to get the streamer into the fishy water. This usually means deeper is better. Getting a streamer deeper means adding weight either at the fly or on the line. I only add split-shot as a last resort.

Slow currents or shallow transitions into deeper water – 3 ½ feet of 3X or 4X Fluorocarbon tippet from the fly line to the fly. This is a perfect setup for drifting a fly from a river bank (shallow) into a deeper transition. Lots of times trout will be “looking up” in this situation.

Moderate currents or 3 to 5 feet deep – I’ll add a little more length of tippet, approximately 5 to 6 feet of the 3X fluorocarbon. Then I’ll tie on a streamer weighted with lead eyes or a tungsten bead.

Fast currents and deep water – I setup my fly line with a length of sink line. Rio sells a product call Intouch Level T that contains tungsten. I’ll make a 4 to 7 foot sinking tip, that I’ll attach to my floating fly line with a with loop to loop connection.

Remember, you can always combine these line setups to fit the water conditions.

Tactics for Streamer Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing to Structure Parallel to Bank

Where you are in relationship to the trout holding water will determine the best way to present your offering. A common holding structure for trout is the woody debris that litters the stream banks. Often the current will push a log to run parallel to the current.

When this happens I like positioning myself directly upstream from the log. REMEMBER the trout is facing toward you, so stay at least 35 feet away. My cast is ¼ down and across, many times I can get a backcast to go directly upstream which improves my casting distance considerably.

Strip Streamer by Log
Strip Streamer by Log

This method can present the streamer fly in two different ways to the trout. The first is to “flutter” or swim the streamer across the nose of the trout.
The second method has the streamer cast beyond the trout and then stripped in “flanking” the trout approximately 18 inches to 2 feet away. Use this method last, because typically it’s a little unnatural for a bait fish to swim by a predator trout.

Streamer Fishing to Mid-River Structure

This is the most common scenario you’re likely to encounter. Boulders, tree stumps and even man-made structures become trout “hotels”. Often the fish will hold just in front of the obstruction or tight behind it.

Streamer Casting Across Current to Structure
Streamer Casting Across Current to Structure

I’ve found the best way to position yourself in this situation is upstream and to the side. The perfect position has the cast ¾ across the current so the streamer will drift with a straight line right in front of the trouts nose.

A little trick is to start this swing technique an extra 20 feet upstream from the fishy structure. This allows for you to get a feel for the current, and the amount of mend to obtain a nice drift/swing. I’ve even caught some nice trout this way!

Retrieve Techniques While Streamer Fishing

Strip it, applying a bit of action to the streamer can make all the difference streamer fishing. A local river has a special 30 day season for catch and release fly fishers. The river gets stocked with a mix of nice trout in the 8 to 14 inch range. As a bonus some monster breeding stock also get planted +20 inch browns and rainbows.

I mention this because these stockers like streamers aggressively stripped in. When I say aggressive, I’ll yank 3 to 4 feet of fly line in. This is completely unnatural to the trout, but if I use a short strip that more closely simulates what a bait fish might do, I’ll get constant refusals.

Give it a Twitch, my first trip to Arkansas set a pattern for bi-annual trips. On day 1, the group met for lunch. Of course the bragging started, all of us had caught fish, but Bill easily netted 3 times more than the rest.

We were all fishing the same basic setup, which consisted of a Zonker streamer that imitated the shad that gets sweep through the dam. Quizzing Bill we discovered he twitched the fly line 3 or 4 inches during the drift.

This twitch didn’t retrieve any line, but was a little strip followed by letting the current pull the fly line back out. This gave the streamer a little flutter that the trout loved.

Can You Streamer Fly Fish in Lakes?

YES! Streamer fishing is super productive in a lake. This is the preffered method for Bluegills, Smallmouth Bass and Pike. A couple quick things to consider, because this could be an article all by itself.

Let the streamer sink immediately after it hits the water. How far the streamer will sink is dependent on those obvious things like the weight of the streamer fly, but using floating line may not let the streamer get down to the fish.

Don’t be afraid of using big streamers. A pike streamer can be 6 to 8 inches long! If you tie on a little size 8, you might catch a bucket of bluegills, but you won’t hook into a smallmouth or pike.

How to Fly Fish with a STREAMER
How to Fly Fish with a STREAMER