Fly fishing streamers can be one of the most fun and effective ways to catch big fish. Whether you're targeting Trout, Bass, Catfish, or anything in-between; the right cast mixed with the right streamer can land some spectacular catches.
Streamers are large flies that you fish on an active retrieve. This means that their movement is mainly caused by the angler stripping in line in order to draw the fly back for another cast.
They imitate baitfish, crayfish, leeches, and large aquatic insects. Sizes of the fly can vary greatly between small and simple wooly buggers, all the way to complex articulated flies that stretch the size of your hand.
Rabbit fur is some of the best material for tying big sub-surface wet flies. No other material has as much life-like movement when wet as a strip of rabbit fur. Whether tied Zonker style or palmered like a hackle, the fibers separate and flow with life-like properties. Rabbit strip is also very durable and easy to use. However, its best quality is that as soon as it leaves the water, it collapses and on re-entry, it puffs out. Flies tied with rabbit strip big, but cast small.
Why, When, and Where to Use A StreamerWhen it comes to answering why to use a streamer as opposed to a different fly setup, the main reason is simple: big fish need lots of protein to survive, and in turn, will attack big flies when given the chance.
Streamers are also a great way to cover a large amount of water in a smaller time frame. By using certain cast and retrieve methods, an angler can cover entire pools in an efficient, and often successful manner. Streamer fishing can often be one of the most exciting methods of fly fishing because it’s very involved and usually produces violent strikes when a fish decides to take the fly.
Fishing streamers is not just about catching fish that are actively feeding. One of the most advantageous aspects of fishing streamers vs. drifting nymphs and tossing dries is to trigger reactionary strikes in predatory fish such as trout, bass, and other large species. A reactionary strike is when your fly glides passed a hunkered down fish, and that fish attacks it, not out of a desire to eat it but out of pure primal instinct to protect its territory. These fish got this big for a reason!
If you’re having trouble when trying to match the hatch, or even identifying any insects around, a streamer may be a viable alternative to topwater or nymphs. Often times, this may be due to temperature factors. Trout especially are at full energy at around 55-60 degrees F, and may not be rising if the water is too cold, or too hot. It’s not a guarantee, but by getting a large meal right in front of their faces, they will most likely be much more inclined to take it.
Streamers are a great way to increase your fly's visibility and ability to sink in murky or deep water (after a rainstorm, for example). Streamers can be fished in clear daylight and in clear water, but fish will be less inclined to bite at large streamers as thicker tippet is more detectable and there are likely lots of insects to feed on. If deciding to fish clear water with a streamer, smaller and more subtle ones will perform better.
The best places to target streamers are where there are protected places such as under banks, behind large rocks, and around submerged logs or trees; as well as in the seams of the currents, and in deep pockets of water.
Fishing deep is critical when using streamers. Try using a weighted sinking line to get deep. If your fishing a pocket of water where you can’t see the bottom, two things are likely, visibility is low, and if the fish can’t see your fly they can’t eat it, and there are probably big hungry fish down there.
How to Cast and Fish a Streamer
Anglers spend their lifetime trying to perfect a cast of grace and precision. Ideally, we envision tightly kept loops flying through the air landing the fly perfectly on the water in an elegant and gentle manner. However, when streamer fishing, your casting will have to adapt to accommodate the weight of the fly. When casting a streamer, stand directly upstream of the hole—or current—you are trying to fish. Depending on the weight of your fly, you may need to think outside the box when looking for ways to make your cast effective.
Casting a streamer that weighs as much as the fishing line is not easy. Here are some things to remember when fishing with heavy streamers…
Pick your target - Before you cast your line, pick a spot where the fly will land. Aim for a point slightly upstream so the fly has maximum time in the water and also time to sink.
Load up - A back cast isn’t always necessary. As long as there is tension on the line before the drive, the streamer will fly far.
Finish with a high rod tip - When you're done with the cast, make sure your rod tip is aiming upwards. This will allow the fly to go further and land softer on the water, in order to avoid spooking fish.
Get deep - Big fish will be hanging out in the deep water. By lurking there, they can conserve energy and thrive in the oxygen-rich cold water. When you get your fly down to their level, you make it easier for them to find your fly, and they’ll be more likely to strike at it. So once your fly is in the water, let it sit for just a few seconds.
Mend it - When the fly has been in the water for about two or three seconds, throw a downstream mend on it to create slack in your line. This will allow the current to pull your fly down the side of the opposite bank in an organic way and should draw out any fish that were lurking under banks or checking out side walls for incoming meals.
Keep your tip down with little strips - To maximize the effectiveness of your streamer, angle your rod tip down as low as possible. This will make the fly seem more natural and keep it deeper in the water during retrieval. Once your fly is well sunk and you are approaching the top of the pool, begin stripping in line. Stripping should be done slowly so as not to alert the fish prematurely. Use small 4-6" strips and add a little wiggle to the rod to create sporadic movement to help the streamers undulation. Continue stripping in line until the fly is about to approach the end of its drift.
Let it swing and jig - During the drift, the fly will swing across the pool back to your shore. This is when most strikes will occur. As you keep tension on the line, perform small, rapid strips in and watch the line straighten out through the pool. The fish sees its target beginning to flee. This is now or never for the fish… and they almost always pick now. Shake your line sporadically as well as keeping tension; if a fish hits, you don’t want to miss it. Once the fly has finished its swing, begin large strips and “jig” the fly. To do this, give gentle tugs on the rod to insinuate a lurching baitfish / leach. Continue this with intermittent stops to present your fly like an injured animal until it has made its way up the bank and back to you.
Modify your cast - Now, repeat all the steps above with slight variations. Try placing your fly in different locations, as well as varying how long it drifts and altering your retrieval speeds and frequency of strips.
For those just getting into fly fishing, streamers can be a saving grace. While dry fly fishing and nymphing rely heavily on identifying specific insect patterns and hatches, streamer fishing allows the angler to focus more on how they’re fishing the fly as opposed to what fly their fishing. When it comes to selecting the right fly, it’s best to come prepared with a lot of options.
JHFLYCO Bunny Streamers: