What is Streamer Fishing?

Streamer fishing is hands down the most active and exciting way to chase fish with a fly rod. With streamers, it’s all about the retrieve and how you impart motion and action to your flies. This is what fools fish into believing they’re attacking small prey.

Unlike types of fly fishing where we strive for a drag-free drift, fishing streamers is more like reeling in a spinner on a spin casting rod. You are actively retrieving a lure to make a fish give chase and take it.

What makes a streamer fly different?

  • Take a quick look at fly selections in a fly shop. The longer, typically larger streamer flies more closely resemble small fish rather than insects.
  • The long, flowing fibers used in streamers means the flies have motion and action rather than the “moment in time” picture of a dry fly or nymph.
  • Usually tied on larger hooks and weighing considerably more than other flies, streamers can be more difficult to cast.

How do I fish a streamer?

The key to fishing streamers is to get them close to structure like woody debris, big boulders, and undercuts in a river bank. There are lots of styles and techniques you can use to do this. Here is a basic run down of ones to try.

The 6-inch strip

  • Cast your fly out to your chosen spot like a deep bucket or boulder in a river. Then let it sink to the desired depth and retrieve it back towards you in 6-inch pulls of the line. This retrieve imitates any small bait fish or prey on the move. The motion and action of the fly often triggers savage streamer takes.

Strip pause

  • Count to 5 or 6 between strips and allow the fly to sink or even reach the bottom on each pause. This is a great method for fishing really cold water or when using sculpin-style flies. As your fly sinks to the bottom, strip it towards you, jig the fly off the bottom and then let it sink again.

The swing

  • By far the best way to cover lots of water while streamer fishing is to swing the fly down and across the river. By starting with water closest to you, work your line out to your most comfortable casting distance. You can cover larger areas of water quicker and more effectively this way. The belly of the line and the downstream motion of the swing allows you to let your cast and line do all the fishing for you—with little or no stripping at all needed!

Rigging up

  • Use rods in the 5-8WT range to help deliver the bigger flies. The bigger the flies you fish, the higher rated your rod should be.
  • Shorten your leaders down to turn over the flies. There’s no need for 9’ leaders when streamer fishing. Tie on a much stouter and shorter leader (3’-6’) and you’ll have plenty to play with.
  • Fluorocarbon isn’t a bad choice for leader material when streamer fishing since its virtually invisible once underwater.
  • Using sinking lines over a floating line helps deliver a heavier streamer and gets it in the zone quicker. Attachable sink tips are wonderful options.
  • Avoid putting split shot on your leader when casting streamers. It could lead to injury or tangles and frustration. Use sink tips instead.

Streamer fishing is one of the most fun and exciting ways to catch fish. Learning how to do it means you’ll be set to catch a huge variety of fish in a wide range of locations.

Not every fly fisherman needs to know how to delicately present a dry fly (Tarpon don’t eat Blue Wing Olives). But every fly fisherman should learn and know how to strip a streamer.