We are a streamer fishing focused site and are building a resource for those interested in this aspect of fly fishing. We have been inundated with requests for information, advice, gear suggestions and cries for help in recent times. We want to provide information that can be informative and helpful and add to our previous ten top tips. This piece is intended to give an excellent overview and it is planned to highlight various areas with specific attention in future standalone posts. We will also suggest further reading in this area. We strongly recommend that you get out there and build your own streamer knowledge & experiences!
This is how we are breaking down the various areas we are getting queries about. (We know a lot of you are probably pretty experienced but none of us started out that way! So we have to bear that in mind for all readers/new anglers that may come across this as a read to aid them)
The ultimate in game angling- A Wild Irish Brown Trout
Starting at the business end, streamer size determines choice of tackle etc. Before we get to conditions, you need to have your fly box sorted to cover a range of conditions.
Our advice is if you are new to this then start with a smaller streamer like a Woolly Bugger and work up to the bigger flies while gaining experience and most importantly confidence. Take a graduated approach, working your way up the food chain so to speak. Most of the techniques required can be honed on single hook streamers such as woolly buggers and smaller articulated streamers like the mini peanut envy. By using flies in this size range you are more likely to target the general trout population. The more experience you get of hooking fish on streamers the better!
Our Articulated streamers are a bigger in size. Articulated flies help to facilitate swimming action which can prove irresistible to large predatory fish like trout and salmon. Two hooks, more material and often a Skull head, cone head, muddler head or dumbbell eyes to add to the movement. They can take a while to get used to casting them and will require a heavier weighted rod on average like a 6, 7 or 8 wt and suitable taper fly line as well.
Not all streamers are weighted and those that are can vary a lot depending on hook, dressing (such as a lead wire underbody) and head where applicable. We have come across some small single streamers with very heavy tungsten heads that belie their physical appearance and are simply too heavy for most novice streamer fishermen. A lighter streamer may be a much better option combined with a sinking line, They swim better, appear more life like and provide better balance in the set up and casting for many people in many situations.
It makes sense to have a variety of Streamer styles, sizes and colours for varying conditions
As well as a combination of sizes, aim for a colour selection. Different colours have their places given weather, water, light conditions. Start with black! Hard to go wrong with that as you build up your experience and your flybox. Some days and places it is all you need and then sometimes it is not. A simple change of colour on some occasions can really up your catch rate or change the day.
Aside from colour and size, articulated or not, what else should you think about? Shape and build of the fly? Some have substantial deer hair heads like the Mary Banger or Trigger Treat, which “push” a lot of water and can trigger trout and give a different action to say a McGenius or Boyne Bugger with their skull head imparting a different action both to the fly and the materials it is tied from.
One thing that is vitally important with streamers is the quality of the hook! Like a good foundation it is essential for the longevity and efficacy of the streamer. Do not cut corners here! Look for the finest quality hooks like we do and that we use here, strong, very sharp and with the correct gape and profile to maximise your chances of success.
Before we get onto the rest of the gear, bear the following in mind. We often meet anglers with rods worth 1,000 euro, reels 300-700, 80 -120 fly line @ riverside. Beautiful kit! Top notch! They are using well north of 1500 euro tackle to present a 1 euro or 1.50 fly!!! Not exactly a great way to meet your client trout! A poorly tied fly on a cheap and nasty hook! Your quarry does not have any idea that you are holding the latest nano technology wrapped in the finest Portuguese cork, it only sees the weird, limp object passing along.
We have a really detailed article about choosing flies, fly design and the reasons for having a selection of different types of flies here
The amazing Olive woolly Bugger is a very successful fly
This area is an interesting one, we have been fishing a long time here, have handled a lot of cork and waved around a lot of carbon over the years. We are not going to name check any particular brands or models here as the ultimate “streamer fishing tool” etc. We are going to talk general requirements that you should consider to have when streamer fishing (& general fly fishing too in many cases)
Davy The Dog minding the gear!
We think you should consider a rod that can throw streamers up to and including articulated ones. Honestly in the majority of cases a 5 weight will be too light for this. 5 weights are considered the average river rod by many, capable all rounders, whether it be dry-fly, spider fishing or nymphing. Yes you can throw a big streamer on it. But fishing a large streamer with a weighted head on a sinking line in high water is pushing it’s comfort limits. It is important to be able to fish comfortably for long periods of time. Overall you are better off in our opinion with a 6, 7 or 8 weight but it will also depend on some factors as to where you fish etc. We do have our own rod in progress and are currently on the umpteenth prototype. We plan to have it ready soon!
A 7 weight rod is rated for ~30 grains more than a 5 weight with reference to the standard line rating/weighting system.
Depending on line used this should give you a more comfortable and pleasurable time casting streamers. Bear in mind some of our articulated streamers run from 1.5grams to 2.1 grams in weight which is ~23-35 grains. That does not account for the shape/bulk and wind resistance etc of different streamers. The flies are also fished subsurface so you are have a bit of lifting to do too when getting line and fly from the water to re-cast, a very different experience to lifting off a size 18 Comparadun dry-fly.
For rod length 9ft plus is good. We have been favouring 10ft 7 weights 95% of the time. One of the benefits of 10ft rod is that when fishing off a river bank the extra length can help keep the rod tip down closer to the water surface when stripping thus keeping in touch and keeping the fly fishing for longer. It can also help greatly with clearance on backcasts etc.
Any longer than 10ft in a single hand rod and we think you will feel that swing weight over time especially with the casting & water coverage of streamer fishing.
In terms of rod action, we are talking medium-fast action & up depending on personal preferences. Very soft action or slow action rods may not have the backbone to lift the streamers and sinking lines and may feel like hard work. Accuracy too is vitally important as you are aiming that streamer at specific targets and its important to have a tool that doesn’t impede you from hitting them with precision. Your rod of choice is also important to allow you to play and land larger fish relatively quickly. There is a major difference between a 1lbs trout in normal water conditions and a 5lb trout in high water conditions. Out of respect for our quarry, we need to be suitably prepared.
Your own local conditions may also impact your choice as well and personal preferences may dictate brand, colour, price, cork, handle shape, guides etc
Impact protoypes- Coming Soon!
Another area of reel personal preference! Some want works of art, others minimalist straight forward function. We do have some recommendations on what to keep an eye out for.
Get reel size right. You will be fishing your 6/7/8wt line so aim for the capacity of the reel to be sufficient. Don’t be tempted to squeeze your new line onto a spare 4/5 wt reel!
Get a large arbour reel if possible as you will make use of the running line that wouldnt see the light of day with other methods of Fly Fishing and tightly coiled running line is a pain to deal with sometimes even after stretching.
You need to allow for being able to fit quality backing of your choice, minimum of 75-100 m and then your line. Sinking lines on average take up less space on a reel than equivalent wt floating line. So if you were to change over to a floating streamer taper line to fish a surface mouse for example, would that fit?
Also bear in mind you may end up having a couple of line variations for different conditions, say a sinking streamer line, an intermediate and a floater (not very often we grant you but still worth having) you may need the ability to change spools quickly and easily.
Drag is useful but not essential. Mostly to prevent overrun but can be useful with really big fish.
A reel that is saltwater capable may be advantageous too as it can pull double duty if necessary. Robust too is good, well sealed etc as a lot of streamer fishing is in poor conditions and they do get dropped and knocked around as a result.
Again in summary, looking for a reel with right capacity for 6/7/8wt, possibly err on 7/8 wt side which is robust, large arbour, spare spool compatibility/availability, possibly saltwater proof and good looking! BTW a lot of people are averse to highly polished shiny reels due to the light flashing effect of them. Keith would be in this camp.
Fly reels are beautiful and functional
There are a lot of lines out there now people. When we started messing with streamers a long time ago there were no streamer specific lines and we experimented with sinking lines and intermediates often creating “Frankenlines” to get the job done. Now there are a lot of options from most of the manufacturers. People have brand preferences etc and we are aware of that. We are not going to steer you in any particular brand or model direction. If say you have chosen or are using a 7wt rod, try as a very basic starting point matching the rod and line weighting/rating. Basic as it is, people ignore it a lot! Also some people often think that they need to overline the rod by a couple of line weights to help. This should not be neccessary with good casting technique.
Some lines may come with a gram or grain weighting as well as or instead of an AFTM line weighting. One gram is equal to 15.432 grains (or ~ 64.799 mg per grain). Gram & grain weights are not as prevalent in single hand fishing as of yet compared to doublehanded fishing/tackle , yet is helpful to be aware of as becomes increasingly used .
Streamer specific lines tend to have a profile and weighting within the line design to carry/turnover streamers. A designated dry fly line for example will be built around presentation and floating qualities for again presentation and lift off. It might be a fine line for presenting klinkhamers but not streamers. Aim to get the tool for the job.
We advise getting a sinking line for streamer fishing preferably in a streamer friendly profile in a rating matched to your rod. If not used to fishing a sinking line, it can feel strange as it is a narrower profile and will feel different both in the handling and casting initially and may take a little getting used to. Best way is with practice!
In some conditions or circumstances you may wish to have a floating line and there are now floating lines designed for fishing streamers and larger flies. Some patterns such as mouseflies, surface lures, muddlers etc may not be heavy but their profiles can make them a little harder to cast and specific lines will help.
Remember there may be local exceptions to every rule and where you fish may have some of it’s own unique characteristics.
Fly lines are one of most important parts of the system to get right
Oh yes, let’s not mess around here people. A good landing net likely means you are going to land more fish and more quickly. Trying to tail, grass or beach a fish can be hard work especially if fishing alone and can prolong the fight too much. A well timed scoop of the net can secure your fish much quicker and safer, for you, the fish and your rod etc.
Note the big MCLEAN net- no messing around with small scoop nets
Polarised glasses are really vital for eye protection, cutting through surface glare, reading the water, safe wading, tracking/ monitoring your fly and seeing the response of fish to it that you may otherwise miss. The sun can really damage your eyes especially with the
reflected light from water. When streamer fishing we are very often fishing in low light conditions and many anglers use glasses with a lens that is far too
dark. Yellow lens are best for the typical conditions we fish in. It is useful to have a couple of pairs Io choose from. We’ve had Oakley’s, Bolle, Maui
Jim’s, Ray bans’, Costas, you name it but there are many good glasses available for under 50 euros that are just as good!
Glasses are essential when fishing but pics are normally better without them unless you are cool like TC!
A peaked hat is another essential item we would not be without. Keeping the sun off your eyes assists with seeing into the water and a hat protects your head from sticking a fly in it and keeping the sun off it. Ears are an important sense to utilise while fishing but there are times when hats that cover your ears to be useful when cold and windy at times. Keith also puts all his flies in his hat and thinks hats are lucky but that’s another days work!
Hats are lucky? They are certainly an essential item for fishing
A forceps is a really important tool for removing hooks from trout. Anglers really should not go fishing without one from the point of view of the fishes welfare. It allows hooks to be removed with ease and minimises the chance of injuring fish. From a safety point of view it is absolutely unadvisable to put your fingers in a big trout’s mouth. Like many things we learned the hard way. It really hurts for days and can easily become infected due to the bacteria in the fishes mouth.
Trout finger really hurts..A 6lber got his own back!
The forceps can be used for de-barbing, clearing hook eyes, crimping, line and wire cutting etc. A foreceps with a mechanism to fix to your person is most useful to prevent loosing them. We make no apologies for saying our Handy Dandy Forceps is about as good as it gets.
Handy Dandy forceps has Form and Function
Streamer flies being bigger require bigger leaders and tippet. Our streamer tippet is 0.35mm japanese fluorocarbon. Don’t be trying to gnaw your way through bigger diameter lines, it will damage the good china! Nice precise, clean cuts with a high quality nippers are a boon to your fishing. Stick them on a lanyard or zinger so you get in the habit of using them without having to root through pockets and bags..
El Slice is very nice!
How to put all the relevant kit together? Let’s make the presumption you have now got a matched and balanced fly rod, reel, line, leader, tippet & streamer lying on the floor.
Add backing to reel first using an arbor knot.
Join backing to reel end of fly line using an albright knot.
Next, attach the leader. Most current streamer specific lines will come with a welded loop on the end of the fly line . On the butt end of your Impact streamer leader there will also be a loop (Impact leaders come with a perfection loop pre-tied by Keith!) Do a loop to loop connection. If there is no built in loop on the fly line its possible to make one or use a nail knot for flyline to leader connection.
(NB With our dry fly leaders we do not pre loop these as a lot of people like to use a nail knot or superglue/needle knot for improved dryfly presentation)
Leader on.. What’s next? Tippet! Impact streamer leaders come with a pre-attached leader/tippet ring to allow you to tie the tippet to it, preserving the leader from further cutbacks over time (unless you specifically want to remove the tippet ring ). Our leader/tippet ring has a 10kg breaking strain in a 2mm ring and we are very confident in their use, preferring the ensuing knot strength to a line to line connection. We use and recommend a fluorocarbon tippet that is strong in it’s 0.35mm diameter and abrasion resistant. A foot or two of tippet should sufficefor most applications. Do not go too long or it will be more difficult to cast. With fluorocarbon make sure to wet/lubricate the knot and slide home steadily before testing. Test all knots thoroughly before fishing.
Attaching the streamer we recommend a small rapala knot. The loop allows for free movement of the streamer.
That’s it! Kit is sorted Ready to cast!
Our fishy kit
Well, we would all like perfect conditions when we go fishing! What are our perfect conditions?
It may surprise and disappoint you! Streamer fishing is different. We are not looking for perfect conditions for a rise. Far from it .
We love high water with colour in it. Wet, cloudy conditions, low light, a little miserable, we love that and so do our target fish. In those conditions our target predatory fish can be “buzzed up” as we say, they are active. The flood moves food around and predators are keenly aware of this. The low light allows them ambush their prey. They will chase, intercept, pull, hit hard!
You are going to need good clothing for this weather, jackets, waders etc. Gear is often a personal choice but we recommend quality waterproof and breathable clothing with suitable layers to put the time in during these conditions. Hours on the water in these conditions can be hard but also so productive! Remember just as a good hatch can be conducive to a good rise of fish and dry fly action, the right conditions and timing can put trout etc out hunting other prey due to favourable conditions for them, we should be there to make the most of that too! A lot of rivers now have gauges that can be viewed online, and are used by kayakers etc. Get familiar with the right water levels on your target rivers and keep checking those apps/sites along with your weather forecasts.
A combination of low water, bright sun and high humidity can really make streamer fishing difficult and can be very hard to elicit a response as our target fish are more likely sitting it out, conserving energy and awaiting good hunting/ feeding conditions. Even when water height and clarity are good, high oppressive humidity can be detrimental to streamer fishing. Get used to checking the barometer! Having said all that, its fishing and there is always a chance!
In high coloured water conditions, daytime fishing can be our go to time to fish. Dusk fishing in a flood often does not perform as well. Dusk in normal water heights and good clarity can be a very good time. Salmonids are heavily influenced by weather and water conditions It is very useful to build up a picture of what you experience when fishing in different conditions
Nice overcast conditions
While not fish behavioural scientists by any means we have put in a lot of water hours between us fishing for trout both alone and in the company of other very experienced anglers over a combined 7-decades of fishing. While all anglers have their own N+1 experiences, many have not recorded or collated it in any meaningful way to maximise it.
Our observations and experiences have often left us scratching our heads with regards to the activities of trout, especially large ones. We have also accrued a lot of experience to allow us to target high quality trout with a very good degree of success especially when the conditions are right.
Large trout are very much predators. An aged fishing companion of ours of a different generation used to refer to them as “cannibals”. He was right, they will eat their own and a lot of any other species that swims if they can catch it and swallow it! They are also aggressive and can be territorial especially at certain times of the year. These behaviours are what allow streamer fishing to work as it does (note wobbler or spin fishing for trout also plays on these behaviours & many big trout are caught as a bycatch of spinning for salmon/seatrout & pike)
Thats why we do what we do!
The large trout will target bait fish whether it be minnows, smaller trout, coarse fish, parr, smolts etc when and where these are in numbers. Their behaviour is influenced by both bait fish and water/weather conditions that impact their ability to hunt for them.
Those weather conditions that we like? High, coloured water, lower light are all advantageous to trout hunting and catching their prey. In average water conditions you, the angler will often see shoals of small minnow, baitfish in the margins. They are out of strong flows and appear safe and content in numbers. They can easily disperse in the shallow water if attacked and chased or see predatory fish. In higher coloured water they are often dispersed, some ending up washed downstream in the flow akin to a conveyor belt at a supermarket checkout where they are swiped out by big trout. Also the high coloured water lifts the margins and gives more cover to hunting predatory fish who switch on to these conditions. Lower light, dusk also help in this regard.
Seasons also affect behaviour. Fish are trying to regain condition in the spring and take advantage of the availability of juvenile fish, smolt runs etc. Late in the season trout can also become more aggressive and territorial as well as feeding strongly.
An example of aggressive behaviour which we have seen numerous times is where a trout has flashed at a streamer, charging it’s path aggressively and showing it’s flank broadside to the streamer. It appears to us it is a warning or threat. We have seen this reaction which most often does not result in a take, how many of our takes are as a result of aggressive or territorial behaviour?
Dusk in Low water can be good!
Streamer fishing technique is very different to say dry fly fishing or even nymphing. Given that the streamers are larger, bulkier and heavier. Their required action is so,so different than say a dry fly where you are trying to imitate a natural and prevent drag, matching current speed and presentation must/should be immaculate.
Your streamer is looking for attention! You want fish to see it and respond at speed out of instinct. A plop/splash on landing, no problem! Get their attention straight away and start moving that streamer.
Often you want your cast to be close to the opposite bank (where realistic/appropriate). Really close. In high water many fish will be tight in those margins. Cast more square, slightly upstream or directly upstream. This causes the fly to move faster in the water and will aid in the presentation as you strip the streamer back towards you. The streamer will present side on and in an arc on the line’s path. With the action of the strip, the inherent movement of the streamer and mobility of it’s materials the streamer is presented as an eye catching injured fish or unidentified swimming object to trout but it is alive, animated and not debris floating down the river.
You need to experiment with your stripping action and get used to this being a bit more tiring as you actively retrieve the fly. pauses between strips/pulls should be included but it can be important not to give them too much time to think about it. The illusion of life must be kept alive!
Act Like this guy
A vital part of fishing! Often overlooked, especially by newcomers and for some reason not really associated with streamer fishing. Some people are of the opinion that due to high water, heavier line weights, sinking lines and big streamers it is not as relevant! Of course it is! While dry fly fishing people will approach with ninja like stealth, streamer fishing they will stampede to start fishing. We are weary of comments from uneducated so-called anglers, calling us knuckle draggers and trying to make out that you can simply throw half a turkey into the pool and strip like F$%k! If it was that easy we would see everyone with trophy trout grip n’ grins al over Insta!
You have to put some thought into this stuff and make it happen. That is the beauty of streamer fishing.
You are only going to get so many days on the water in your lifetime and you have to maximise them! Watercraft starts before you even pack your gear!
We will presume you have checked the water levels and weather conditions as previously mentioned and you are good to go!
Check your gear! Make sure all of the above are there. It sounds simple but there is very little more frustrating than driving an hour or two to go fishing and realising you don’t have your wading boots!
Not a river, beat you are familiar with? have you done a recce? If not possible to do a recce in person use google maps to view river from above and should give some indication of pools, bends, weirs/waterfalls, tree cover, bridges etc and laybys for parking, drop offs etc.
When you get there, check the water level, colour etc first before anything. Having seen the river conditions first hand then you can choose lines etc to suit.
If you have access to a local river or beat that you fish, it is worth walking that beat at both high and low water levels to read the river and see what is going on in the various pools with subsurface structures etc. These are more easily viewed at low water levels than high coloured water. Also at the start of each season as winter floods, tree falls, bank subsidence etc may have altered pools a lot.
Approaching and starting to fish, observe! Watch the water, do not take your eyes off it! You will miss movement, rises etc. Watch your streamer too and look for fish action around it. See a flash of action and no take, try again, note the spot and try later with a different angle of attack or streamer. That fish showed an interest earlier may commit next time.
Be stealthy! Minimise stomping on the bank, profile etc. Better safe than sorry. Fish the pools in a thorough but swift manner. Move through them covering the water. Focus on areas of interest but if not getting attention move on. As we have said before shoot & scoot!
Take time to assess things and change up if necessary. Nothing happening, change streamer. Watch the action of your streamer and line and change if not happy with what they are doing in that water height/flow.
If wading, be cautious, both for safety and to avoid scaring fish. It is wading, not aqua-aerobics.
On the bank minimise your silhouette and movement.
Minimise your false casting. You are fly fishing not conducting an orchestra.
Day done? Note down your activities, water height, temps, streamers used, catch and pools etc for future reference. Your days experience will help build future results!
Rinse and repeat! Enjoy.!