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More About Streamer Fishing; Part 1

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Since some of our members have expressed interest in both streamer fishing and perhaps hearing more of what I have to say about my own experiences I looked up another piece that may be helpful. The following was written a few years ago and is about fishing streamers on some of Pennsylvania's spring and freestone creeks.

Although you can do a lot of searching with a streamer fly and sometimes even find a willing fish; it pays to have a plan when using these big wet flies.

Generally I knew where to put the fly on delivery. When the streamer hits (any streamer) you should or may be casting to a suspected lie of a brown trout. As soon as it 'splats down' I give an immediate strip of about a foot or two. This was part of a strategy; the idea was for the 'splat' to attract the attention of any fish that was near to the delivery point. The quick strip was a move to deprive any nearby fish of a look at the fly while it was disheveled. To understand what I mean by this think of what must / is, the look of a streamer before it actually begins to assume the swing that is induced by the pull of the current / line / leader tension being initiated to the fly. The strip is made to get the feathers in order and to get that fly swimming as soon as possible after it lands. After the strip you must decide how to manipulate the line (upstream or downstream mend) to get the streamer moving in the direction of the nearest cover. The motive for this is to achieve two goals. If you have attracted a trout with the presentation and if the fish has begun to pursue the streamer the streamer will appear to be fleeing for the nearest boulder / log / weed bed, etc. If you do not have a trout following on the delivery then you are guiding / steering the fly toward the next likely holding spot for a brown trout. I donít strip retrieve streamers, I have learned to 'manipulate the line in such a way that the fly swims along a course that I am directing. If you already are proficient at making a fly go exactly where you want it you are all set. If not and you continue reading I will explain how I learned to control my wet flies regardless of their depth and or whether I had a set of weights (BB shot) on my leader.

A long time ago I realized that tying a really pretty fly and having a nice rod was not getting the job done for me. I was fishing in all the right spots but my results were less than outstanding. At this point in time I had no idea or to put it better, no plan when I cast out a streamer. I simply threw them out and left the current swing them. Every so often I would be startled by catching a fish but I believe this was just the result of fishing streamers so much that it was inevitable that I catch a fish now and then. On the day of the great discovery I was fishing in one of the largest and most productive spring creeks in America. The water conditions were perfect for big trout and streamer fishing but I was not catching fish. Quite by accident I climbed up unto a large boulder in the streams channel to have a look around because I felt that maybe if I could spot a fish my chances would improve. I could not see any fish but I could see very well into the water. I was fishing with a large Gray Ghost and I decided to cast it out so I could see what it looked like as it was in the water. Since I was not catching fish I found myself passing some time casting the fly and watching how it reacted to whatever I did with the rod and the line. I had read about streamer fishing and all that I had read told me to present the fly quartered up stream and to make upstream mends so that the streamer would have time to sink. When I was finally in a position to see what the fly was doing when you did this upstream cast followed by the mending I began to understand why I never got a strike until the fly was dam near at the end of the swing. The fly and leader were landing and just tumbling along until with each mend the fly would make a quick mini downstream darting motion followed by turning upstream and then continuing to drift in the current flow. During this 'drift' the wing feathers would expand and the fly would look like some form of litter floating in the water. It did not look anything like a minnow or for that matter anything natural that would be found in the creek. I began to experiment with different actions immediately following the cast and the fly hitting the water. The technique I described earlier in these messages was the result of the observations I made while I stood on that rock almost 30 years ago.

In order to gain an understanding of what a streamer fly is doing in response to your actions with rod and line you should take the time to do this simple exercise; I recommend using a white Marabou Bugger tied really full for good visibility and that you go find yourself a spot where there are varied current seams for you to cast into. Once you have the fly and the spot you are on the way to learning how to fish the streamers. If possible, try standing on a mid-channel rock for the best vantage point to make your observations. From such a place you will be better able to both control the line and to observe how the fly reacts to your every move. Do not start by casting great lengths but just enough to put enough line on the water for the current to have its way with the floating line. Make the delivery cast and do the typical upstream mend and then simply allow the current to take the fly on a swing. Next deliver the fly and do as I have advised, make a short strip and then follow that with a quick up or down stream mend and study how the fly reacts. From this point use every twist you can invent to make the fly do something, dead drift, downstream hooks, cross current transit, and of course the traditional wet fly swing. All of these actions are possible and there are many more to discover. You will see and learn that every move of the rod tip, every twitch, and each mend will cause the fly to react and to appear to be something alive. All of this can be done using varying quintiles of weight on the leader also. I found that a short sink tip such as a 24 or 36Ē lead head performed better than weights such as the split shot. With more weight on the leader the action of the fly changes in relation to your rod and line manipulations. Again, the only way to have an understanding of what is happening is to be had through observation and testing. This entire process can be completed in the span of an hour and the knowledge you will gain by watching and learning what your fly is doing will reveal various limits of what you can and cannot make an artificial fly do when being presented with what we know as traditional fly fishing equipment.

When confronted with really deep, swift, and isolated target water it is sometimes wiser to pass. The number and type of obstructions present can sometimes tell you that other than hanging your fly on a log or underwater boulder these spots are simply not going to be fished with a swimming / swinging fly. If you can see or have every reason to believe that the inaccessible spot holds fish there are several factors to consider prior to persisting on a presentation here. The most obvious and important is; will you be able to gain a position from which you can get a fly safely to and then guide it through the target. Secondly, if you can see how to accomplish the swing or drift will you be seen by the fish you are trying to catch? Sometimes I am able to move unusually close to fish holding in a protected seam. To do it you need a couple things to be in your favor. The fish must be at rest and not recently pressured and agitated. If you have discovered fish that fit the description your approach to the fulcrum point you intend to cast from must be made slowly. Provided you do not enter the zone where the fish simply realizes that something is getting way too close you can really close the gap on many targets. Drab clothing (and hats!) are important here. Also remembering not to push the comfort zone are very critical to the approach. Remember; you are doing this because you have learned how to use weight and to manipulate a fly by practicing and you have a darn good idea that the target can be reached or you wonít waste time sneaking up on a spot that is just simply inaccessible. We all do things with the rod and line after casting a streamer into a creek or river. What you want to achieve is to have control and to know what your fly is doing and where it is going.

You must now go back to the main blog page to access Part 2. Sorry but that's the way it is, the blog allows only so many words per entry. Dumb


  1. mcnerney's Avatar
    Ard: That was a great writeup on fishing streamers, thanks!
  2. cochise's Avatar
    good read.
  3. Ard's Avatar
    I should probably go back and read this myself guys I'm sure that I can offer more on this topic and it'll be a long winter here. Streamers have been my main way of fishing for so long I can't really pick out a year when it started. I fished with dry flies some when it was obvious that it would be fun but always have wanted to swing the streamers.

    I can cast dries and did well with them but seldom could I toss out a little Blue Quill and hope for a 2 foot long brown. I only had that happen one time and it turned out the fish had been planted up the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon by the Slate Run Orvis Shop so their guides could take clients up there. Ray Davies and I blundered into a stretch about 3.5 miles above road access that was full of big beautiful brown trout and thought we had discovered heaven.

    That was back before the Rail to Trails system was established along Big Pine Creel in PA. I kept my mouth shut about it and took my pay Steve Haefner up and he caught plenty too, it was great. After a couple years I was having a confidential talk with one of the fellows who did guiding for the shop and I mentioned the event at Pine Island to him. It was he who told of how they gained access through the forest service to use the trail with a pickup truck and bought fish from a private fish farm to stock that stretch for their customers.

    I used to run the whole lower canyon with my mountain bike when the old rail tracks were still there. It was a very rough ride but there was never anyone up there once you were a mile or more into the trip. I found using the bike better than floating with the drift boat because I could go wherever I wanted with the bike.

    Other that one huge fish that took a Gray Fox on a size 14 hook I have never cracked the 2 foot mark on dries but got quite a few on streamers over the years. I think streamer fishing is kinda like fishing spinning lures. It's an interactive thing if you do a lot of line control and get to know what you're doing. And beside, look at all the cool flies you get to use
  4. eastfly66's Avatar
    Ard, this is one of the things I can't understand about skagit or at least how I understand it used in PNW terms. How do you have any control over that the fly is doing if you just dump the fly on a heavy T a given distance above the target area ? skagit for me is used to move the larger/heavier flies I cant move with the skandi, the swing remains the same and there is no need to the long sections of T 14 and the like on the Salmon R. Am I not understanding the PNW method ?
  5. Ard's Avatar
    Hi Paul,

    Just because I don't own and use them does not mean I don't understand how they are used. Most of the casts are quartered sharply down stream and the swings are much shorter in the entire radius than the method I use myself.

    I do not argue that the technique works, I've seen way too much evidence in results in person to ever say it dosen't work. The reason I do what I do is that I like to make things just a little more complex. I got myself into trouble once by saying that the way I fish makes me feel involved in the results. I went on to add that were I to use a short head with 15 feet of T-14 and a two foot tippet I would just be the guy holding the cork when a fish hit. In the end a fish is a fish, we are all free to choose how we try to hook them.

    Remember the hidden warning in what I just said, I like to make things just a little more complex. At the end of the day that's why I wanted to take up fly rod fishing so long ago