Streamers: A Love-Hate Relationship

Fall is the time for streamer fishing, or so most fly fishers claim. This time of year, trout supposedly get particularly aggressive and are willing to strike anything that comes in their path. I’ve done my fair share of streamer fishing, especially during the fall, but it hasn’t always been a love story. In fact, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with these flies.

There is no debating the effectiveness of streamers. I easily catch 70 to 80 percent of my yearly stocked trout on streamers, and I would say this category of fly accounts for about half the trout I catch each year. In autumn, this number gets even higher. Still, I likely only fish streamers for about a third of the time I’m on the water. Clearly there is something about these big, bulky meat morsels that is more enticing than dries, nymphs, and wets.

Streamers are about as close as fly fishers get to the lures of conventional anglers. Similar to lures, they trigger the primal instincts in fish that causes them to lash out in curiosity and irritation. Unlike lures, however, streamers often aim to imitate natural food sources. Many of my most productive patterns closely imitate natural forage items that fish regularly see. So perhaps it is a combination of these factors that draws fish in from near and far.

Streamers are also incredibly versatile. I’ve successfully fished streamers anywhere from the clearest rivers to the most stained rivulets; the deepest lakes to the shallowest, muckiest ponds. Streamers will catch fish anywhere, as long as you adjust your tactics. Choosing a pattern that is more natural or lure-like often comes down to the type of water you’re fishing. In clear or slow water, where fish will have an easier time inspecting your presentation, you’ll want to select a natural streamer. In dingy or fast water, a bright, flashy streamer more closely resembling a lure might work better. When in doubt, I always fall back on a small olive or black pattern.

Finally, streamer fishing is fun and exciting. Especially in clear water, where you can watch a fish follow your fly in and eat, your nerves will be racing while fishing these flies. One of the most exhilarating moments in streamer fishing is the bull rush: when a fish charges your fly so fast, it can’t turn away. When this happens, you can be sure you’re about to have a fish on the line. Sometimes, such as in the case of swinging Buggers, it’s even easy and relaxing. However you do it, streamer fishing is a good time.

Still, streamers have some downsides in my mind. First and foremost, tying streamers is not my favorite. Sure, some of the patterns are fun and allow for plenty of creativity, but in most instances I’m not a huge fan of tying streamers. In my experience, tying a streamer almost always takes more time than tying other types of flies. Even simple patterns like Golden Retrievers and Wooly Buggers take longer than most dries, nymphs, and wets just because of their sheer size. Personally, I’d rather be cranking out Pheasant Tails than laboring over a Circus Peanut for 30 minutes.

Additionally, big streamers take up a lot of materials. If I was learning to tie a Hare’s Ear nymph and didn’t like the first few I tied, all I would have wasted would be some dubbing, a little bit of pheasant tail, and some hooks and beads that could be recycled. On the flip side, a failed attempt at a Drunk & Disorderly could set me back a couple bucks. Tying big streamers is a financial commitment, and for a high school student with a very limited budget, that can be a hard pill to swallow.

While I’m harshing on articulated streamers, I may as well mention that I never find them to be as effective as some anglers preach. I’ll admit, I haven’t given them the time they deserve. Still, I’m confident a simple wooly bugger will catch every fish one of its beefier brethren will, plus more. I’m sure there’s also a skill issue at fault, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of smaller streamers over larger ones.

My Top 4 Streamer Patterns

  1. Wooly Bugger: Topping off the list is my most-used pattern, the Wooly Bugger. I fish both bead head and unweighted Buggers, usually swung on a floating or sinking poly leader. Wooly Buggers in olive and black have been my most productive and versatile streamers of all time, catching everything from dinky stocked rainbows to behemoth wild brookies.
  2. Wood Duck Heron: My favorite fly for fall salmon and brook trout fishing, the Wood Duck Heron is a goofy-looking yet ultra-successful pattern. While the dark barring of the wood duck feather is certainly appealing, I never find this fly to look particularly impressive out of the water. When it’s in the water, however, this streamer is a salmonid killer, especially when stripped just under the surface.
  3. Golden Retriever: A southern-created Maine favorite, the Golden Retriever will catch fish in nearly any situation imaginable. Fish will travel a long way to attack this fly, often striking it viciously. In places where size 30 flies and 8x tippet excel, I’ve even fooled numerous tubby trout on this pattern.
  4. Jig Sculp Snack: A must-have in small streams, the Jig Sculp Snack efficiently weeds through smaller fish to find the king of the pool. Fished with gentle twitches, takes on this fly are typically gentle and unhurried. In short stretches of pocket water, this fly may be the only one heavy enough to get down to where the fish are holding.

3 thoughts on “Streamers: A Love-Hate Relationship

  1. 70 to 80 percent on streamers? Yikes. I’m at 0%. I catch about 50% on Euro nymphs and 50% on dry flies, which include floating terrestrials such as hoppers, beetles, and crickets.


    1. I should add that it’s 70-80% of trout over ~10 inches. I catch most of my small, wild trout on dries. I wish I did better on euro nymphs, but I’ve got some work to do before I can really consider myself “good” at it.

      Liked by 1 person

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