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Fly Fishing Streamers

image of whoolly bugger fly

Fly fishing with streamers is a great technique for anglers because it’s an effective and fun way to search out aggressive fish. Streamers are mainly used by fly fishers looking to catch large fish. The bigger fish eat big prey and streamers are made to imitate these larger prey that the big fish feed on. These prey are often leeches and crayfish. One of the most fun ways to catch a big trout is on a streamer! 

I personally love fly fishing with streamers because the strike is often explosive and powerful. The different streamers we use often take fish in higher dirty types of water. Usually, these types of water can make it quite difficult to catch anything using your typical fly setups. Streamers are excellent searching patterns to find active fish when you don’t know the water and you don’t know what the fish are eating. You should always try a streamer as it can cover a lot of water and streamers are often fished with an active retrieve on a tight line. You don’t have to worry as much about your drag and trying to get the perfect drift. Toss your streamer in every place you think might have fish in it.  

Streamers are effective on trout and other fish species for the same reasons fish eat spinning lures, they are big and flashy, and fish have an instinct to attack them. Fish also bite streamers because of territoriality or during spawning season because streamers look like a predator that might try and eat their eggs. Regardless, fly fishing streamers is some of the best fishing there is. 

 image of wet fly


Bucktails and other traditional feathered streamers are used still to this day, as well as more modern types. A new modern streamer would be the juicy woolly bugger. The woolly bugger is a very effective streamer to use and there are hundreds of different variations used. Other streamers imitate different insects like sculpins. Sculpins are a small bait fish that live in pools and riffles that are in cold and clear bass and trout streams. Large trout love feasting on these sculpins. Same as the woolly bugger, sculpin flies have hundreds of different variations. 

Other anglers and depending on the stream, try to imitate crayfish and leeches more precisely, but I often find that when fishing with streamers, you don’t have to be that critical and you don’t have to match the insects exactly. A trout or bass that are hungry should take your streamer. Colors of streamers may matter a bit, so you might want to google or ask different fly shops around where you are fishing which colors of streamers the anglers like to use. Still, don’t be afraid to experiment for yourself, you would be surprised at what the fish will bite. The rougher the fly, the most vibrations that it will make in the water. 

The best rule of thumb we use that works well every time is if it’s a bright day and clear water, use a bright streamer. If it is a dark day or dark water, use a dark streamer. I know this sounds backwards, but it is what the fish bites. Streamers are best to use when no hatches are present.  

A few of the rivers I fish regularly are dammed, and when the dam lets out, the level of the water rises significantly. When this happens, we always try our streamers as the fish tend to go nuts for them. After a good rainstorm, it will also be a great time as it will increase the water level. Bright days often don’t work well with streamers, but you may still want to give them a shot. Every river will be different when it comes to how well streamers will work. This is due to how much natural bait fish is in the river.  

 image of whoolly bugger fly

Rod, leader, and tippet for streamer fishing. 

I typically use a 5-6 weight fly rod, but if you are planning on using streamers often, you will want to use a 6-8 weight rod because of the line sizes that you will need to throw the bigger flies. Streamer stripper line is perfect for fishing with streamers because it has a short and fast sinking head with a floating line behind. This will make it easy to mend and make the fly do what you want. Make sure to have a good-sized tippet when fishing with streamers as you are going after the larger fish in the water. I would suggest using a minimum of 3x tippet and if you are going with larger streamers, you could go with 2x or 1x. 6-foot leaders with sink tip lines are best to keep your fly deeper in the water. 


Presenting your streamer. 

The best way to present your streamer is to cast it out sideways towards the bank of the river and to then strip it back towards yourself in 8 inch strips. There are countless ways that you can present a streamer, but this is the way that I find works best. You can try this same cast, but where you strip slowly or more fast with different pauses in between. 

Another way that works well is to cast it like you would a wet fly. Cast the streamer upstream or across stream and give it a little jerk up, mending your line upstream or towards you to get a natural drift. This will make your fly and line go tight with the current without you having to add any additional action to the fly. Set the hook the same way would when fishing nymphs with indicators.  

You can also place a nymph 18-26 inches lower than your streamer and use an indicator. This way you have a chance at catching the fish that are not interested in your streamer.  

The best places to use your streamer are in the seam of the river, behind rocks and trees or in shaded areas. If the water is dirty, you will want to add action to your streamer to make it stand out from the sticks and debris floating down the river. You don’t want to be retrieving too fast though, you want the fish to be able to keep up to it. 

When fishing a streamer, you should try to cover as much water as possible. Casting in the same spot over and over again won’t help. This is because your streamer is very large, the fish will have seen it and if they didn’t bite it, they are not interested. If you are fishing from a drift boat, streamers are the perfect flies to be using since you are covering so much water. 


Casting streamers. 

The double haul. There are times where we will need more line speed if it is windy out or if we are casting large streamers, and if we need more distance in our cast. The double haul is going to be your cast of choice. When you are in the motion of your fly rod going behind you, pull line out towards your pants pocket, and as you cast forward, let the line go. You will do this twice or more to get the line out. You may have to be a little more aggressive than you normally are when casting. 


Streamer fishing is usually quite simple and it is a blast. The only reason we don’t do it as often is because fish are picky and it is usually only the largest fish that will strike a streamer. If you are going for trophies, then streamers are your go to, but if you are just trying to catch a good number of fish, other flies will be a better choice.  


If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.