Fly Fishing with Streamers 101

Fly Fishing with Streamers 101


October Is the Best Month for Streamer Fishing

For many anglers in the Vail, Colorado area, October is synonymous with streamer fishing. Trout, especially browns and brookies, become more aggressive and territorial this month and will respond well to larger, moving flies invading their territories.

The spawning urge and the coming of winter create a fly fishing situation that can turn fish that normally key on small midges and mayflies into predators willing to attack flies several inches long. Sometimes these trout are eating the fly out of hunger and other times it is an anger induced territorial response to a smaller fish invading their holding area and threatening potential offspring.

In the end, it matters little why the trout are eager to crush a large streamer. All that does matter is that it can be a visually rewarding way to fly fish for the larger fish in a given population. Big flies generally result in bigger fish and on some streamers day where cloudy conditions persist and the trout are in the mood to chase down flies, the action can be non-stop.

The only situation where we avoid throwing streamers or any fly for that matter to trout is when they are actively spawning on a redd. We urge everyone to ignore these fish for the good of future generations of fish and anglers.

Good Streamer Patterns

Woolly Buggers, Slumpbusters and Sex Dungeons 

Streamers generally imitate sculpins, minnows, small trout, crayfish or just a big, juicy something that begs to be eatenAs with all flies, there are thousands of streamer patterns out there, from the old school Mickey Fin, and many varieties of the proven fish catcher, the Woolly Bugger, to newer patterns like the Sculpzilla and Slumpbusters.

Good streamers seem to have a few things in common:

  • They are made out of materials like marabou or rabbit fur that move and undulate in the water.
  • They have a profile that generally or specifically represents a food source like a sculpin.
  • Color schemes can range from natural olives and browns to bright chartreuse or yellows. Blacks, olives, white and tans are always a good choice.
  • A little flash is also desirable.
  • Weighted versions with cones, beads or dumbbell eyes that dive and stay low in the water seem to work best.

Try to carry a range of sizes between #2 and #8 for most of your trout fishing in different colors, weights and styles. Recently, huge flies like the Sex Dungeon that approach six inches long and feature a hinged body and sometimes two hooks are putting some giant fish in the net.

Sometimes trout do seem to prefer a certain color or size but when the streamer fishing is really on fire, the trout just seem to be in a mood where they will chase and clobber just about any streamer pattern. Two of my favorites during fall are the Autumn Splendor and the Tequeely. Both feature bright rubber legs that move a lot on a body that is somewhat like a wooly bugger with a marabou tail that moves even when the fly is stopped. Brown trout really like these patterns this time of year.

How to Fly Fish with Streamers

With Streamer Fishing, Presentation Is Everything 

Unlike dries or nymphs, streamers are fished actively. Usually the fly is stripped in to create movement. Sometimes a downstream swing is effective as well. When stripping the fly in, vary the length and speed of pull until the trout tell you what they like. A key aspect to this presentation is making sure there is a distinct and sudden stop between each stripping motion. The fly must pause and then dart. Trout will almost always hammer the fly and turn with it while it is stopped.

Try to have the fly move across or slightly downstream with the current so it moves into a trout’s field of vision and then appears to escape. This will trigger a predatory response. Additionally, if a fly moves directly at a trout’s face, they will usually spook. On the other hand, if a fly swims up behind a fish in an upstream direction into the current, this is an unnatural motion for baitfish and will also alarm a trout. Think perpendicularly across the current.

Throw into all likely holding areas. Slow water along banks, slack water below rocks and logs, midstream slicks and the tail outs of pools are all likely ambush points. Cover water quickly if wading and throw to as many good areas as possible while continually movingIn a drift boat, streamer fishing is a little easier as covering miles of good streamer water in a day is the norm.

Strip setting is crucial to hooking and landing trout. A traditional lifting set used with dries and nymphs will result in constant frustration. Keep your rod low and pointed at the fly and the fish and when they eat, strip hard. Usually the fish will turn with the fly and hook themselves.

Gearing Up for Streamers

The Best Gear for Streamer Fishing

Specialized gear isn’t all that necessary for throwing streamers in most western trout streams, but some things will make casting heavy flies a long distance and fighting potentially large trout a little easier. Your average nine foot five weight trout fly rod will get the job done but stepping up to stiffer six or even seven weights will punch big flies out into the wind and onto the opposite bank where that two foot brown is sulking. It will take less effort and fighting big fish quickly and aggressively is possible.

Other than rods, the big change from fishing small dries and nymphs is bumping up your tippet and leader size. When streamer fishing, 3X is the smallest size that should be used and often I’ll use 16 lb OX tippet. Trout simply are not tippet shy when chasing streamers and when they eat the fly, they hit it hard and turn quickly. Light tippet will break instantly at this point. Larger diameter tippet will also turn over bulky streamers much better than the light stuff. Consider using a loop knot for better fly action.

Sometimes, especially in wide, deep, and fast rivers and even in lakes, some streamer specialists will prefer a full sinking or sink tip streamer line. This helps to keep the fly down in the strike zone. On smaller streams, floating lines perform well. If I know I’ll be fishing streamers specifically, I will usually fish with a nine foot six weight and a reel loaded with a  floating fly line with a sink tip. These lines cast like a floater but get the flies down where I need them.

Look for the streamer fishing in our neck of the woods to remain excellent for another four to six weeks. When water temperatures drop into the thirties and winter sets in, trout are less likely to actively chase flies. As we move into March and April and water temperature begin to rise, the streamer bite will once more turn on.

Check in with our streamer fishing experts at Vail Valley Anglers. They’ll show you the latest patterns and where to use them.

Brody Henderson, Web Content Writer and Senior Guide