Whether it’s the aggressive takes, visual eats or an on average bigger fish being caught, fly fishing with streamers is by many a very enjoyable way to catch trout. By all means, streamer fishing is not necessarily the easiest technique to catch trout. The casting, line control, retrieving and setting can be a little more challenging. What intrigues most of us is being able to see the predatory instincts of these trout react to a fly. It can be a really productive way to fish and at times of the year my personal favorite way to target larger fish. In this feature are some tips that will help every angler step up their streamer fishing game specifically focusing on being properly outfitted with the right gear.
While anglers can ultimately convert their dry fly or nymph setups to a working streamer system, I do believe dedicating a full setup to streamer fishing will highly improve your effectiveness. Let me break it down for you to understand why.
Fact: Casting streamers will be easier with a faster action heavier weighted rod.
In Colorado, my preferred streamer rod is a 9’6′ (9.5 foot length) 6 weight rod. The extra length gives the angler a little more to work with making mending, applying action and setting the hook a little easier. Some anglers even prefer a 10 foot rod as well as a 7 weight rod, depending on where you are fishing. A fast action rod will be essential to casting the heavier weighted flies. I would recommend the Winston BIIX Plus, Scott Meridian, or Sage Ignitor.
Finding the right streamer line will be based on the area that you fish as well as personal preference. The first thing to look for in a streamer line is the proper taper. A shorter fatter taper is the preferred. It makes casting heavier weighted flies easier as the line can load with less effort and more power can be applied to shoot that fly.
The second aspect of choosing your line is determining what type (if any) of sink you want. A floating line can get the job done. But, for a lot of the rivers here in Colorado, I think having some sort of sink will result in more hookups. A floating line will do just fine in the smaller creeks like the Gore and Homestake. But for most of the rivers like the Colorado, Eagle or Fork, a sinking/intermediate line is more effective. For these rivers, I prefer an intermediate or shorter sink tip. I don’t think a full sink line is necessary most of the year. As casting these lines can be quite challenging due to the weight of pulling it out of the water. On rivers like the Green, North Platte River or other larger tail-waters having a full sinking line is necessary due to the deeper runs. Again, the line type is personal preference as you can get your flies down using sinking leaders, heavier flies and slower retrieves.
So what line should you go with?
My personal favorite is Rio’s Outbound Short. The taper is short and fat making it easy to load with one pickup and deliver into a small pocket. It comes in a variety of different sink rates depending on preference. For Colorado, I prefer the Intermediate or Sink I. Similar to the Outbound Short is the Rio Streamer Tip series. These lines have short 10 foot sink tips and are perfect for streamer float fishing. With heavy weighted tips and fat tapers, making casting easy and efficient. Another great option is the Scientific Angler Titan Sonar series, specifically the INT/SINK 3/SINK 5 size. This line is tapered from an intermediate to a sink 3 then to a sink 5 making it a little easier to cast while still having a heavy sink on the tip. If you do decide to go with a floating line and rely on sinking leaders the Rio Big Nasty is a perfect line.
Leader and Tippet
One mistake many novice anglers make is using a dry fly or nymphing leader and putting a streamer on it. While this will work, I recommend cutting back that leader to be 4-6 feet and using a tippet strength of 8 pound test or stronger. It will result in losing fewer flies, better control of the fly, and faster landing of fish (preventing fish exhaustion).
If you have a dedicated streamer setup I would recommend getting a streamer specific leader like a sinking leader. Rio makes a line of sinking leaders called Versileaders. These sinking leaders come in a variety of different lengths and sink rates (ips inches per second). For rivers in Colorado I recommend the 7 foot leader with a 5 ips sink rate. Other leaders include Scientific Anglers Sonar Leaders, Airflo Polyleaders or Umpqua Streamer Leaders.
Trout do not care about tippet size when they are eating streamers. If the fish is reacting to a baitfish (your fly) they are not tippet shy. As stated above, I recommend 8 pound test or stronger. Personally, I use 0X (15.5 pound). Fluorocarbon tippet is far superior than monofilament due to its ability to sink faster as well as it more supple. While trout are not tippet shy to streamers, smaller diameter tippet can give your fly more play or action. For rigging your tippet to your leader I recommend using 2-3 feet of tippet.
To conserve your leaders and keep your rigging system streamlined, I recommend using a Tippet Ring in between your leader and tippet. You can avoid unnecessary knot breaks and make changing flies faster and easier. I use a Steelhead Large size as this one has a stronger breaking strength as well as a larger hole to get the larger diameter tippet through. If you are unaware of the benefits of tippet rings, check out this blog: Tippet Rings | Why and How to use them.
“Streamer Junkies” or passionate streamer anglers are fantasized by all the creative patterns complete with bright colors, flashy materials and large hooks. So what streamer should you choose? It comes down to preference and water conditions. As for preference, fish a fly that you are confident in. Sometimes anglers go all day without a streamer eat and then one fish can make your day. Believe in that fly that you have on.
As for water conditions, typically streamer patterns vary in weight. If you are fishing deeper cut-banks with colder lethargic fish, fish a heavier pattern to get down to them. Change your streamer based on conditions. I prefer articulated streamer like the Double Gonga, Double Thin Mint, Sex Dungeon or Cheech Leech to name a few. Articulated streamers impart more action in the fly, resulting in more reactions from fish. Color can be very important, some days the trout prefer darker and some days lighter. Experiment on your local water to see what works and when it works. Do keep in mind that everyone’s streamer techniques vary so finding a fly that works with your style is key. Having a good variety is best to tackle the changing conditions.
Having the proper gear can make all the difference on the water. Hopefully, these guidelines will help outfit every angler to make streamer fishing enjoyable and more productive. If you are looking to experience one of the best streamer fishing months of the year with a professional guide. Call Vail Valley Anglers today to book a Freak n Fish Float Trip and receive a full day float for the price of a half day.
Patrick Perry, Content Contributor and Former Guide @patperry