Step up your Streamer Fishing Game: Rigging and Retrieving

One fellow guide once said to me, “I don’t like streamer fishing because there’s not much to it. You don’t have to break down the entomology, read the water, crack that code that you normally have to when fishing dry flies or nymphs. You just chuck a heavy fly on the bank and strip it back. What’s the sport in that?” I disagree with this, you can get lucky when streamer fishing and trigger an eat with some luck and not thought out tactics. But, there are many techniques that will result in a more success on the water. There is a science to streamer fishing as proper rigging, retrieving, reading water, and other variable conditions can all play a part in streamer fishing success.

In the first part of the  “Step up your Streamer Fishing Game,” feature I went over getting outfitted with the proper gear to have a productive day out on the water. In this feature, the focus will be on proper rigging, retrieving and setting the hook for successful streamer fishing.

Streamer Eating Brown on the Lower Colorado
Streamer Eating Brown on the Lower C

Rigging Tricks and Tips

Proper rod, line, leader, and tippet was covered in the last blog, but nothing about rigging this setup was discussed. So what knot should you tie your streamer on with? I recommend two knots for tying streamers onto tippet, the nonslip loop knot and the clinch knot. I personally prefer a nonslip loop knot (pictured below).

Loop Knot
Non-Slip Loop Knot

The loop knot is superior because it adds action to your fly, it gives it an extra wiggle that can trigger a strike. A fly on a loop knot slides and moves freely with no fixed connection, allowing for a natural movement. Also, a fly with weight on the head sinks faster with a loop knot, as the fly adopts a nose down position after each strip. It sinks faster because there is less friction between the tippet and the fly. Don’t worry, this knot is very strong, it is used in the saltwater with confidence and can be trusted in the trout streams.

Otter Close Up

The reasons why an angler, may not use a loop knot is because of the extra time it can take to tie and learn the knot. As well as some believe when a fish strikes a fly on loop knot you are less likely to hook up because the fly can move around upon setting into the trout’s mouth. Different style streamer flies can also work better with different knots. Just like different conditions sometimes work better with different knots. Keep this in mind when you are out on the water and see what works for you.

Andy Tandem RiG Photo

Rigging Tricks: The Double Tandem Streamer Rig

Double Tandem Rig
Double Tandem Rig

I love the double tandem streamer rig. What is it? Instead of fishing one streamer, add 2-4 feet of tippet and tie a clinch knot onto the bend of the hook of the first fly and then tie the second streamer on with your preferred streamer knot.

Why I like it? I usually put at least 4 feet of tippet between the two flies and many people think I’m crazy. But what the rig does, is the two flies are retrieved at two different depths. The second fly gets deeper than the first, providing the fish with two different presentations of depth. Depth is so important to getting eats with streames. Also, like your traditional double nymphing rig your first streamer can be your “attractor pattern.” Typically I use a brighter fly like a orange, yellow, white, gold, etc to get that fish “perked” up and then eventually the fish will eat the back fly. Throwing two flies will also let you try out different colors and patterns to find out what specific color and pattern the fish may prefer that day.

Two flies improve your chances, but with this, it can complicate the techniques. Two flies are harder to control than one. From the casting, accuracy, snagging, retrieve and action. By just focusing on one fly it can simplify and refine your techniques. I also do not prefer to throw a tandem rig with a larger double articulated streamer, casting a tandem with these is not the easiest.

streamer tips cover

Retrieve Techniques

A streamer typically is imitating a fleeing baitfish but it also imitates crustaceans (crawfish), leeches, and large insects like stoneflies. A trout may also react to a streamer due to a territorial reaction or just a reflex to something crossing their path. What this all means to anglers is we can be creative with how we fish and retrieve these flies. The number one rule to retrieving a streamer is to make sure the line is tight.

Classic Retrieves

The most common retrieve technique is to cast the streamer perpendicular to the bank of the river and retrieve with 6-inch strips. Some variations to this technique can be to try a faster retrieve as well as a longer retrieve with longer pauses. The longer you pause typically the deeper the fly will get. I recommend trying a few different techniques and seeing what works for you on that day, with that fly, on that river. As a rule of thumb I typically will use a slower retrieve in deeper pools and in colder water temperatures and vice versa. Another variation would be to cast the streamer upriver and work it downstream. Sometimes this will allow the streamer to get deeper and can give you more time to control the retrieve before the end of the drift.

The Swing

Similar to swinging soft hackles or steelhead flies, swinging streamers for trout can be an effective tactic. This involves casting the streamer perpendicular to the bank, adding an upstream mend to let the fly sink and allowing the line to get tight and swing the fly across the water column using the water current. Strip actions can be added to impede more action as well.

Dead Drift and Jigging

As discussed above streamer patterns are often mistaken for larger insects or leeches by trout. Casting a streamer into a deeper faster pool and letting the fly sink and drift through the water column can entice a bite. Adding a little jigging action can also trigger a reaction. Just remember to keep that line tight.

Jim Streamer Eater

Setting the Hook

When setting the hook with dry fly fishing or nymphing you pick up the rod tip to connect to that fish, with streamer fishing it is much different. When fishing a smaller streamer picking up the rod when a strike occurs can result in a successful set. But a lot of times especially with larger streamer patterns, when you pick up it, will often pull the streamer out of the trout’s mouth.

I recommend always keeping the rod tip low and when you feel or see a strike to keep stripping which will result in a “strip set.” The other successful setting technique is to pick up low and to the side. This way you don’t have as much of a chance of pulling that fly out of the trout’s mouth.

Sometimes a trout will miss the fly with their strike. So keep that fly in the water and keep imparting action. If for reason you pull your flies out of the water, smack them right back down where that fish is. It’s common for a trout to attack twice as they often will injure the baitfish on the first attack. Then come back for the kill on the second.

Guide Tip: I recommend every beginner streamer angler to keep their rod tip in the water while retrieving. This will reinforce the bad habit of lifting the rod tip while retrieving and setting the hook. It will result in more eats from proper retrieve techniques and less missed hookups.

Pat with streamer eater

Hopefully, these tips will help you step up your streamer fishing game out on the water. Do remember there is not a right or wrong way to fish streamers. Certain tactics and techniques will improve your chances but adjusting to your surroundings and fishing with confidence are always key.

Patrick Perry Former Guide and Content Contributor @patperry