Gerald Almy: Tactics for fishing streamers

Gerald Almy

The river flowed high and was slightly discolored. I knew the current might drive fish to locations where they could escape the brunt of the flow. They might be hunkering in eddies, behind boulders, or near undercut banks.

Leaving the dry flies stashed safely in their boxes, I instead reached for a folding wallet-type tackle box that held a selection of streamers, flies tied to imitate baitfish. Selecting a Clouser Minnow fly in chartreuse, I began false casting, then stripping the fly back in short spurts of erratic movement.

On the fifth cast, the rod bowed deep as a heavy trout nailed the offering. Several precarious minutes later, I worked in a brightly colored brown trout and carefully released it back into the river.


Some anglers turn to nymphs when gamefish are not feeding on the surface, but streamers are also an excellent choice for this situation. They’re particularly useful after a rain slightly raises the water and colors it a bit, as I found out in the incident described above.

Here are some key tactical points to keep in mind when fishing these flies, either for trout in streams or for smallmouths in the Shenandoah and other nearby rivers. When wade-fishing rivers, be sure to cast across stream so the fly is presented broadside to the quarry. Mend line after the cast so a bow doesn’t develop in the line.

Also try straight upstream delivers for a change of pace. Dead drift the fly down in the current or add a slight twitch now and then to make it look like a barely alive baitfish struggling to right itself.

Drift fishing from rafts, kayaks, johnboats, or dories and probing the first 5 or 10 feet next to the shore is another good tactic. Probe logjams, undercut banks, rock piles and eddies that might hold scrappy brown trout, panfish or smallmouths.

On lakes streamers can be excellent searching patterns for random casting near flats, weed beds, inlets, outlets, points and humps. Also check out coves for bass and pike. Since retrieves are snappy, you can cover lots of water and fish quickly this way.

Trolling with oars or an electric motor and a streamer is another good way to take trout, as well as bass and landlocked salmon. Pump the fly occasionally to impart an extra pulsating action.

Streamers are also a good choice for jump fishing on lakes for trout, largemouths, stripers, and white bass. When you see fish slashing shad or minnows on the surface, get to the commotion quickly and work a streamer back through the melee with sharp tugs.

Whether fishing in lakes or rivers, the most productive retrieve for streamers usually involves pointing the rod tip at the fly just above the water or even in it, then stripping crisply in 6-18 inch pulls with pauses in between. Occasionally, though, a hand-twist or dead drift presentation pays off. Always remain flexible and experiment with different speeds and lengths of pull each day on the water.


Fly rods for fishing tiny streamers can be as light as a 4-6 weight line. For most big trout waters and smallmouth rivers, though, a 7-8 weight outfit is best. For pike, largemouth bass and stripers, a 9-10 weight rod works well. For tarpon and other big saltwater fish, go with an 11-13 weight rod.

Depending on the depth of the water being probed you can usually get by with a floating line or fast-sinking tip, but for deep probing in lakes a full sinking line or shooting head is best. Leaders should be 6-9 feet for floating lines, 5-6 feet for sinking lines. Tippets can range from 4-20 pound test, depending on the size quarry you’re going after.

No, I’ll never give up a chance to float a dry fly over a rising trout or twitch a popper in front of a bass. But if surface action is slow, I know a snappily-retrieved streamer can often save the day.

Give them a try and I think you’ll agree.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.