"This used to be a dry fly town and unfortunately it's gone the other way...."
September 22, 2023.
First day of autumn, the official start of streamer season for many of us. You know who we are. Easily identified by the inappropriate slaps of obscene articulated streamers and trout patterned pig fish covering our coolers, rod vaults and windows of our Toyotas. Some of us are even known to occasionally slap tag the route to our favorite local water.
Our fly boxes don't close properly from the several inch long streamers full of tinsel, marabou, fur, errant hooks and rubber legs that can't be contained inside.
Some don't even wait for fall to arrive. These guys aren't afraid to strip a streamer through any deep hole or long run any time of year to get the thrill of that big fish eat.
So... what's a streamer?
Streamers imitate big protein packed meals of other fish, crawdads, leeches, and even mice. Streamers cover a lot of water and can tempt fish who aren't actively feeding. Brown trout become territorial prior to spawning and a sculpin or bait fish pattern stripped through their territory can illicit huge angry strikes. Those brown trout are putting weight on to spawn in fall and soon after spawning, they once again begin feeding to prepare for a winter of scarcity. Big streamers catch big fish. Those big fish get big by packing protein into their diets not just sipping tiny midges. We are targeting big fish with a predator mentality with streamers. The apex fish.
Kelly Galloup is an authority of streamer fishing. His patterns the "Sex Dungeon," "Boogie Man" and the "Zoo Cougar" have helped to make him a celebrated name in the fly fishing industry. Growing up in northern Michigan, Galloup began tying flies at age 13 and was guiding by age 16. He has over 40 recognized fly patterns to his credit. A legend with a cult-like following, Galloup now owns a guide service in Montana and is the author of Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout II, an excellent guide to unconventional streamer techniques.
Another highly respected streamer pattern, the "Circus Peanut," was created by fly tier Russ Madden. Galloup is quoted as saying, "I think this may be one of the best streamers ever created."
From the tried and true wooly bugger, sculpin, and crawdad patterns, to the flash and tinsel filled patterns like "Mike's Meal Ticket," "Drunk and Disorderly" and "Little Rascal"....its all about the streamer when targeting big fall fish.
How do you fish a streamer?
Send it! Fish streamers along banks, around ambush spots like rocks and logs, through seams, in the current or in the deepest pockets. Fish streamers when there is no hatch, in high and murky water or when nymphing hasn't produced. Fish a streamer even when nymphing has produced to find the educated big fish who wasn't fooled by your boring nymph. Cast downstream and across. Let the streamer swing through the current and strip it back. Be creative with your retrieve. Your streamer needs to stay deep. Add some spit shot 3-5 inches above your fly if your streamer isn't getting down into the zone. Keep your rod tip down. Wiggle the rod tip and vary your stripping pattern. Your attitude transfers to the fly. I like to strip my streamer like it's running from the law, like it's somewhere it doesn't belong, with a strong sense of urgency. I tie my streamers on with a non-slip loop knot, also called the Kreh loop knot. Popularized by fishing icon, Lefty Kreh, this knot gives the streamer more action as it "swims" through the water.
(knot instructions, see below)
Streamers are a mess of feathers and tinsel. Let them dry before you put them back in your box. Letting them dry will ensure that the next time you go to use them that they won't be smelly, matted and faded. Take the time to dry them out, you'll thank me for it when you don't have to replace multiple $9 flies.
I really like the new Fulling Mill Fly Box line. The Fulling Mill streamer box is not too big, but big enough to hold up to 60 unruly streamers. My box never looks as tidy as the ones on the Fulling Mill website but I appreciate the secure, positive magnetic closure and that it's a super strong box. I also have a DeYoung streamer box with an inspiring painting by the artist of a beautiful rainbow trout on the cover. It holds a ton of streamers but it doesn't fit well in my pack and never stays closed. Feathers and flash are forever escaping and being crimped along the borders.
Fishing with streamers is nothing new. Before the days of Instagram influencers and terms like "throwing meat," fly fishing pioneer Joe Brooks included techniques and stories of fishing with bucktails and streamers in his book, Complete Book of Fly Fishing. He writes, "If you want to catch the lunker trout, use big streamer flies." We could end the quote there with a mic drop but he goes on to explain, "When a trout reaches 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, he has done with midges, fresh water shrimp and other small fry. He wants to gulp down something big enough to make his stomach sac press agains his sides."
My copy of Complete Book of Fly Fishing is a first edition from 1958 published by Outdoor Life and I'm not sure how I came by it. The dust cover is beginning to crumble but the words that Joe Brooks wrote inside are still as strong today as they were 64 years ago. Even at the time of the book's first printing, Joe was awing guides in Argentina with the abomination of a fly he called a multi-wing streamer.
Sometimes we feel like there are a lot of technical rules to fly fishing. That dry flies are proper. That nymphing is most productive. Streamer fishing defies these boundaries and allows you to go a little rogue. Joe Brooks died in 1972 but I bet he would be throwing a zonker or an articulated streamer if he was still around today.
(photos from my copy of Complete Book of Fly Fishing, see below)
This is my absolute favorite streamer parody. It always makes me laugh. Watch Orvis's video "Streamers Inc." and let me know if you're ready to throw the black market "Water Moccasin." I know I would.