The best thing about fishing streamers is how different it is from everything else we do on a fly rod. Precision dead drifts? Delicate casting and thin tippets? Forget that. Slinging the big bugs is the antithesis against what the rest of fly fishing is all about. Or at least, it can be.
Everything works sometimes. We can present a streamer at almost any angle or speed and have a fair expectation to fool a trout. This makes sense because streamers imitate baitfish, creatures with an ability to move — to dart, dive and swim through the water. And they often do this unpredictably, just like our streamers.
I do think there’s an over-focus on movement in the modern streamer game for trout. These days, fast action, furious stripping and big flies have become the standard for many anglers. All of it works on the right day, and all of it is in my toolbox for long-fly techniques.
But there’s a particular presentation that I’ve come to rely on more than any other, lately. It mimics a more available food form for trout, but it’s not a dead drift. The line and rod hand adjustments are subtle, but the presentation is active. It’s a bank or structure approach; it gets the trout’s attention. And it’s deadly.
I call it the slow-slide.
Find the best structure in sight — the stuff where you most expect bad Mr. Brown to make his home. That might be a line of rocks in the middle of the river, a drop-off ledge or the transition line of a gravel bar. Fair enough. But every mile of every river on the planet has two borders on opposing sides. So let’s focus on a stretch of bank water for now. Here we go . . .
Positioned within range of that bank, make a cast mostly across and partially upstream. Tuck the fly in as close to the bank as you might, with a straight line and not much slack.
After the landing, it’s time to think about the orientation of the head. Manipulate the rod tip, line and leader so the streamer is looking back toward you, across stream and down. It will maintain that across and slightly downstream orientation until the very end of the drift. (But the streamer no longer looks at you once it has passed downstream of your position.) Usually, a soft strip or lift of the rod is all that’s needed to orient the head of the fly in the right direction after the cast.
Critically, it’s important not to strip the fly off the bank seam right away. Instead, allow the fly to hold that seam for a few feet as it begins its trip downstream. Eventually, the fly should travel out into the next seam, maintaining its broadside look to an upstream facing trout. It may end up five feet off the bank, fifteen feet, or even further. That’s up to you and how long the drift is. But the streamer’s progress should be mostly downstream and not across.
That’s the slow-slide.
Here’s a series of illustrations by our friend, Dick Jones, to show the slow-slide . . .
In the above illustrations, the streamer only comes off the bank about 5-10 feet. That’s a great approach. But remember, on longer drifts, the streamer can also make more progress across the currents. It’s all situational.
Why trout buy it
The slow-slide mixes together elements of a dead drift and those of an active presentation. Most of the fly’s path is downstream. It is not crossing multiple currents and running away from the bank, so we’re not asking a trout to give chase very much. By contrast, a quick-strip style of presentation moves the fly away from the trout a lot more.
The streamer seductively slides across currents near structure. It holds the line longer, staying closer to the bank and closer to cover. Instead of stripping and moving the fly away from the trout’s home, we keep it within range. It’s more available for more moments. Sliding slowly across only the currents near the bank, the fly shows a sure thing to uncertain trout.
Importantly, the broadside orientation gives trout a complete look of the profile, often triggering more strikes than an upstream or downstream angle does. We tie flies and use larger patterns to present a larger meal to trout — something different. So show it to them.
What to do during the drift
After the cast, it’s important to set the orientation of the streamer’s head. Most often, that also sets the proper angle of the line and leader. Your primary job throughout the drift is to maintain the streamer’s orientation for as long as possible. That may require nothing more than drifting the rod tip downstream and allowing the belly of a line to slide the streamer slowly across the currents. But real world setups are difficult. You might need to perform line mends to maintain the required tension — to hold the bank seam longer and keep the streamer’s orientation across and slightly downstream. It’s up to you.
It can be difficult to refrain from stripping the fly as usual. But you should. A standard strip of ten or twenty inches will move the fly across the currents, defeating the slow and natural cross-current slide we’re trying to achieve. Instead, focus first on maintaining the head angle. Manipulate the line if necessary, but don’t strip the fly.
Small, subtle jigs and rod twitches are excellent add-ons, once the drift is established. Often, I give two presentations to one target. The first drift is without added movement, and the second drift is with rod tip animation and mini-strips.
Usually, the natural belly and tension of the line against the currents performs the slow-slide for you. But in some situations, it may be necessary to strip slowly, to help the streamer slide across the currents.
Ironically, I discovered this presentation after dark. While night fishing, I was repeatedly rewarded by getting the slow-slide just right. In water that produced nothing with other approaches, I got hammered by big fish on the slow-slide. At night, this works best with streamers and wets riding near the top, perhaps no more than a foot under the surface.
It worked so well after dark, that I started using it in the daylight.
On my favorite waters, it’s a rare day when trout charge from any significant depth to eat a big streamer near the surface. More often, good streamer fishing begins with getting the fly down to the fish.
I employ the slow slide with weighted flies or split shot. You can also use sink tips, poly leaders or sinking line — whatever it takes to get the fly to a depth the trout prefer and keep it there.
I’ll mention this: heavy streamers or too much weight on the leader might be good for active stripping and fast presentations, but they aren’t good for the slow-slide. Too much weight sinks the streamer to the bottom and sticks it there. The ideal weight is just enough to counteract the current’s tension on the line. Find that, and you’ll have a good slow-slide. When covering a lot of water, it may take frequent weight adjustments to keep everything just right.
Depth, therefore, is up to you. The slow-slide is effective throughout the water column. You just have to know your fish and your water.
Boating or wading?
The slow-slide works both on foot and from a boat.
While wading, I prefer to work downstream but cast up and slightly across, because the slow-slide mostly happens downstream of my position.
Sometimes, I wade upstream, hugging the bank seam and casting up and across. It can work, but getting the right slide is more difficult. Also, if I’m standing in the water where the slide should take place, my drifting range is limited.
From the raised platform of a boat, the slow slide is excellent. You have a better chance of seeing the orientation of the streamer and watching the exciting strike of a trout. From that elevated perch, you also have more command over the line on the water. And that’s a good thing, because down-current mends are often required to keep the fly progressing downstream and sliding across the seams. A slow, continuous strip may be necessary as well. And it’s helpful to ask your oarsman to slow the boat slightly.
Lines? Leaders? Flies?
I like to use the the slow-slide on a Mono Rig, but just as often, I use fly line to make it happen. Often, neither setup is necessarily better for the slow-slide, and it’s just a preference for how I want to fish.
Likewise, fly selection is not critical to the tactic. Small, large or over-sized streamers can all be presented on a slow-slide. Remember, finding the right weight is the most important element of the streamer.
Just take the principles of the slow-slide, adapt the fly line and leader type to the water and make it happen.
The casual angler may look at something like the slow-slide and immediately lump it into another familiar tactic. He might say, “Sure, I’ve been doing that forever.” And maybe he has. I know that I’ve been doing similar things for years.
The slow-slide is a lot like the way some anglers present wet flies. It’s also similar to what another friend does when he says he’s “just driftin’” his streamers.
But I suggest fishing with more intention — with more accuracy. Present your flies with a targeted view. Good fly fishing is always about the small things — the minor adjustments that make a huge difference.
Try the slow-slide. Hit the bank, orient the head and keep it that way throughout a drift. Keep the streamer drifting downstream and sliding slowly across the seam that’s closest to the bank. Then hold on tight.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N