Streamer Presentations — Strips, Jigs and Jerks

by | Jan 16, 2019 | 18 comments

I sat at the oars and watched Chase shoot fifty feet of line, laying a big dark streamer right next to the wood. In fact, his cast was so accurate that some olive hen feathers grazed the wet log upon entry. Yes, you can see this kind of detail at fifty feet if you’re looking in the right place, and Chase and I tended to see the next target together. That’s what it’s like with a good boat mate — simpatico. Two guys with one goal and a similar vision. So the fly hit the mark we both were looking for.

Watching Chase twitch and jerk the rod tip in between strips was a noticeable contrast to what I’d seen my friend, Brian, do the week before. Some guys use only strips and no rod tip motion — Brian is one of them. He believes that any tip motion puts you out of touch with the streamer, and you’ll miss strikes with the loss of contact. Brian catches a lot of trout on streamers. But so does Chase.

“Hey Chase, why do you use the rod tip?” I yelled to him. I was back rowing through a heavy stretch of boulders, through churning water that sounded like a washing machine.

Chase kept stripping without looking back. He mixed in twitches, jigs and rod sweeps with the retrieve.

“Because it’s more erratic and forces you to pause,” he yelled back. “Less linear tracking too.”

At the bottom of the washing machine, Chase set the hook with exuberance.

There he is!”

Photo by Austin Dando

If you want to get better at anything in fishing, spend time with the good guys and argue with them about their tactics. Force them to explain why, and you’ll hear strong opinions and confidence about what they do. The best of these anglers might first be mistaken as stubborn, but a deeper dig reveals their openness to just about anything.


At all ranges beyond “fishin’ close,” stripping is the only way to get your fly back and ready for another cast. So even if some rod motion is mixed in, the strip must be part of the game.

But some guys move the fly only by stripping. They might change the angle and direction of the rod tip to affect the orientation of the streamer. But by animating the fly exclusively with strips, they stay in contact at all times and are ready with a strip set.

Done carefully (without moving the rod tip) the strip introduces no slack between you and the fly. And that’s a good thing to understand.

Jigs, jerks and twitches

Using the rod tip is the other way to move a streamer. And I’ll argue that all jigs, jerks and twitches introduce some manner of slack.

For my own streamer style, I welcome that slack. I use it for effect. I believe a streamer looks more alive — more natural — when it’s given a moment to rest, even if that moment is only a split second. Just a bit of slack allows our carefully-considered fur and feathers to puff and swoon with the current. Sure, a streamer has a similar chance to breath in-between strips too. But that look — that effect — is a little more dramatic when there’s no tension on the line. For me, slack is a good thing.

READ: Troutbitten | Streamers as an Easy Meal — The Old School Streamer Thing

I prefer to show trout a food that’s available, not something that’s hard to kill and eat but an easy meal. And a wounded or dying look is often the necessary trigger to get trout to eat, not just chase and swipe a streamer. A pause, with a bit of slack, can be just the ticket. I do it most with jerks, twitches and jigs. Following these rod tip motions, there’s always some slack as the rod recovers. It’s easily manageable, and you can decide just how much slack is introduced, if you’re attentive.

By pausing before the next strip, twitch or jerk, you can use that slack to allow a weighted fly to fall or an unweighted fly to suspend and falter against a pushing current. Slack permits a moment of helplessness that contact cannot precisely duplicate. The effect is simply greater without tension on the line, if only for an instant.

Do I miss trout by introducing slack?

Maybe. But not many. And I believe I draw more strikes with the kind of streamer motion that slack allows for. Coming from a nymphing mindset, I’m used to dealing with slack and setting the hook on trout that by my dead drift — because I manage some natural disconnect in the system.

Furthermore, I’ve seen a lot of trout “missed” on a strips-only presentation. Trout swipe and dodge at streamers no matter what. That’s just part of the game. That’s what makes it both maddening and addictive at the same time.

READ: Troubitten | Streamer Presentation: Why “Always strip set!” is a fallacy

Photo by Josh Darling


Aside from adding desirable slack, using the rod tip for animation with jerks, jigs and twitches also allows for more directional change than stripping alone. When we strip, the fly follows the line — which follows the rod tip. You might assume that the fly follows the same course whether it’s stripped or jerked, toward the tip. But I don’t find that to be the case. Jerking the rod to the right moves the fly on a different path than holding the rod to the right and stripping the same length. The difference is slight, especially at long distances with line on the water. But it’s the small, subtle things in fishing that add up to big results.

At short distances, mixing in jerks, jigs and twitches between strips permits a wider variety of directional changes than does stripping alone. As Chase said, there’s less linear tracking when we use the rod tip for animation. And for what I want to see from a streamer, that’s a good thing.

Comment Below

I’d love to hear your opinion on this, and so would other Troutbitten readers. What do you think is different about a fly that moves ten inches with a rod tip vs a fly that moves ten inches with a strip?

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Thinking about it some more, I feel that twitching the rod, especially with a weighted streamer, lots of line out, or a heavy current imparts a different acceleration and deceleration than stripping. The physics of the rod accelerate the streamer more slowly due to the bending, whereas stripping, depending on the angle the rod is held at, is a more consistent speed.

  2. At any angle except tip straight at the streamer even a moderate strip makes the rod tip flex. A hard strip with the rod at an angle to the fly usually causes an erratic dart ending in a move to the side of the main retrieve path. For smallmouth that erratic dart- pause is usually what I want, even to the point of intentionally giving slack after a strip. I believe I get more takes than I miss due to slack. Maybe trout are different.
    Occasionally a steady retrieve past ambush structure may be preferable but rod and tip movement is my first choice for streamers and smallmouth.

  3. The steelheads and trout I chase on southern shore of Lake Erie, sure do like a pop (tip jerk) and pause retrieve but mostly from upstream down. From the bottom of a swing or downstream, I focus on strip pause methods and that seems to be more successful especially if I vary the length of strips.

    As you stated, the moments of slack similar to nymph techniques, seem to draw more solid strikes. On my best attentive days, I get a 6th sense of when a fish has grabbed a fly in the slack and set the hook. If I’m lucky, I can see the leader dance so slightly as the fish grabs the fly. Thank you for keeping Winter interesting. Looking forward to Spring and a new season of lessons on the water.

  4. Like it. So after a jig or twitch of the rod, what’s the best way to set the hook? Strip set? Trout set/raise the tip?

    • Hey Tanner,

      So I use both a strip set and a short jerk — whichever one I’m in position for when a trout takes. I think the idea of strip setting all the time is unnecessary. Just like I can move the fly ten inches with the rod tip or a strip. I can set the hook with a hard strip of about a foot, or I can set the hook with a hard jerk that moves the fly about a foot. I don’t take my fly out of the water, but I do set the hook a lot with a jerk.

      Make sense?

      Which way do you do it?


      • I’ve typically just done a strip set because I feel like if you miss the fish it still keeps the fly in the zone whereas if I jerk I’m probably jerking too hard and usually ripping my fly out of the water. I’m anxious to switch it up and try out some new methods. Always enjoy your blog man

  5. I just hope and pray.then the big guy tells me he’s a little busy and He He’ll get back to me.

  6. In slower pools and runs I lean towards jigging and jerking, trying to impart a leech like movement- especially in tight spots or heavy cover where you might have only three or four strips worth of retrieve. In faster water I like a sharp strip that produces a jerkier swim and really lets me feel the pulse of the streamer in the current. Often I’ll mix the two and try to come up with creative variations of strip/jerk patterns that accentuate the movement of a given pattern- it’s easy to fall into a one size fits all approach but every streamer swims differently.

    • I hear you. Even two streamers tied the same often swim a little differently.

  7. Assuming we’re limiting the discussion to fishing streamers, isn’t it more useful to think about how we need to use the rod to manipulate the streamer in a way that matches whether we’re trying to get a fish to “eat” versus getting it to “strike?” Fish eat things that look appetizing to them, and they strike at things that annoy them or that they want to get out of their house. It seems easier to get a hungry fish to eat by making the streamer look like an attractive attainable meal, e.g. less pronounced speed/erratic/random movements…and easier to get a fish full of food to strike by more erratic/random movements. Since we can’t always be on the water when fish are hungry, it makes more sense, at least to me, to use whatever rod tip technique lets ME move the streamer in a way that will match the feeding/striking moods of the fish as they tell me how they’re feeling that day. If my rod manipulation doesn’t make my streamer match the fish’s mood, it doesn’t matter whether my technique causes much slack or not, because I have to get one on before I have to think about getting it in. I’ll depend on my “time spent fishing” to help me deal with the issue of line slack.

    • I like it. I think we see very much eye to eye on this. I love your distinction between eating and striking. I think, perhaps, many anglers mistake those chases and strikes as attempts to eat. So they keep doing the aggressive or fast retrieves over and over. But we have to be careful what we learn from a trout. Most of those chases and strikes are NOT attempts to eat the fly.

      I get a lot more interest from trout eating when I make the streamer seem more available, like an easy meal. I write about this a lot:

      And I tend to mix in a lot of short jigs, jerks and twitches with the rod tip, followed by a pause of varying duration. My rod motions are often very small. And I do believe, strongly, that rod tip motion is critical to getting the look I usually want from my streamer.



  8. It’s hard to miss a trout that really wants to eat your streamer. Gotta make them want to eat it.

  9. Late New Years resolution. Throw more streamers with slow jigs and jerks to give it the look at me I’m injured ,eat me look.

  10. What a great discussion! I know guys who only dead drift, guys that only fast retrieve, and guys that constantly animate. The moral of the story they all work and you should try them all especially when your tried and true method isn’t producing. I like the distinction between eating and chasing which used to frustrate me to death in the beginning. Now it is part of the excitement but to be able to change a chase into an eat would be very productive!

  11. I try to impart strips jerks and jigs after my guide showed me his method. I’m sure you all have watched dying baitfish and their movements are quite erratic. Do trout key in on an easy meal? I also believe strikes aren’t always about eating but can be territorial turf wars. I once witnessed one 12” brown ram another smaller brown like a torpedo, it was savage.
    Love your blog north of the border


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