Streamer Presentations — The Endless Retrieve

by | Mar 24, 2019 | 24 comments

This will make some fly fishing traditionalists gasp and retreat a few yards. I think even some of the more liberal-minded experimentalists out there may cringe deeply: I’ve spent a good bit of time fishing in-line spinners and Rapalas on a fly rod. Okay, shake that off. Now let’s talk about it.

I grew up fishing gear and bait, and I like to think I was pretty handy with the spinning rod. From elementary school through my late teens, small lures and bait (mostly fathead minnows) were my familiar tools for putting trout in the net and the frying pan. Once the spring crowds tapered off, my access to live minnows was limited, as the local bait shops stopped carrying them until next year. I didn’t live close enough to a healthy stream to make trapping my own swimming bait a good option. So in early June, I turned to in-line spinners like Mepps, Panther Martins and Rooster Tails. To lesser extent I also stocked a few smaller Rapalas in my worn out, tan fishing vest.

READ: Troutbitten | Tag | History

Mouser

Honesty, I never fished spinners very well until I joined my classmate, Mark Mouser, on a small trout stream after school. We spent a shady evening shooting shiny metals under the hemlocks. And what Mark showed me in those few hours opened up a world of opportunity. I caught more trout on spinners than ever before. And what I learned that day, I still use to great effect with streamers. I’ll get to that . . .

Mark taught me to present the lures upstream. Throw a cast mostly up and sometimes slightly across the currents. Then reel and retrieve fast enough to keep the blade of the spinner turning — usually a little faster than the current. Mark also taught me to keep the spinner moving, never stop its progress downstream and only rarely change speeds. It was deadly.

Fishing with spinners was fun, especially on the small to medium sized streams of the Pennsylvania backcountry. And I learned that both wild and stocked trout fell for the same presentation. In fact, after learning from Mark, I performed just one trick with those spinners, and I rarely varied the presentation. (Those were simple times.) The challenge became how well I could place the cast. Too close to the trout, and they would spook. Too far away, and I might not have a chance to pull the lure into the undercut. Accuracy was the key.

I learned to keep the spinner near the bottom but off the rocks, by controlling for depth with the angle of my rod tip. I used 6lb Berkley Trilene, (again, simpler times) and had direct connection, with no significant sag in the line — full control over the course of the spinner.

So you can see what’s coming, right?

Photo by Matt Grobe

Bold Enough

About twenty years after I learned to fish spinners with Mark, I was comfortable enough and defiant enough with a fly rod to tie a small metal lure to the end of my streamer leader and satisfy my curiosity. It’s true. I care nothing about tradition.

So I’m not here to tell you to stock Mepps and Rooster tails in you fly box. After a brief period of experimentation, I whittled my own selection down to about three homemade spinners that rarely see the sunlight but do remain deep in a vest pocket — just for those weird days.

But what I learned by fishing the spinners on a fly rod is what I want to share with you. Specifically, the endless retrieve. Because it works very well for streamers.

Remember that Mark taught me to keep the streamer moving downstream at one pace, without pause. Now think about the way you fish a streamer. You strip it, right? Strip, strip, jerk, strip, strip, jig, strip. And at the end of every strip, there’s a pause when you let go of the line and re-grasp it further ahead (preparing for the next strip). That pause, and the look that it gives the streamer, is completely different than what Mark showed me at fourteen years old.

So, somewhere along the line of my own streamer experimentation, I started thinking about how to replicate the endless retrieve, without pause, that was so effective on the gear rod. I was already fishing a Mono Rig, so what I describe above (direct connection, no sag, contact and full control) was at my hands on a fly rod. I knew that a small spinner weighed no more than the medium streamers I fished, so I tied on a black and gold Panther Martin with a Davy and started slinging some hardware.

Trout ate it. And over the next six months, I learned a couple things. First, and most importantly, I learned the skill of the endless retrieve. And second, I learned that in-line spinners don’t really catch more trout than well-fished streamers.

Yup

Do It

To perform the endless retrieve, use the rod tip to lead the spinner fly and keep it moving between strips. Keep the fly traveling at the same speed.

It’s not as easy as it seems. Again, both the speed and the angle of retrieve should remain consistent. So when the line hand lets go, the rod tip must move at the same rate as the retrieve and in the same plane. Then as the next strip starts, the rod tip pauses again. Eventually, the two work hand in hand to achieve a constant, endless retrieve.

Like anything else in fishing, you can get the tactic pretty close and have some success, or you can dig deep into the details, refine it and triple your production.

You need not fish a Mono Rig to make this happen, either. While using a fly line and standard leader, the endless retrieve can be reproduced by simply being attentive to the principles — one constant speed and one angle.

READ: Troutbitten | Fifty Tips #43: Two ways to recover slack

READ: Troutbitten | Streamer Presentations — The Speed Lead

Learn

In truth, using in-line spinners helped me learn the endless retrieve. The rotating blade of the spinner pulses back through the line, allowing the angler to feel the speed of the lure against the water — faster pulses equal faster downstream progress. But I don’t need the spinners anymore. I use visual markers on my streamer leader, building both a sighter and a Backing Barrel into the leader. I also fish a small white streamer on a tag, about two feet up from my point fly. All of this gives me outstanding visibility and feedback about my rig — I know what my streamer is doing near the bottom. And by watching and working with all those visible indicators, I use a combination of strips and rod tip leading to create an endless retrieve.

I suppose I could write a lot more into a description of the endless retrieve, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The concept is simple — keep the streamer moving at the same rate and same angle for as long as possible, all the way back to your position. With that objective in mind, making it happen is pretty easy once you’re on the water. Then you can spend the next couple lifetimes refining it.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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24 Comments

  1. As a kid I did the same thing. It started with worms and minnows and as I got older it progressed to spinners. I tried to learn to cast a fly rod, but breaking another one of my grandfathers bamboo rods wasn’t an option. When I finally got my first glass fly rod in HS I started to ween myself off spinners, …but it was soooo hard. I picture your endless retrieve as the fly fishing version of patting your head while rubbing your stomach. I haven’t pitched a spinner in decades; …maybe I should.

    Reply
    • “the fly fishing version of patting your head while rubbing your stomach.”

      Ha! That’s good.

      Reply
  2. There is a saltwater streamer retrieve that I learned years ago that produces what you are calling an “endless” (straight-steady) retrieve that was very easy and very effective. It probably works best using a stripping basket, especially in heavy current/surf. Just tuck your reel in the crook of your arm with the rod pointing at the streamer and pull on the fly line in a series of straight and steady pulls using an alternating, hand over hand retrieve. Not sure if this has an application in your PA streams, but if strong, fast currents are not an issue, you could probably get by without a stripping basket.

    Reply
    • Thanks Rick. I’ve done that for larger species too. I’ve even done it a couple times while fishing for trout from a boat. This is a little different though. First, by dropping the rod, you’ll lose the angle. But more importantly, the casts and retrieves are just too short to make the two handed retrieve a viable option. Our trout casts on rivers aren’t all that long. Again, I’m not saying it wouldn’t work. But I do think the method I described above is an easier solution for what I’m usually trying to accomplish out there.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  3. I tuck the rod under my arm and hand over hand retrieve. I usually start a hole with slower more erratic retrieves and if nothing snacks it I give the hole ten minutes rest then two hand retrieve. Two hand is deadly combined with a swing on days when they are aggressive

    If neither works I’ll dead drift the streamer just twitching it.

    Reply
    • Again, though. I’m not really talking about a fast retrieve, necessarily — just a retrieve that never pauses. It can be slower or fast, really.

      Cheers.

      Reply
  4. Yes! I had the same spinner/streamer evolution. So, imagine my surprise to learn of the success so many friends have had dead-drifting (!) a streamer. Heresy!

    Reply
  5. We use a similar retrieve in salt, a constant retrieve with the toys under your arm. It’s called a strip set hook up. It works well, I’ll be again using this on Penn’s when next I return to the north country. Great article!

    Reply
    • Cheers.

      Reply
  6. Seems like streamers have been the only productive tactic for me down here in south central PA- Lancaster and York counties this winter. The article is a confirmation of something I inadvertently discovered this winter in regards to a steady even strip. Even so with the newly planted rainbows last week.

    Reply
    • Nice.

      Reply
  7. Yep, I used to fish Colorado blade inlines spinners Back in the sixties. Very Effective in small stream. Have fished much since after graduating to streamers.

    Reply
  8. Nice Dom, couple of questions please.
    Are there river situations that you find this retrieve most successful? Water speed/depth, water clarity, light levels etc.
    Have you found trout will except a larger (or possibly more brightly coloured) streamer with the endless?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Justin,

      The endless retrieve is really just another look, another presentation, that I rotate in while trying to see what the trout will eat in given day or situation. It doesn’t require and specific water depth or clarity. I also can’t say that it allows me to use larger or brighter streamers, because remember, the endless retrieve can be fast, slow or anything between.

      Make sense?

      Dom

      Reply
      • Hey Dom
        I wasn’t really thinking it would need a particular water type to work just it’s a retrieve style similar to what I’ve read about from the night-time seatrout side of things. The theory being that the predicable speed of the fly (fast or slow) gives the trout a better chance at judging its position in situations with restricted visibility.

        Reply
  9. Have you ever tried a Pistol Pete?

    Reply
    • Hi Bob.

      No, but I know what you’re referring to. And I do use Pulse Discs at times. Those created some wicked movement.

      Dom

      Reply
  10. This is similar to euro-nymphing a streamer and gently swimming the streamer downriver. Keeps a nice swimming motion that looks like an easy target. Reminds me of that article you wrote about fishing streamers in a less aggressive, less flashy way.

    Reply
  11. Wow.. You described my entire stream fishing arsenal as a kid.
    Mepps, particularly the Black Fury, Rooster tails and Panther Martin’s were my standards. The only additions I had were tiny Gudebrod spinners about the size of a thumbnail, CP Swings and a handful of nymphs that I would “tightline” on 2lb mono using an ultralight spinning rod. Simpler times indeed! I haven’t thought of those lures in decades.

    I may have to resurrect some of those old lures from my basement. Thanks for rekindling the memories.

    Reply
  12. Looks like a Mark Nale “White Bead Gold”. Flat nasty!

    Reply
  13. I live in Colorado and fish the Colorado river year round! I’ve like that method quartering upstream and do the constant movement, but what I do more is cast directly across and let the current pull the streamer down and the speed of the river keeps it moving and let it swing back upstream at the end of drift when I start to retrieve it upstream trout go crazy to see a streamer that comes up behind them! I have had fish strike literally every time!

    Reply

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