I like nymphing because of the process. Because, by refining a full set of tactics with the small food forms that trout eat, an angler has excellent control over the outcome. In short, nymphing puts trout in the net. And on most days, the action is good enough to learn something about where trout are feeding and what they are looking for. Adjust and refine, and you’ll catch fish on a nymph. I like that.
But I love fishing streamers too. The way trout move to a bigger meal is a different experience. Everyone enjoys watching trout chase down and devour a long fly. It’s a chance to be part of something primal, and a good strike on a streamer comes with a sharp shot of adrenaline. What’s the downside? Far fewer trout in the net. Streamers never fool as many fish as nymphs — not on any regular basis. Granted, that’s the expectation when we tie big hunks of fur and feathers to large hooks. We know that fishing streamers is a low-return proposition and that more trout are caught with other fly types. But that reality nags at me, and it never really goes away.
From the beginning of my streamer obsession, I wanted more. I needed to believe that something would bring the production of streamers up to the standards of nymphing. And I searched for it endlessly. I still do.
But, in truth, nothing will equal the fish-catching magic of a good nymphing game. And so it follows, that the best way to increase your catch rate with streamers is to fish them a little more like nymphs.
Enter, the crossover technique . . .
I’ve written a few Troutbitten articles that nicely dovetail into this one. And I’ve mentioned the crossover technique many times on Troutbitten.
And now, I’d like to lay it out as a more complete system.
Trout eat nymphs because nymphs are an easy meal. We dead drift the flies, bringing them directly to the fish. We show a non-escaping food form — something they don’t have to chase down. Hey, just move over a few inches. Mr. Trout, and intercept this nymph in the drift. No big deal. Just eat it! The nymph offers trout an effortless protein gain, catering to the efficient instincts of our favorite fish.
So why not take this into the streamer game? Why not make our long flies more accessible to trout? Why not drift our streamers closer to the way we present a nymph, and then add some animation? That’s the crossover.
So . . . is the crossover technique about simply dead drifting streamers? Nope. But that’s a great place to start.
Here we go . . .
Cast upstream and establish a dead drift. There’s your baseline. Everything for the crossover technique branches off from there.
With the right rig (more on that below) dead drifting a streamer down one river seam is simple. Tuck it in, and get down to the strike zone. Maybe even drift it all the way back to your position without any other animation the first time through — get a full dead drift. But on the second cast, after the drift is established, give the streamer some action. Use jigs, strips and jerks, but think small. Save the big motions for another time. Long and aggressive strips don’t belong here. This is about providing subtle animation to a drifting fly. Mini strips, slight jigs and rod twitches are the tools for the crossover style.
If you’re experienced with streamers — if you’ve spent a lot of time chucking meat — it might take discipline to perform the crossover correctly. Refrain from stripping, jerking and reverting back to the more common retrieves. Our average motions with streamers are usually large. We move the fly fast and far. Again, think small. Imagine a dying or disoriented baitfish bumbling along the riverbed and trying to get its bearings. Move your streamer that way.
More than anything, the crossover style is about lanes — the current seams of a river. Know what lane your streamer starts in. See it. A good dead drift holds that same seam all the way through. But if all I wanted to do was dead drift, I’d probably fish nymphs. With the streamer, I like to deliberately shift lanes. Swing the rod tip left. Perform a ten-inch rod jerk toward the bank, and then return the tip to the leading position. Done swiftly, the fly crosses lanes before it continues tumbling along a new seam. This move shows a short burst of energy and gets a trout’s attention before returning back to that easily-available look for the fish.
With the crossover style, I work the streamer through river lanes while focusing on structure: rocks, logs, gravel bars or color changes in the riverbed. All of these are excellent targets, and the animations available with the crossover style are a perfect way to maximize the fly’s time in these hot zones.
Experiment with all of these movements. Keep them subtle, never move the fly too far off course. And don’t forget to return to base — get back to a dead drift once in a while. Day to day, trout may show a preference for a good speed lead, a swift lane change, a head flip or some vertical (but subtle) jigging. Explore all of these tactics. Finding and creating your own are what make the crossover technique so rewarding. It’s really an exciting change-up from dead drifting nymphs.
For this style, I prefer small to medium streamers that hold a drift without getting pushed off course. Large flies with extra material catch the currents too much, making it hard to lock into the strike zone.
This is not the time for Galloup’s Dungeon or Lynch’s D&D. Large and articulated patterns are built for stripping, for turning on the predatory nature of trout and convincing them to give chase. And while a big Dungeon may turn up a few fish on a crossover now and then, remember this: Trout have a good chance to look at the fly with this technique. They can inspect it. With the crossover, the fly is not stripped away from them, but generally brought toward them. So keep the fly small or medium.
I like flies with the built-in weight of a conehead and some lead under the body. A Slumpbuster or a Half Pint makes a great crossover streamer, and the Jiggy series of streamers is perfect. I also run flies with split shot for the weight instead of built-in weight at the head, like a simple Wooly Bugger or a Bunny Bullet Sculpin. Keeping the shot about five inches from the fly allows for some unique action that cannot be achieved with a conehead or jig head streamer.
All of these flies do the job of cutting through the water column and holding near the bottom, down in that cushion of water where trout spend most of their time waiting for food.
With our rig logging so much quality time down in the strike zone, it seems like a great time to add a nymph, right? Of course it does. And I (almost) always run a tag nymph about twenty inches up from the streamer. I keep it in the range of #14-16. It’s amazing how often trout eat the nymph while I’m drifting and animating the streamer with a crossover style.
For the crossover technique, use whatever tight line leader you like for getting a dead drift. The formula or leader taper is not especially critical, as long as you can establish a good drag-free look as a baseline.
Understand that using multiple tippet diameters under the water hurts a dead drift. So keep them limited. Likewise, fly line or long stretches of leader lying on the water make true dead drifting impossible.
Don’t use an indicator for this style, either. We need direct contact with the streamer to impart the animations — the jerks, jigs and short strips.
The crossover is another tactic I’ve developed around the Mono Rig. And with such excellent contact with my streamer, I have direct control over exactly how deep, how fast and in what lane my streamer rides.
Often, I simply clip the point nymph from my base Mono Rig setup and tie on a Half Pint for the crossover. (This is another reason why I fish with 4X or 5X as my terminal tippet rather than 6X or 7X.) But if I intend to fish the crossover style for an extended time, I may change the tippet to 3X or 2X, especially if I’m around a lot of structure.
Whichever way you do it, keep a sighter built into the leader. Many times, you’ll have no direct visibility to your streamer in deep or discolored water. So using the sighter as an aid that points directly to the hidden fly is vital to understanding its performance.
Variations and Good Times
I get a kick out of fishing this style. It’s a fun change-up from nymphing, because I can cover more of the river at much greater distances. Longer casts and drifts are provided by the extra weight of the streamer. And yet, it’s nothing like the pace I fish when I commit to stripping streamers more traditionally and covering tons of water. The crossover is a targeted approach to fishing streamers. Instead of spraying casts and hoping, we bring the streamer directly to the trout with plenty of control from the angler.
Also, while the dead drift may be the baseline look for the crossover, the strength of this style is the versatility and possibility at the end of your line.
You have a baitfish imitation tied to your leader. So bang it over by that undercut as you walk past. Put it right near the bank and jerk strip it back to midstream. Try a slow slide on the next drift. And then get back to fishing the rig upstream, dancing the long fly around the front of a rock and stalling it in the trailing pocket. Jig it once, then let it drift. Twitch and short-strip it through the stall. Then do a lane change into the fast current on the right and speed lead it next to the log before the following cast. The variety of presentation is endless.
These are good times.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N