The fly lands, and marabou pulses. Four inches of a meticulously tied articulated streamer flutters as it drops through the water column, just a foot from the water’s edge. The target was well chosen, and the fly hit the mark. Now, a big wild trout, resting against a submerged log, surges to capture the streamer from below. Everything about this moment seems just right. But the angler has made a critical error. The streamer landed without contact. There is slack in the leader. So when the trout reacts to the fly and eats it aggressively on the drop, our angler has no chance of setting the hook.
The trout hits, recognizes the fake, and ejects the fly while the angler strips line and sweeps the rod to gain contact — too late.
Streamer fishing provides limited opportunities to put fish in the net. There are fewer takes on a long fly than we expect with smaller flies like nymphs or dries. So we cannot afford to miss these chances. Lack of contact with the streamer is a common error, but it’s easily corrected.
Streamers and Contact
Control and contact is the goal while fishing streamers. And that must start from the moment our fly hits the water. Unless you have a very good reason to be out of touch, there should be no slack in the system.
Streamer fishing is unique in this way. I land dry flies with deliberate slack built into the leader to form s-curves. I also land nymphs with a bit of slack, introduced by a tuck cast. I’m briefly out of touch with the nymph as it drops, and then I gain contact. Of course, I can also land a streamer with a similar type of slack — just a touch — allowing it to drop. But in truth, even if the streamer sinks a bit before I strip or animate the fly, the thicker leader and more cross-seam angle by which I present the streamer keeps me in contact as the fly drops, as long as the cast is a good one.
Streamers and contact go together. We deliberately animate the fly. We pulse, twitch, jig, jerk, twitch, slide and strip the long flies to imitate larger, moving food forms. All of these motions require contact. (That’s why fishing streamers is so much fun.) I often drift a streamer with no significant motion, and I may even do this at upstream nymphing-type angles. But I rarely refer to it as a dead drifting a streamer, because I’m always in contact with the fly and at least slightly influencing its course.
These days, many streamer anglers use heavy fly lines with powerful tapers. They connect these to thicker, shorter leaders. And this setup is so powerful that it’s easy to push too much slack into the cast, landing with extra line and leader on the water. Maybe the streamer reaches the end of the forward loop with too much energy, and it kicks excess leader in a curve before hitting the water. Or perhaps the streamer hits the water and the remaining energy of the cast takes more line and leader past the entry point of the fly. Both of these errors should be avoided.
No matter what rod, line and leader is used, any angler can quickly produce the right cast with some focused and mindful fishing.
Ideally, the leader lands straight, pointing at the fly. Of course there are unique situations and objectives that require a different approach, but starting with contact is the baseline. This is the standard where deliberate deviation may begin. A straight leader puts the angler in contact immediately, ready for that bank-side, feeding trout to sweep up from underneath, just moments after the fly hits. A straight leader stays connected. It converts more hits to hookups, there is no doubt.
To me, nothing is more important in the streamer game than having immediate control following the cast, because seventy percent of my streamer eats happen near the target. This instant contact with the streamer, ready for a quick strike, is imperative. And that’s the kind of thing that puts fish in the net.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N