When the First Cast Matters Most: Part One — Streamers

by | Mar 25, 2020 | 7 comments

The first impression is the one that counts. That axiom and the other one about never getting a second chance is hard to argue against. It holds true for our initial interactions with people, for the beginning chapters of a book and the opening scenes of a movie. It’s also an important strategy for trout fishing.

Our favorite fish is wary. Forget any notion of the wise old brown trout or some idea that a fish is actually smart. Instead, understand the wild trout as a cautious and efficient creature. It avoids danger to stay alive, so a trout is on guard and easily spooked. It has an excellent sense of cost-benefit regarding food, so a trout is selective about what it moves to eat or chases down. In the end, it’s these decisions of instinct that keep a trout alive. And only those that do it right for many years become the next Whiskey.

That first impression — the first cast — is always important. So make a good one. Make it clean and accurate. Make it count.

READ: Troutbitten | Fifty Fly Fishing Tips #27: The First Cast Curse

That said, there are some fly fishing styles and situations where consecutive casts to the same spot can be extremely productive. And there are other times when forcing one drift after another to the same trout is just pissin’ in the wind.

Photo by Bill Dell

The Series:

This Troutbitten short series will look at each fly style and consider the importance of a first impression. We’ll also weigh the consequences of screwing it up.

Let’s first study the streamer.

Dell’s Law

While fishing the long flies, accuracy is paramount. In a recent conversation with my friend, Bill Dell, he made an excellent point that changed the way I fished streamers again. Bill’s thoughts forced me to rethink the habits I’d fallen into. And that hammered me back into shape.

Bill told me he doesn’t make a cast until he’s in the ideal position, until he can deliver the streamer to that sunken log near the bank with exactly the angle he considers best. He refrains from any lead-up casts. Rather, Bill saves the initial cast for when he can deliver the knockout blow — no jabbing on the way in.

I agree with him. More than any other style of fly, our streamers have limited chances with a trout. There are precious few times when a good trout swirls for a streamer and then comes back on the next cast to change its mind. Sure it happens, but not often. And every good streamer angler I know forcefully recommends covering a lot of water as one of the irrefutable keys to streamer success. It’s standard meat-fisher’s wisdom.

But while covering water and fishing streamers, I’d fallen into an easy trap. I’d kept my feet moving and continued casting, over and over, thinking that more casts meant more chances. And as Bill pointed out, that’s just not true.

Because trout are so choosy about streamers — because we have limited chances to fool each fish — the first cast should be perfect. If a setup cast brings the fly pretty close to the trout but doesn’t deliver it at the best angle or speed, our only shot may well be ruined. Because now the trout has seen the streamer and already rejected it. Streamers are big (even the two-inch ones), so there’s a lot on the hook for a trout to spot as fake. And once they’ve decided it’s a counterfeit, you’re not changing anyone’s mind.

After that talk with Bill, I changed my habit of being constantly in motion while casting and covering water with a streamer. Now I’m more mindful of where I cast, and sometimes I’m wading more than casting. I’m more selective about where and when I throw my fly.

Over much of the river, as I wade upstream or down, I do make casts that are filling in the moments, keeping my streamer in the water and giving a chance to the secondary water — because anything can happen at any time. But as I approach my next primary target, at the upstream drop off, spillout, mid-stream boulder or bankside rootwad, I stop casting. I allow myself time to wade into the best position and deliver the primary cast in the best way possible.

Sure, I make plenty of follow-up casts to a great spot too, because my best guess may have been wrong. But by making a great first impression with my streamer, I put more trout in the net.

Fish hard, friends.

Josh Darling


** Read the second part of this Troutbitten short series next. Dry Fly Fishing — Back Door, Side Door, Front Door | When the first cast matters most: Part Two**

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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. Dom, Troutbitten is keeping me in the game during our Bucks County wuhan lock down . Thanks, Gary

  2. Dom,

    I agree with the notion that making the first cast with a streamer, or any fly for that matter, is the most important. I would add that if you move a big fish I would try several more casts. if I get no response and I’m sure I didn’t spook the fish I’d put on a different streamer or nymph and see if the fish will react to it before I’d move on. I might even try several different flies before moving on since it takes only a minute or so to change flies and it takes much longer to find a good fish and get in position to catch it without spooking it first.

    • Good point, Charlie. I do this too. But here’s my question to you: What percentage of that time does it work? 🙂 For me, it might be five percent, if I had to put a number on it. And usually, that’s by swapping out to a nymph or by coming back later.



  3. Dominic,
    Great article. It’s so easy to get into the “mow the lawn” system of fishing streamers (particularly in steelheading) where you mindlessly step and cast a section of water, so this is a good reminder to target spots and maximize presentation. Other variables (water clarity) also play into this. Three feet of visibility demands a different approach than crystal clear low water. Anyway, I’m looking forward to this series of articles. Thanks!

    • Lol. Mow the lawn. That was perfect. Wish I would have thought of that.


  4. Great point. It’s difficult sometimes to slow down and focus on just the prime water. One question I have to ask, what would be your type of presentation for that first cast? Dead drift, fast retrieve, etc. And what factors/ variables do you take into consideration for the presentation of that first cast? If that makes sense


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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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