There are a lot of ways to retrieve a long fly after the cast. And that’s really what’s so much fun about the streamer game. Fly anglers might spend hours fretting over the imperfection of a drag free drift on a dry fly or twice as long considering the depth and drift of a nymph, but when the streamer is tied on, it’s a chance to let loose. Nothing else in fly fishing allows for such freedom of presentation. “Everything works sometimes.” No other fly type fits that tenant so well.
I fish streamers a lot. Not because I catch the biggest trout with them — sometimes I do. And not because I catch the most trout with them — that’s for certain. I fish streamers because slinging big bait is fun. Because by simply tying on a streamer, a hundred different variations of retrieves, strips, jigs and jerks are immediately a good option. I like that.
So after I make the streamside switch from smaller stuff to a long fly, I start covering more water and cycling through my favorite retrieves, just trying to find that good streamer bite. On the best days, I locate a look that the trout respond to, and I work the river trying to refine it, all while hitting each new target with a few precision casts.
And on many days — most perhaps — what trout respond to most is a cross-current strip.
I Was Just Lookin’
Notice, I said “respond to.” That’s different than an actual eat. An eat is when a trout munches down on the fly. He actually eats it, or at least tries to. The streamer game is full of half-hearted flashes and drive-bys, of chases and heart stopping t-bones. These are the moments when we are ready to set the hook and stick it to the fish. Maybe we try to, and the trout turns away as if to say, “Nah, I was just lookin’ at it.”
Most streamer anglers are okay with some of that. It’s the cost of doing business. And watching a quick ambush or a violent hit on the fly is a heart-stopping moment with a reward in itself.
Point being, the cross-current strip gets more refusals than some of my other favorite streamer presentations. I hook up more with a slow slide, a good deep jig, a speed lead and all the crossover stuff. But I see more trout with a cross-current strip — even when I keep the fly down.
I also hook enough trout on the cross-current strip to make it one of my favorite retrieves. I do it a lot.
Come Across — Don’t Swing
I think a lot about the head angle while streamer fishing. And for the cross-current strip, I cast across or slightly up and across. I then gain contact and control over the fly and begin moving it across the current. Basic stuff, right? This one isn’t complicated.
Many of my favorite streamer retrieves have the head of the fly facing downstream and across. Not this one. The cross-current strip is just what it sounds like — the direction of the streamer is across the river. So a long cast and retrieve shows the fly to a lot of trout that are tucked away in their various holding areas. Therein lies part of the success.
Strip only, or combine it with alternating twitches and jerks of the rod tip. Use whatever it takes to keep the head of the fly coming across current. Often that means tracking with the rod tip downstream. Don’t allow the head of the fly to face upstream. (Don’t swing the fly.) Keep it coming across or slightly down and across all the way to the end of the retrieve.
This is easy to control with a tight line, contact system (I fish streamers on a Mono Rig a lot). But the same can be accomplished by manipulating fly line and standard leaders. That’s streamer fishing, really. Put the line and leader where you want the head of the fly to go. It’s the key principle to learn and understand.
For the cross-current strip, keep the fly broadside to the trout, the majority of which have their noses faced upstream. This way, the trout see the side of the streamer — the full profile. It’s the same thing you see when you look at the fly in your hand or at the vise. Not many presentations show such a striking broadside look to the trout, and I suspect that’s another key to the cross-current success.
Attacks from the Corners
Yesterday morning, I slung on my rain gear and hit the water in a driving rain that was quickly filling the river. I noticed the roadside drainage ditch on the drive down the hill to my local stream. It was full of water but not yet full of color. And that was my first sign that I might be hitting things at just the right time.
I love fishing a river on the rise, right before too much color takes over. And yesterday I had great fishing for a short while.
I tried bankside retrieves at first, slow stuff, with twitches and jigs mixed with small strips and the head of the fly mostly faced downstream. I dangled the fly in a few pockets next to logs and I caught a couple trout.
But when I started throwing casts further, and I stripped across current, trout darted out of every dark corner for the next thirty minutes. One after another, trout zoomed from their cover to attack the streamer. About half of them ate it, and the others turned away. I worked the water ahead of me, all by myself in the pouring rain and dark grey skies.
The action was so good, I drove up the hill to encourage my two sons to join me. They agreed. But by the time we got back to the water, the river had turned color and the streamer bite was over. Nothing lasts forever.
Always keep the cross-current strip in your lineup.
Fish hard, friends.
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