The other day, I came across a streamer article with the following headline: “There are few fish that won’t crush a well-presented streamer.”
That’s absolute nonsense.
Rarely does a population of trout fall all over themselves to eat a streamer, no matter how well it’s presented. And I think it’s unfair to advance the notion that fish are out there waiting to pounce on your streamer if you can just get the presentation right.
The opposite of the article headline is true: There are ONLY a few fish that will eat a well-presented streamer. There, I fixed it for ya.
Streamer anglers must deal with a challenging level of failure, day in and day out, from short hits and drive byes to slow days where it seems like the river is barren of life. The streamer game is one of persistence.
READ: Troutbitten | Patience v Persistence
There are indeed bite windows of activity, where trout leave cover and safety to charge a streamer as it streaks through the water. Sometimes the streamer bite is just on. Trout dart and dive, chase and swoop to attack our flies with reckless abandon, and these are memorable, rare times when special things can happen. But the average day on the water may hold no such opportunities.
Instead, the streamer fisherman spends most of his time hunting, searching, covering water and casting with intent. Some adopt the strategy of casting to every piece of structure and every likely lie, while others choose narrow targets, with fewer casts and a refined approach. Both styles require an angler who is dedicated to covering water. Because that’s the only way streamer fishing is successful.
READ: Troutbitten | Cover Water — Catch Trout
Few and Far . . .
Meat eaters are the minority.
Trout of any size may take a swipe at a wandering sculpin, but the true predators — those seeking a big meal — are few and far between. Bottom line: Not many wild trout in the river are willing to eat something as big as a streamer. So we cover water, searching for the players, as Galloup puts it.
It’s fall time at my back-deck grill. And after I eat a full rack of saucy ribs and a loaded baked potato, I’m not all that hungry for a Porterhouse, no matter how much I love it. And trout that whack a couple crayfish may sit tight for a long time before hunting again. The players, then, just aren’t hungry that often.
We can adapt our tactics to this truth by presenting streamers closer to the trout, with smaller, more natural patterns, and movements that bring an easy meal to the predator instead of asking trout to chase something down. Sometimes that turns the trick. But this strategy still requires covering a lot of water to be effective, because we still have to find trout willing to eat the big meal.
READ: Troutbitten | Streamers as an Easy Meal
READ: Troutbitten | Streamer Fishing Myth v Truth — Eats and Misses
Every river is different, and stocked trout often give chase to attractive presentations more than natural ones. Rivers with a low density of mayflies and midges may hold trout that are more anxious to hit a well-placed streamers. But streamer fishing yields fewer results than other fly fishing tactics presented with precision. That’s part of the charm of fishing streamers.
So tie on a long fly, and set a pace to cover a bunch of water. Look for the players. But always remember this: Meat eaters are the minority.
Fish hard, friends.
READ MORE : Troutbitten | Category | Streamers
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T R O U T B I T T E N
There’s not much difference between streamer fishing and spin fish.
I don’t even know what that means. There are so many ways to fish a streamer and so many ways to spin fish. I don’t know what you are comparing.
I grew up spin fishing with minnows. The way we fished those minnows was more like the way I drift nymphs now. And the way I fish streamers is more like what I did with Rapalas on the spinning rod. But not always, because I do a lot of crossover technique with streamers — part nymphing presentation and part streamer.
Doug, you are flat wrong about that. Streamer fishing is more difficult than spin fishing, and not nearly as productive, except when conditions are right for streamers.
Great article. I’ve observed fish behavior before that seems they aren’t hungry anymore. Until I read this, I didn’t think about it that way, I thought they were spooked. I guess eating a sculpin or large crayfish can fill up the trout.
I grew up fishing for largemouth bass. They are never full. Have to change my thinking about trout.
Ha! So true. Bass are way different than trout that way.
I do believe trout become satiated many times. During hatch season, I feel like it happens a lot around. They’ve had their fill, and they’ll just wait a while to eat again. That’s why, often, the best fishing of the year comes far outside of “hatch season.” With less available food, trout are more willing to eat our flies. I think it’s that simple.
You can analyze streamers as much as you want if they aren’t working we have plenty other ways to fish trout Hopper dropper straight nimping dry flies. Knowing when the change up that’s the key that puts fish in the net.
This is so spot-on. Thanks for clearing this up for people. I often estimate about 5% or less of a trout population will eat a streamer. So in a pool with 100 trout you might get one or two players.
I agree with that. Five percent or less sounds about right.
Do you think trout respond more to streamers generally in the freestone waters up your way more than the limestoners here?
Love that back deck cooking analogy Dom. Very creative indeed !
Makes me hungry though. And all I have to grill tonight is chicken wings.
I read somewhere that 70% of a trout diet is baitfish. Never seems that way when I am throwing streamers though!
Oh my. Yeah, that would be another article that I disagree with. Around here, there’s just no way that 70 percent of our wild trout’s diet is baitfish. Of course, the river, the region, the time of year, etc., all factor in. But I really don’t know anywhere at any time where seventy percent would hold.
I’ve also killed and gutted a lot of trout through the years. (Yes, sometimes I eat trout, but not the wild ones.) I always cut open the stomach, out of curiosity. Trout eat little brown things a lot more than baitfish. That’s my experience.
Jon, that may be true for trout that live in lakes, but not streams. I always check the stomach contents of trout that I kill. I’ve probably killed a dozen or so wild trout (I stopped eating wild trout 25 years ago) caught in streams in my 44 year career. I never found a minnow, but about half of those trout had crayfish in their stomachs, along with tiny mayfly nymphs. One had a grasshopper, too.
In this comment section I previously posted a summary about trout food research that was done in Western N. Carolina streams. Over 300 trout stomachs were sampled, and baitfish were only found in about 15 trout, and 12 of those were brown trout. A total of 84 brown trout stomachs were sampled. The biggest brown was 23″ long, and it had eaten two crayfish and one adult mayfly.
Actually don’t know if buggers fishing would qualify as streamers,since largest is #8,but can absolutely vouch for fact get way more fish on smaller buggers then ever did on big streamers. Not sure what fish even think is,but on days that hook 7,8 fish,could care less!!
A well written article by an observant fly fisherman . I fish streamers on occasion and I have to say I have always caught more fish on nymphs and emergers. I have changed the size of the streamers I tie to much smaller patterns. Only then was I more successful with streamer patterns. Most of the streams I fish in central New York don’t hold large populations of big fish ..so I adapted by tying smaller flies.
Something to think about for sure… I read that same article and thought it was a bit off.
Dom, Nice piece you have here, some of the comments from others make me chuckle which I always welcome a good laugh. I don’t subscribe to any of today’s magazines any more as well, you know most are on par with Scott’s toilet paper. But back to my chuckle, I’d really like a good laugh o if you wouldn’t mind pointing out these articles you vaguely describe I’d sure appreciate it. I will say this, as an angler who considers himself well rounded, but often enjoys what streamer fishing entails, I have no problem at all with chasing trout in the minority “meat eater” category. It’s a personal choice as to how one wishes to fish. I will caution those reading this however, the people who throw out absolutes, statistics and other jargon to ride the lets take a poke at streamer fishing are typically those that don’t have the intestinal fortitude to grind it out for an outing and stick to the technique at hand as it doesn’t quite put as frequent as a bend in the rod as one would like on many days; and will in short order drop the “big fly” and resort back to that pair of nymphs. And you know what? That’s totally cool too as many need to realize their aren’t absolutes in fishing other than the fact that you may catch a fish or may not. What matters most at the end of the day is that whatever one chooses to do, that it is absolutely enjoyable; and that is precisely why I fish. Thanks for the article, and point of view and I hope to hear about these silly articles you speak of. Rich Strolis
Good stuff, Rich.
Thank you for this excellent article. Your statement in the second to last paragraph regarding low density of mayflies making fish more likely to hit streamers is a good point. I have found that successful streamer fishing also involves identifying those waters that include the large food organisms, both in the water and in the land around the water, in a large enough biomass that could support a above average number of large trout that got large by feeding on these animals . Much like dry fly and nymph fishing, knowing what food is available helps me determine if streamer fishing will be effective or not and what streamer to use. If the largest in river biomass is small/medium invertebrates, such as mayflies, stoneflies, etc.. in an area that would not support a large number of terrestrial food items, such as running through a pine forest, versus a river that has a healthy in river biomass of larger invertebrates, such as crayfish, smaller fish, and running through an area also rich in terrestrial animals, such as mice, voles, snakes, grasshoppers, crane flies, crickets, etc.., such as a large meadow or prairie, I know my chances of getting big trout on big streamers is much better in the meadow/prairie river ecosystem.
Informative and entertaining. Thank you!
Your article reminds me of research that was done in the 1950s to determine the eating habits of trout in Western North Carolina. The researchers recorded the stomach contents of trout caught by anglers. They found that trout rarely ate other fish, but crayfish showed up quite frequently in browns and rainbows. I think the Bunny Bullet Sculpin could easily be mistaken for a crayfish.
The article about the research is no longer available for free, but here is a summary. The sub-legal trout that were sampled were caught by electrofishing or poisoning a small stream. I forget which. The summary has a separate section for each trout species (rainbow, brook, and brown).
WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA TROUT FOODS
These are the results of a study done in 1953. Most of the trout stomachs were obtained from the creels of recreational anglers. The researchers captured some of the rainbow trout by fly fishing (tough job), mostly with dry flies. The purpose of the study was to show the importance of preserving stream habitat, but it also contains useful information for fly anglers.
A some of the trout were pretty small, so I assume that these were mostly, if not all, wild trout.
Rainbow Trout (3 to 12+ inches long)
Sample size: 241 stomachs
Most important foods in descending order (84%):
Caddis fly larvae
Two winged fly (midge) larvae
Adults of aquatic insects (8%)
Stonefly nymphs (5%)
Ants, wasps, and bees were the most eaten terrestrials, followed by 2-winged flies, then beetles.
Caddis, mayflies, stoneflies were the most eaten aquatic adults
22 rainbows had eaten crayfish
Only one rainbow had eaten a small fish
Midge larvae were mostly eaten in the winter, but they were also important in July-August and September-October
Aquatic insect nymphs and larvae dominated in late winter and early spring
Terrestrial insects dominated in the fall
Large numbers of the adult stonefly Leuctra sara were eaten in January and February
Caddis flies were the most abundant aquatic adults eaten in all periods except November-December and January-February
Caddis fly larvae were the most eaten immature aquatic insect in May-June, September-October, and November-December
Mayfly nymphs were most important in March-April
Brook Trout (19 7 inches)
Sample size: 33 stomachs
Most important foods in descending order:
Terrestrial insects 47% *
Caddis fly larvae 27%
Two winged fly (midge) larvae
Adults of aquatic insects 5%
Stonefly nymphs 5%
Only one minnow was found
Two salamanders were found
* Seven brook trout captured in the month of June contained most of the terrestrials
Brown Trout (7 to 23 inches long)
Sample size: 84 stomachs
Most important foods in descending order:
Adult beetles were the most eaten surface food
Adult aquatic insects were infrequently taken, and in limited numbers in this order: caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies
Caddis fly larvae, mayfly nymphs, and stonefly nymphs were consumed in that order, and comprised 27% of the foods eaten
Crayfish were eaten by 24 larger brown trout
Fish had been eaten by 12 brown trout
Salamanders had been eaten by two trout
Rodents had been eaten by two trout
All three species of trout ate more caddis larvae than any other type of immature aquatic insect. Mayfly nymphs ranked second, and midge larvae were third.
The brown trout was the most frequent surface feeder (54%), followed by the brook trout (52%), and the rainbow (41%).
Terrestrials are a very important food in the warm months.
A crayfish fly could be a better choice than a streamer for big brown trout.
Adult aquatic insects were not a major source of food, no doubt because they are not often available. However we know that trout like them when they are available. Caddis flies were the most eaten adult, aquatic insect.
Thanks, a lot!!
I’ve had some success splitting the difference between smaller and larger flies. A size 12 Wooly Bugger, is the best example. On a couple of little blue lines I fish regularly, a small Wooly almost always gets the attention of wild brookies. Often the fly is bigger than their heads.
Dom, Having read your article and all the comments, I kept looking for the distinction between the diets of very large trout versus small or average size trout. My somewhat closely held belief is that the largest trout in the little J are primatily “meat eaters”. Evidence for this is that my friend who exclusively fishes large articulated streamers catches much larger than average trout (over 17″) far more frequently than I do on my dry flies and nymphs. I remain convinced that “big fish -big bait” is as true for wild trout as it is for any other gamefish (although I have witnessed Spruce Creek, 2 foot pellet pigs, sipping tricos !).
Hey Bill, glad to hear your thoughts on this. I like having more data from good anglers and their experiences.
Personally, I don’t find that fishing streamers catches me the biggest trout. The average size of fish goes up, just like night fishing, but I don’t need a big fly to catch the biggest trout in the river. I mentioned this in another article in this series, but for me, I catch most of my biggest trout of the year on a nymph. And specifically, that nymph is usually big for a nymph or small for a streamer — something around 1.5 to 2 inches. I rarely catch my biggest trout of the year on dry flies.
I do love fishing steamers.
I agree with Dom on what I call the “goldilocks” (just right size) flies: large nymphs, small crayfish pattern, wooly buggers, small streamers, and larger terrestrial patterns in that 1.5 to 2 inch range. Matt Grobe’s success on big browns with his big stonefly is a good example. Dave Jensen has remarkable success on large browns with a big #6 PTN and a truly enormous beetle, and Landon Mayer crushes bigs on his mini-leech. Dom’s Bullet Bunny is yet another good example of flies in that “goldilocks” size range that elicits true eats from bigger trout. Grasshopper patterns fall into this category as well as Moths, Green Drakes and Cicadas.
Those true eats are very different from the very large, articulated streamers used to elicit reactionary, reflexive, and territorial strikes.
In salt water fishing there is a saying “elephants eat peanuts” and it is true. The biggest fish don’t always eat the biggest bait or fly.
Agree from experience, most the streamers I’ve used caught the big ones after DARK in the dark! I was really big on stripping wooly buggers after dark in the riffs just above the deep pools.. I do remember on rare occasions late afternoon in light of day, witnessing a huge trout chasing small 3 four inch fry few feet in front wading knee deep ..some so big shocked to heck out of me.. one was well over 24 inches bt spots and all .. switched to a short 2x and zonker and tried into the dark for that monster.. it was well over 5lb s in the upper West and east branch Delaware.. they do eat big and than that’s over.. didn’t get one hit must of got stuffed on that fry!! lol. that was several years ago, I always have my streamer box .. I caught huge ones on streamers mainly black woolies after dark.. I was one of those rare fly streamer after dark fisherman..was big on night fishing decades ago.. and still have them streamers.. yes best after dark but rather fish daylight mainly hatches afternoon till dark or when the hatches are reported.
Dom, since you’ve mentioned crayfish, why not a post on that important food of big trout. My home stream is the Esopus Creek in the eastern Catskills, which is jammed with crayfish, and I’ve been fishing a MA/VT/NY river that has very big trout and an enormous crayfish population despite having been trashed by industry over the last century. So let’s hear more.
Hi Greg. I don’t know that there’s all that much to write about. Start with a Wooly Bugger, which is arguably one of the best imitation of a crayfish ever designed. Think about how a crayfish swims and try to duplicate that. Use all the presentations that I write about in the Streamer Presentations series here, and more. If you really want to look like a crayfish, don’t move too fast for too long. Use long pauses too.
I find that many articles are simply attention grabbers , like click bait on social media. They would have you believe that there is some ‘ultimate’ fly, lure, bait, technique, etc which will guarantee success without having to understand the quarry or environment it lives in.
To build on your deck analogy, someone who in a fast food restaurant isn’t looking for a porterhouse. Conversely someone at a 5 star restaurant probably is looking for a cheeseburger & fries. Similarly a ‘namer’ trout sipping midges in mid-winter is probably not going to chase down an articulated streamer no matter how will presented…
Love your articles, podcasts, and insight.
Good stuff, George.
Great article. What hits me is the emphasis on terrestrials. I’m weak in this area and would like to learn more. What flies work, where to fish them surface and subsurface, when to fish them, what flies do I already have that would work (like yellow soft hackles for hornets). The Troutbitten site, for all its great depth, doesn’t seem to have the same multitude of articles on the terrestrials for the mono rig. An additional article would be great that gives a big overview of the all the options and approaches. How about a podcast closer to summer? I’m less interested in hopper presentations since I don’t find they work very well on the mono rig, unless I’m missing something here. Thanks Dom! Toney
If you are serious about terrestrials (and you absolutely should be) consider using a traditional fly line in place of the mono-rig. No offense, but I think you have it backwards; match the fly line with the flies that are most effective. The best terrestrial patterns are larger, foam beetles and hoppers that trigger later line responses with a distinctive, “plop”. Ants and moths would round out the big four. These patterns, when properly presented, make for some of the best surface eats of the season. Don’t even worry about the presence of naturals, big trout are compelled to eat these enormous chunks of helpless protein, regardless of time of year. They are probably the best prospecting flies and often work well for ‘one-and-dones’ and never hesitate to try them as hatch breakers too. Terrestrial fishing is not complicated and will often get you the biggest dry fly trout of the year. Here are tens tips from the folks at Gink and gasoline:
Tip 1: Get on the water early. Beetle Patterns work really well at first light, when hoppers can still be inactive, and the low light will help you stay concealed.
Tip 2: Don’t immediately cast to a trout you just saw rise. Waiting 10-15 seconds before presenting your fly will allow the feeding fish to get back into its feeding station, and begin looking for its next meal.
Tip 3: Make sure you present your fly far enough upstream of a rising fish. Trout often drift back with the current to take food on the surface.
Tip 4: Take your time, waiting 45 seconds or longer in-between presentations to a rising fish. Don’t continuously cast over and over to a rising fish. This will often spook or put the fish down.
Tip 5: Don’t stick with the same pattern if you’re getting refusals or the fish are ignoring your fly. Change out the size or type of your terrestrial pattern.
Tip 6: For Flat slow moving water, or fishing locations that have smart educated fish, lengthen your leader to 14-18 feet.
Tip7: Don’t give up on your drift too early, keep your fly in the target water and you may end up convincing that big trout your fly is the real deal. Sometimes trout will follow your terrestrial downstream several feet before deciding to eat it, so before you pick up your fly to make another cast, make sure there’s not a big trout following. Backwater eddies are also perfect places for letting your fly float for long periods. I once caught a 20 inch cutthroat trout in a swirling eddy after two minutes of high sticking my hopper pattern.
Tip 8: Try plopping your terrestrials down on the water above a riser if a subtle presentation doesn’t get the job done. This often triggers trout to feed during the terrestrial season, because it simulates terrestrials falling off trees and the banks.
Tip 9: If you have a fish turn off of your fly at the last second, try twitching your fly, and sometimes the fish will turn a 180 and eat your fly.
Tip 10: If all these tips fail to get a rising fish to eat, try tying on a short dropper and sinking a tiny ant or beetle off the back of your dry. Sometimes trout will take drown terrestrials with total abandonment. If that doesn’t work, move on to another spot and come back later when the trout have calmed down and aren’t aware of your presence.
I rarely use a Mono Rig to present terrestrial dry flies. The Mono Rig is built for presenting flies under the water. Yes, it can pull double duty in specialized dry fly situations. I’ve gone over that here:
I don’t think there’s all that much to terrestrials, so there aren’t many dedicated articles on the subject, but here’s one:
That article covers one of the key differences to fishing terrestrials — sometimes we like a forceful landing.
Other than that, it’s just dry fly fishing. Really, I know that many other resources focus on the flies. But I don’t do that so much on Troutbitten. Terrestrials are just flies. Fish ’em hard. I don’t think that’s a weakness in your game. If you have a good dry game, then you can have a great terrestrial game.
Good article regarding streamer fishing expectations; I always say it is not about numbers but size when using large streamers.
I fish large streamers for trout almost 95% of the time and one of the key items to having consistent fish catching success is targeting those waters where the food biomass can support a healthy big trout population and is composed of, besides annelids, insects and their larvae, healthy populations of larger food items, such as crayfish, fish (smaller trout, sculpins, suckers, etc..), and even large numbers of frogs, rodents, and snakes inhabiting the shoreline. This creates an environment where more trout are used to feeding on these prey items; this also applies to rivers that feed into large lakes or reservoirs as the trout in those bodies of water that move into the rivers are used to feeding on the larger aquatic prey items. This may seem obvious, but it always seems that the focus is on what is being used, rather then if the environment can sustain a good number of breeding large trout; if not the chances of hooking one are few and far between regardless of what streamer is used.
I often wonder why there are so many variables in regards to streamer fishing. Arguably, we chase the same type of reaction strike when spin fishing with spinners and minnow lures. I feel like these hard lures are much more consistent than a streamer. Is it because the vibrations from spinners are so much more alluring for a trout? Does the action provided by the jerk bait more accurately reflect a wounded fish? If your only goal for the day is to throw streamers with a mono rig, is there any advantage over fishing these hard lures on a spinning rod?
Thank you for another great read,
Thanks for the comments. Good thoughts. Here are a couple of my own in response:
“Arguably, we chase the same type of reaction strike when spin fishing with spinners and minnow lures.”
Not necessarily. Because, with a streamer, we can get a ton of motion built into a fly, without moving it. All lures that I’ve fished need me to move the lure to get the action. Streamers have built in action, so we have another presentation available.
“I feel like these hard lures are much more consistent than a streamer.”
I do not. I feel like streamers often outperform lures. But we have to learn to fish them well.
“If your only goal for the day is to throw streamers with a mono rig, is there any advantage over fishing these hard lures on a spinning rod?”
Oh, for sure, yes. The Mono Rig is a hybrid system. We get eh advantage of fly casting, built in. So, in the cast we can build in presentation angles and even some slack or curves that we simply cannot do with a spinning outfit. I’ve done both — a lot. I’ve also fished streamers on a spinning rod and Rapalas and in-line spinners on a fly rod, with a Mono Rig. I feel like I understand the advantages and disadvantages. But the best way to know for yourself is to try it.
Tommy Lynch developed his Drunk-and-Disorderly streamer pattern to specifically replicate the actions that can easily be imparted when retrieving a floating Rapala. There is one critical advantage that using spin gear to throw Rapalas, spinners, swimbaits, twister tails, or jigs has over streamers: casting and retrieve efficiency. Streamers are much more commonly used when drifting a river because covering lots of water is the ticket to finding the small (5%?) percentage of larger, cooperative trout. A spin fisherman can complete at least three good presentations for every one that a fly angler can. When the number of casts is the real difference maker, spin fishing has to beat fly fishing hands down. Kelly Gallup stresses the importance of using rod action (jerk strip) in ways that emulate the best of the bass fishing pros. Those rod manipulations are much easier to make with a spinning rod, yet another advantage. This makes streamer fishing the only form of fly fishing that disadvantages the fly angler compared to the alternate techniques and lures used by an equally skilled spin guy. There is a reason so many Facebook and Instagram hero pics feature FLY RODS balanced on shoulders or clenched in teeth of smiling anglers.
“A spin fisherman can complete at least three good presentations for every one that a fly angler can. When the number of casts is the real difference maker, spin fishing has to beat fly fishing hands down.”
I disagree with this. I think one of the big advantages of fly fishing is that we don’t need to retrieve all the way back to make the next cast. I do this a lot . . . Say I’m forty feet off the bank. I can hit that bank, strip just ten feet off the bank, pick up, backcast, delivery, and I’m right back to the bank. The spin fisher has to retrieve all the way back to their position to make the next cast. So I can get at least one extra cast in while the spin angler retrieves all the way.
“Kelly Gallup stresses the importance of using rod action (jerk strip) in ways that emulate the best of the bass fishing pros. Those rod manipulations are much easier to make with a spinning rod, yet another advantage.”
Respectfully, I disagree with that as well. I jerk strip a ton, and I agree that rod tip motion is a key to success. But rod tip motion is not “much easier” on a spinning rod. That totally depends on the fly rod. If you use a soft ten footer, then sure. But use a shorter, faster rod, and the rod tip manipulations are just as easy as with spin gear.
Lastly, streamers on the Mono Rig is the the perfect hybrid between the two styles, with many of the advantages of both, in my experience.