I often wonder if most of our industry standard, accepted, and “best” streamer tactics are based on the limitations and necessities of the fly line itself. With a standard setup, if we cast any further than twenty feet across the river, the leader and fly line must touch the water. Then we’re at the mercy of what the currents want to do with that line. Because, beyond twenty feet, we just can’t keep the fly line and leader off the water.
But you can keep the leader elevated on a tight line rig.
Streamer fishing shorter than twenty feet away isn’t all that common. I see it rarely. Everyone wants to cast far and strip a lot. It makes sense, because if crossing seams or taking the streamer along a path is the goal, then it’s a lot more fun and effective at long range than at short range. So most anglers cast far, lay line on the water and strip, jig or start mending, all in an effort to make the fly line go where they want the fly to go next.
But on a tight line rig, things are different. Sure, we can lay the line on the water, and the fly will follow that line. But we can also keep the line off the water — so it’s the rod tip that dictates the actions of the fly. This is the essence of tight lining. Direct contact with the fly lends us ultimate control ofver every variable. Without line on the water, it’s the rod tip that charts the course, the actions and all the movements of the streamer. And that . . . is a very big deal.
Why Are We Doing This?
And so I return to the question: Are most of the streamer techniques that have been handed down through history based on the premise that our fly line must be on the water?
Let’s agree that the average streamers presentation is to throw the fly at the bank and strip it back. But did that develop because our options are limited? Fly line on the water bows almost immediately, in any decent current, and it starts pulling the fly along a path. But what if the better technique is to dance the streamer along that shady bank, to hold it in a single seam — maybe the one that slides next to the bankside rocks — to keep showing the streamer to the trout rather than stripping it away?
Before we go any further, let me mention that I also strip my streamers a good bit. It’s a tactic. And it works. Sometimes it’s the best tactic. But remember, the unique thing about streamers is that everything works sometimes. Seriously. While we painstakingly work for dead drifts on dry flies and nymphs, trout will literally take a streamer that’s doing just about anything, given the right circumstance. And yet, there are presentations that work better, day to day.
The Bait Guys
I’m surprised how many fly anglers I meet who have no experience with bait or a spinning rod. I’d tell you to put the fly rod away for a season and fish minnows for a while, but no one would listen. Looking back, I’m fortunate that I had about fifteen years of fishing live minnows. Because that’s where I learned a lot about fishing streamers.
The best minnow guys I knew all fished them the same way. My uncle was an expert at the craft. We strung live, fathead minnows with a double hook. And we drifted those minnows, starting with a cast upstream and across. There was no stripping involved — well, there wasn’t much fast reeling or cross current progress. The minnow wasn’t swimming on a path to somewhere else. We wanted the bait to look like it was struggling near the bottom, bumbling along and either injured or dying. (It was.) If we thought a trout was holding beside a log on the bank seam, we put the minnow in that seam and drifted it to the trout. We might jig or twitch it a bit, but we didn’t pull the minnow away from the bank seam and into the middle currents, away from the trout. That wouldn’t make any sense.
But that’s exactly what we are told to do with a streamer.
Why? Because it works sometimes, and because with a standard fly line rig, our options are limited. But there’s a whole other world of streamer action available to anyone with a tight line rig in their hands.
Have you tried the tight line dance yet?
I’ve detailed the Mono Rig for streamers in a previous article. And you can find all the variations and uses for the Mono Rig in over a hundred articles here on Troutbitten.
With a butt section and leader that’s designed for turnover, it’s about casting and not lobbing. Because the Troutbitten Mono Rig is built to push flies to a target with power, it’s an excellent, versatile, hybrid system. It casts single, #18 beadhead nymphs. And it casts five-inch streamers. In truth, the streamer capability of the Mono Rig is probably the least understood and the most seldom used.
Here’s the Troutbitten Mono Rig formula for Streamers
Notice, the leader is long enough that the fly line junction will rarely, if ever, reach the guides. Notice also, the transition and taper built into the sighter is short enough that those knots will rarely, if ever, be in the guides. This is important, because when fishing streamers, we strip and shoot line frequently. So the Troutbitten Mono Rig is designed with a long, powerful butt section that slides in and out of the guides, with no knots to hang up or slow down, with good, clean shooting. It casts like a dream.
In this Streamer Presentations Series, I’ve made mention, in every tactic, how the Mono Rig shines next to a standard fly line and leader approach. Almost every other tactic in this series can be performed without a contact system like the Mono Rig, but this one is different. The tight line dance requires the ability to hold line off the water. The sighter stays up, and only tippet is underneath.
You can do this at very short range with a fly line and standard leader, but it’s not much fun. Instead, tie on a Mono Rig, and you can do the tight line dance at thirty or forty feet. It’s a good time.
I generally cast upstream, across stream, or somewhere in between. I like pocket water, and I like structure of any type. I cast the streamer with a shallow tuck cast that lands with almost immediate contact. The sighter stays up, and I control the fly’s depth, head position, drift angle and drift speed all the way through its progress downstream.
I rarely aim for a dead drift or anything close to it. Instead I prefer to glide the fly around the next rock, let it fall into the dark chute next to the sunken hemlock, then jig it back up with a head flip and finish with a series of short strips to cross the merging seams behind a downstream boulder. The streamer dips and swoons on my command. All the way through the drift, I’m in control of every variable. I can hold seams or cross them. And I can ride high or low in the water column, all while animating the fly with fast or slow motions to the streamer.
It’s a dance. And it’s fun to watch. So I like to use a visible, light colored streamer, and I prefer water no more than a couple feet deep. If I do lose sight of the streamer at distance, it’s easy enough to switch my point of visibility to the sighter. Where, because I know the length of tippet to the fly, I have an excellent understanding of where the streamer is.
The tight line dance can be subtle or bold, with motions big or small. Many of these motions happen by moving the rod tip only. Try a series of head flips, all the way through the drift, while working in some depth changes. It’s a great way to get a feel for the dance.
We might also allow the river’s currents to do most of the work, keeping the rod tip and stripping hand calm. Or we can impart jigs, jerks or strips to the fly. Whatever the style of animation, the tight line dance happens with the sighter out of the water. That’s the key. And that’s what keeps us in such excellent control over the course and depth of the fly.
Trust me. Fish the tight line dance. And have fun out there.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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