Streamer Presentations — The Tight Line Dance

by | Dec 2, 2020 | 12 comments

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 over 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?

READ: Troutbitten | Streamer Presentations — The Deadly Slow Slide

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, because that wouldn’t make any sense.

But that’s exactly what we are told to do with a streamer.

READ: Troutbitten | Modern Streamers. Too Much Motion ? Are We Moving Them Too Fast?

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?

The Rig

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.

Troutbitten | Category | The Mono Rig

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

24 feet — 20 lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet —12 lb Maxima HV
12” — 12lb Red Amnesia or 12 lb Sufix Neon Fire
12” — 10lb Gold Stren (Backing Barrel with tag, attached here)
Tippet Ring (1.5 or 2mm)
4-6 feet — 2X fluorocarbon tippet

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.

The Dance

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 the 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.

READ MORE : Troutbitten | Category | Streamers

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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. Hey Dom! Another great article. Although the fishing was slow, I still think about the moments we spent on the water — learning, adapting, and enjoying the craft. I’ve employed the tactics learned with added success. I look forward to the day when we can fish together, again — learning, adapting, and enjoying the craft.

  2. So this is my first time to comment on the Troutbitten page, although I have read SO MANY of your articles – and to be honest, your perspectives and tactics have changed the game for me. And Lord I thank you for it ;). Like yourself, I grew up throwing a spinning rod armed with a jig, rooster tail, rapala, etc., or some sort of bait chasing anything that swam. It wasnt until I was 14 that I picked up a fly rod for the first time and started tying my own not long after. But as you mentioned it was excellent training. I started fishing a cheap variation of your mono rig about a year ago – spooled a reel with only backing and 20lb. Big Game, and using an umpqua indicator leader. It was quite crude. And not very sensitive. But I caught everything from trout, bass, hybrid, and even walleye on it. But I knew it wasn’t right. It lacked the handling and contact I had read about. A few months ago I invested in the several spools of maxima and amnesia needed to build one proper. And then I kicked myself in the ass for not doing it sooner. With all that said, I am a streamer fisherman by nature. Ive really had to work at (taking the time) learning to nymph. So I naturally lean more on my streamers. And this tactic works superbly not only for trout, but I’m quite certain anything that’ll eat a fly. Thank you Dom for your knowledge and your willingness to share it. I caught a 20.5″ Brown, and nearly 20″ rainbow along with a bunch of their cousins, with the Mono Rig and some streamers a couple days ago. Tis the season 🙂

  3. Hey Dom, When i read the last part of this article i think about Drop shot for bass Where u cast and keep your line off the water and just jig the top of the rod a little bit just to get the fly moving Great Article!

  4. Great article again Dom!
    I’ve been fine tuning the Mono rig system you taught me for steelhead. Only out a few times this season but broke through the day before Thanksgiving and caught a nice 7 pounder on the system. I feel you would have been proud of me as I worked up through 1/3 mile of water working every pocket, crevice, or tail along the way. It seemed a perfect day starting at 230pm with cloudy skies threatening to rain. Water visibility was only 14 inches or so and I kept working it until I got up to a slower pool. Only a handful of casts from the tailout I hooked and landed the female about 12 miles above the lake.

    I kind of am lamenting my loss of time swinging streamers with a sink tip, but I am more confident in the Mono system. I need to know, are you swinging your streamers at the last third of your drifts? or do most of the dances end up in front of your feet? I believe I can still swing a few after dancing through the holding areas even in the cold water.

    I also wonder what effects temperature of water has on the dance you use? I’m thinking I have to minimize a dance under 39 deg. F. Our rivers are already staying down below this.
    Thank you,

    • Hey buddy,

      Glad to hear you’re having fun with it.

      To answer your question, I do most of my work with the streamer upstream of my position. But there’s still plenty to do once it passes my position. That’s a great place for head flips and such things. Once the streamer is well below my position, it starts to swing. And honestly, I do very little work on the swing. These trout don’t eat it often enough, so it feels like a waste of time. Trout will look at a swinging fly plenty of times, but they so rarely eat it, because it’s not a natural look — it’s an attractive type of look. (Again, these are experiences over the trout in my range.)

      Regarding the temp effect: we can do tight line dances at any speed and any depth. So if you feel like the trout need it lower and slower, this is a great tactic.

      Make sense?

      • Yes that is what I’m thinking, a head flip when downstream of me, then I reset the line for a swing. I know you are right about trout looking at swinging flies but not eating as often. I’m trying to turn those looks into eats and more fish on the line. I would think your wild trout eat more naturally than these stocked steelhead who are guests in the river looking for other activities.

        Definately lower and slower during the Winter for me. In the slower water, are there any streamers you think have an advantage? I use Zonker types often and some sculpen patterns. Most of my sculpens are tied to swing though.


        • Hi Richard. My streamer selection doesn’t change much for seasons. I use a lot of Bunny Bullets, Half Pints, Full Pints, Craft Fur Jiggy, and River Rats.


  5. Maybe I’m just dense but I am trying to reconcile how one can make a 40 foot cast with an 11 foot rod and not have line on the water. I realize it won’t be fly line on the water but the mono rig will be on the water. Or maybe I’m missing something. Someone please enlighten me. Thanks

    • Hi Pete. Good stuff that you’re thinking through. I sense that you may not have tried it yet. I don’t use an 11 footer, usually 10. But yes, you can definitely stick the landing at forty feet. Gotta have good turnover and keep the rod tip up. Now, there will be tension from the leader when the streamer hits, but that’s okay on a streamer. That would not be good on a nymph, though.

      Anyway, give it a try. Get that good turnover. I show this to my guests every day on the water. Stick the landing at distance. Land with contact. It’s even more important in skinny water.

      Hope that helps.

      • Hi Dom,

        Guilty as charged! I haven’t tried it yet. I was just trying to imagine in my mind what it would look like. I was hoping to get with you this year so you could enlighten me about fishing streamers on the mono rig. But life conspired against that.

        Anyway, thanks for the explanation. What you said makes sense (as usual).

        Thanks again for Troutbitten. Such an excellent resource!



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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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