Streamer Anglers — Be Like the Drift Boat

by | Feb 15, 2023 | 13 comments

You can’t change a trout’s mind by showing him a streamer five times. If a trout doesn’t take the streamer on the first cast, he’s probably not going to eat at all, so streamer fishing is best when you show the fly to hundreds of fish every hour. It’s a different game than picking off rising trout in a pool or tactically nymphing a stretch of pocket water. You must keep moving to find fish willing to eat a bigger meal.

Fishing streamers from a drift boat forces that constant motion. Like a shooting gallery at the carnival, one target after another comes into view. You get one or two shots at every approaching logjam or undercut, and then it’s gone. So you line up the next shadowy pocket and fire away.

The best streamer anglers do the same while wading. They keep moving to cover new water and find new fish with every cast.

Walking upstream all day is exhausting, so it’s better to wade with the current rather than fight against it. Wade downstream, and you can keep moving for hours at a time. Some anglers walk downstream and cast streamers ahead of them, down and across. But the better presentation, and one that often brings more trout to the net, is up and across. Wade down, and fish up.

Keep Moving

On a cloudy Monday morning, Bill Dell and I finished our coffee, pulled on the waders and split up. Bill hiked upstream, and I walked the trail downstream, through the woods. We planned to meet in the middle, but a couple hours later Bill rounded the stream-bend a hundred yards ahead of me. He glided down through the rolling water without pause, one foot in front of the other. He was moving fast, and he had covered much more water than I did in those two hours.

When Bill looked up, I stretched my arms wide and shrugged my shoulders with an exaggerated motion, communicating across the distance with the fisherman’s universal sign for, “I didn’t catch many fish.”

Bill responded with a big thumbs up just as another trout yanked on his fly rod. Thirty seconds later, Bill used his thumbs-up hand to hoist a fat wild brown trout in my direction. He added an overstated head nod, just for style. My friend was too far away to be sure, but I had a hunch he was also flashing a wry, told-you-so grin.


Good streamer anglers play the odds. More hookups happen when more fish see the fly. That’s a simple way (and the only way) to stack the deck with the long flies.

Not every fish in the river is a streamer eater. In fact, most aren’t, and that will not change. So the surest bet is to cover water quickly, from one prime spot to the next, and deal out as many casts as possible. It requires constant motion.

READ: Troutbitten | Streamer Presentations — The Head Flip

Photo by Josh Darling

Wade Down | Cast Up

Upstream presentations make the head of the streamer face downstream. And that’s a good thing. Streamers moving with the flow rather than against it appear more natural. Baitfish don’t hang out facing strong currents for very long. They don’t have the strength for that. So they either shuffle close to the bottom or move with the currents to relocate.

Kelly Galloup’s jerk-strip is based on this principle. A fleeing fish uses the current to help it escape with the flow. The jerk-strip gets the head of the fly pointing down and across.

Whether the fly is stripped or gently guided through the drift, keeping the streamer-head angled downstream results in more hookups.

Position yourself in the middle of the river. Pick the best bank and turn to face it, standing sideways in the current. Cast up and across, landing the fly close to the best structure you can find. Keep the rod tip ahead of the fly, and now guide it or strip it back downstream past your position. Vary the speed and depth of the retrieve until the trout show a preference.

Perfect. But here’s the key: Instead of standing in place, be like the drift boat.

Keep stepping downstream throughout the retrieve. You don’t have to plow or splash through the water. Just keep stepping, shuffling and moving, so at the end of each cast and retrieve, there’s a new target in front of you.

Better yet, if the river is small enough, place your back to the current and face downstream as you walk. Pivot your body to cast up and across, then alternate casts to both banks, choosing only the best structures from each side while you keep moving.

Remember to keep the rod tip tracking ahead (downstream) of the line and the fly.

You can use long or short leaders, large or small streamers, floating or sinking lines. Whatever rig you choose, just keep moving. Wade down and fish up.

Be like the drift boat.

READ: Troutbitten | Streamer Presentations — Quick or Smooth

Photo by Josh Darling

What Rivers?

This works best on small to medium sized rivers that you can wade easily. If the river is large, and the center is too deep or swift, then wade out as far as possible and fish back to the bank.

If the river is even larger, wade downstream through the shallow bank water and cast up and across toward the middle of the river — yes, you’ll wade through some productive water this way, but plenty of fish are found 10, 20, or 40 feet off the bank too, mixed in with the structure. Look for pockets, current breaks, slots and depth changes, and treat those as your prime targets. Be sure to shoot a couple casts into the bank water ahead of you before wading through it, because you never know what kind of heads you might turn.

The Benefit of Movement

I like to spend hours fishing nymphs or dry flies upstream through long stretches of water, then I turn around to fish streamers back down through. It feels good to move quickly again, and on the second pass I know some of the river’s secrets. I know the best buckets where trout hold, the current speeds, and just how deep the logjam goes before tangly branches grab the fly. I remember where I’ve missed a fish or spooked others. I know the water, so I fish it again. And sometimes, the success is startling.

Keep moving. That’s the key to streamer fishing. And moving downstream with the currents makes it possible for hours at a time.

Don’t hesitate to cherry pick the best spots, either. If the river has long stretches of featureless water then walk past them. Move to the next riffle. When you find a pattern — when you start to understand where the fish are located and what retrieve they’re responding to — move to those areas and fish that retrieve.

Lastly, move fast to keep streamer fishing productive and to find a rhythm. Make it a rule to give each target one shot, and then aim for the next.

Keep moving, and be like the drift boat. You can cover miles of water in one day, if you take a hike through the water.

In your travels, you may find dozens of willing fish.

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. Dom,

    Great article. I am going to put this into practice Saturday morning.

  2. “Be like the driftboat” or maybe “be like the jetboat”…unlike a driftboat the downstream-wading streamer slinger can hop out of the stream or river (unless closed out by a canyon—it happens) walk upstream a ways on shore, and then hop back in to repeat the “drift” through a segment.
    Why do this? A big swirl, a fish seen but not hooked, in other words, the usual motivation.
    Nice article!

  3. Dom,
    This is game changing to cast the streamer up and across for a more natural downstream presentation. But it isn’t clear to me if you are describing working your way downstream or upstream as you progress through the run.

    • Hi there. Wade down, fish up.. Use the river to help keep you moving. Wade with the current instead of fighting against it. Use the river to your advantage. Be like the drift boat that drifts down the river.

      • I originally thought “Wade down, fish up” meant wade down to the bottom of the run (without fishing) then fish your way back up to the top of the run.

        “Wade down, fish up” means work your way downstream as you cast upstream to work the fly. Yes?!

        • Yes. I feel like the concept is encapsulated by the title. Be like the drift boat.

      • Dom,

        Thanks for another great streamer article!

        I use this technique 80% of my wading streamer fishing and it really enables me to keep good control of the streamers action and feel/see when the trout takes the streamer due to no slack in the line as I am constantly moving in the direction of the current.

        Like you said, it also a great workout! I take my lunch with me and will cover at least 8 – 9 miles in a day of fishing.

  4. I like how this rolled out of the latest winter podcast. I had read this just prior to being able to listen to the end of the podcast. Great stuff and I’m going to try this shortly.

  5. Super article, Dom. One question about your suggestion to “shoot a couple casts into the bank water ahead of you before wading”? What type of retrieve do you find useful for bank testing? A slow strip upstream near the bank for a few feet, maybe with extra slack in your hand? Swing the fly toward and away from the bank for a few feet. A short downstream drift and jig or jerk motion (not really sure what that means, but maybe you get the idea)? If you saw a fish directly downstream, what would you try first? Cheers, Toney

  6. Yes completely agree been fishing streamers this way for 16 years after taking a Kelly G seminar. Have had 40 plus fish days on madison and gallatin rivers walk wade streamer fishing. Casting downstream then big downstream mend gives you same presentation with a nice slow walk downstream you can cover miles in a day.
    Thank you.

  7. Hey Dom,

    Great article. I certainly see many benefits to wading downstream and casting up while working streamers. My one hesitation/concern with this technique would be the fear of spooking trout before I am able to get my streamer to them. Is this a fear that you would have as well? Maybe I am being a bit too concerned. Just interested to hear your thoughts.

    • Sure thing. So everything in fishing is conditional, right? Yes, you need a river large enough to make this work. Can’t do this on a twenty foot wide stream. But forty feet? Sure, if it lays out right? Spooking trout is always the FIRST consideration, because no one every caught a scared trout.



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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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