In this Streamer Presentations series, the focus is on how a streamer can move. Instead of starting with the gear first — with flies, leaders and lines — the chapters in this series consider the movements of a streamer. The equipment necessary to achieve those movements is secondary.
Streamers must sell life with motion, but dry flies and nymphs are laser-focused on achieving one look — the dead drift. So a winning pitch on a streamer can happen with a host of leaders, lines and casting styles. Think about how the streamer should move, then use the tools in your hands to make it happen.
That said, some looks to the streamer — some motions — are better accomplished with certain rigs. So good anglers recognize the strengths of their tools and accommodate for the deficiencies.
Standing forty feet from the undercut, I was up to my waist in big current. I was about to cast across a fast lane and pitch a Half Pint into the shady, soft stall formed by a wet log stuck at the head of a stone, just a foot off the undercut. It was the kind of spot that forces you to focus and shoot your best cast first.
I lined it up and dumped a set up cast about fifteen feet below my target. With no intention to do anything with that cast, I picked it up immediately, and a golden brown swirled.
I allowed my backcast to finish without a complementary forward cast, so my Half Pint dangled somewhere behind me, as I stared at the shade line and a lost opportunity.
That set up cast was just there to gauge my distance — meant to be a quick water load into a powerful backcast and a proper delivery into the prime lie behind the log and stone, and I wasn’t ready for that hit.
Knowing the low odds of a second strike from any wild brown trout, I surrendered to fate. A flicked the Half Pint forward into the main current for the set up cast this time. Then I quickly moved into my backcast, shooting it up toward the horizon, and I delivered toward what I expected to be the prime spot of the day.
Land with contact, I thought.
But I didn’t. The turnover got a little pushy, and my Pint tucked in with more slack than I expected.
Like his little brother from fifteen feet downstream, the trout-holding-where-he-should-be lunged for my fly almost before it hit the river — a pure reaction strike. Too much slack to pick up and the unbeatable instincts of a trout that knew it had made a mistake allowed the fish to eject my fly. He ate it. I missed it.
Shaking my head, I regrouped and waded upstream against the flow, carefully picking the best lies on the northern bank. Corrections in my approach and my cast helped seal the deal on a handful of fish, but the biggest trout behind the log and stone got the best of me.
Your First Move
Where do you want the fly to go when it lands? Will you hold the fly static in the column or let it fall before the first motion? Will you strip or twitch? Fast or slow? And do you want the streamer’s head angled upstream or down? These are the questions to consider for your first move.
That first motion is set up by a prior decision about how the fly will land. Good casting always precedes an intentional first move. And that’s the key — make a cast that sets the fly in a position to make the move you’ve intended. Don’t just throw a streamer to the bank and hope something happens. Make a plan, make the cast and follow through. Then, if it doesn’t work after a few repetitions and a few more spots, reform your plans.
Let’s think about those moves again . . .
Static or Sinking?
When my Half Pint hit that shady undercut, I should have landed with contact and held the fly for a moment. I surely would have had a better shot at the best fish of the day.
Landing with clean contact might get better hookups from aggressive trout on a reaction strike, but contact doesn’t allow the fly to fall as fast either.
There’s no right answer or single solution here. Like so many decision we make on the water, it’s a trade off. I’ll often surrender a better hookup percentage to the infrequent reaction strikes to throw a tuck cast on the streamer. By pushing the fly into the water and following it with a little slack, I get it down quicker, when necessary.
Situations dictate the solution here. Landing with contact may be better in skinny water or on days when multiple trout have shown the tendency to strike fast. But in deeper water, or in slots bordered by faster currents, a forceful entry and a bit of slack for the streamer to fall quickly might be the better choice.
Rig selection matters here. Both a sinking line or a floating line can deliver a tuck and some slack, but holding a fly static upon entry is problematic when adjacent currents cut through a fly line and form a belly, quickly moving the fly off target.
Not long ago, I watched my good friend, Bill Dell, deliver a unique streamer that he calls the Grinch. He cast far across multiple currents and plopped the four-inch fly into a soft slot — the last current against the bank. On many days, that narrow strip is the prime holding zone for big trout, but most presentations spend very little time there. Instead, anglers strip flies out of the zone immediately, or they are forced to surrender to the belly that forms and moves the fly out of the soft bank lane.
But Bill was fishing a tight line rig, a leader very close to what we call a Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig. I watched his Grinch sail over the fast currents and land perfectly, mere inches off the bank. Bill kept the rod tip elevated, and his line never touched the water. The Grinch, designed specifically for this task, hovered on a tight line, attached forty feet away to the rod tip, and it held in place, suspended by minor tension. Two seconds passed. Tick, tick . . . and just before the Grinch slid into a faster current, Bill dropped the rod tip six inches and then twitched it back up. That subtle motion, just before the Grinch escaped into the current, was more than the invisible trout could take. He revealed himself from water that barely covered his back and pounced on Bill’s streamer.
A few whoops and hollers later, Bill’s Whiskey made it to the net.
The ability to pause a streamer is not wholly unique to a Mono Rig approach. But the drama you can perform with, the extremes that a long pause can take are definitely worth a thought. With a sinking or floating line, the streamer must essentially follow the end of the fly line in the water. But on a Mono Rig, at close to medium range, the streamer follows the rod tip. And if that rod tip remains elevated, with minimal line in the water, the streamer can pause in the current, even on an upstream or across presentation.
Strip or Twitch? Fast or Slow
Trout don’t miss much in their field of vision, and they surely notice anything the size of a streamer landing in their zone. Therefore, what that fly does next either entices, dissuades or spooks the fish.
The first move matters most. Believe it.
Decide before the cast whether to strip or twitch, whether to move the fly a few feet or mere inches. Do this with intention. Following through with the plan.
Speed of the strip matters too. How fast or slow is that first strip? How much acceleration is present in that first twitch? All of it matters.
Oftentimes a slow strip, just after entry, helps to gain quick control without moving the fly much. It’s a good way to be ready for a strike but not move the streamer off the targeted structure.
I’m constantly aware of the head angle of my streamer. Most often, I like the head faced downstream and across, and I might vary that with head flips or by manipulating the belly of the line and leader.
Instead of just casting a fly in the water, I think of landing a streamer with a specific head position. And most often that head is oriented in the direction of the first motion I’m planning for.
Plan For It
The first move matters most. Streamer anglers will tell you that most of their hits happen within the first few seconds or strips. Trout see the fly enter, and their decision whether to attack, chase or ignore your fly is often determined by your first move after entry.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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