Sometimes, two is better than one. Fishing a second streamer is nothing new, but it’s a habit I picked up early. When I had no experience upon which to base my own decision, I did what I was told. I did what I read in the magazines and in the few books I had. As a teenager who was searching for answers, I needed flies and fishing strategies I could believe in.
I continued fishing two streamers off and on throughout the next few decades, always experimenting, always theorizing. And I’ve fished for the last three years with one streamer rigged far more often than two. Maybe it was the low water. Maybe it was the strong, confident argument against fishing two streamers by a couple of my friends whom I trusted the most. (More on that below.)
If you’re around the fly fishing game long enough, you notice that most good ideas come back around. And just a few months ago, as the leaves died off and dropped in the rivers, I optimistically turned to streamers as a first option on many days. Streamers remain a good choice throughout the winter here, and I’ve been tying two extra knots to attach a second streamer more than ever right now.
Two produces better than one.
But getting the most of a two-streamer system requires a little forethought. I do this two ways. Once in a while, I trail something smaller behind a larger streamer, but far more often, I use what I call a tracer streamer on the line, above my main fly and a little higher in the column. Here’s why . . .
When, Where, Why?
I enjoy fishing streamers twice as much when I can see the fly. I think everyone does. But watching your fly and tracking its response to your animations with the rod tip and strips with the line hand is addictive. We love seeing our fly so much that we often don’t let it drop out of sight and get deep enough. And there are many days when trout won’t move up high enough in the column to grab a fly.
So we fish streamers deeper, or we fish olives and browns, and we give up that pleasure of watching our streamer, trading it in for a deeper delivery that meets the trout more agreeably.
But we can easily get the sight back, and recoup the rewards of watching a long fly, by adding a tracer streamer.
Choose a small, visible streamer (more on that below), and rig it a couple feet above your point fly. Then get back to casting — and watching — your streamer game.
Trout hit the upper fly often enough. Sometimes it gets more action than the main fly, and that itself teaches us something. That upper fly gathers more data for the day and helps us make the next adjustment.
Two produces more than one . . . sometimes
Which One is the Boss?
Whether fishing two nymphs, dries, wets or streamers, one of my flies is the primary and the other is along for the ride. That’s how I think about it.
The tracer streamer, in this case, is secondary. The main fly — the point fly is the boss in this system.
The point fly is the one I cast to the target — aiming most often just inches from the nearest structure. The point fly is the one I change for color, for size, for weight or swimming type. The point fly is primary because it’s the one I’m focused on getting trout to eat.
And yet, the tracer streamer is the fly that I focus on with my eyes. By watching the tracer, I know what the point is doing. I know where it is and how it’s moving, all because I know how it’s rigged . . .
Rigging the Tracer
I believe strongly in tags over trailers for the tracer. Instead of going inline — coming back out of the eye or off the bend — take the extra moments to create a tag for the tracer. Keep the tag between two to four inches.
A fly on a tag has far more freedom to move than a fly tied inline. And because movement is especially important on a streamer, a tracer on a tag attracts more trout.
The short tag permits movement, but it still provides a reliable reference to where the primary streamer is — two feet away.
Those twenty-four inches is my standard distance between point and tracer. And I need a good reason to deviate from that preference. In the deepest water, I rig my tracer higher (up to three feet from the point), simply so I can still see it in the column while my point fly rides low.
A Good Tracer
Keep the tracer slim so it doesn’t grab much current. A bulky, heavily hackled bugger style is a poor choice here, because with so much material resistance, the upper fly can be pushed and pulled by the currents so much that, suddenly, the upper fly is the boss instead of the point fly.
Likewise, a good tracer doesn’t weigh much. It should hang in the column nicely and stay in sight, doing its job by providing a reference. I do prefer a little weight built in, so I commonly use about ten turns of .030 lead or even up to as large as a 3.5mm tungsten bead. But that’s about my limit.
Usually, small and light wins, with a tracer.
White is the most visible color in the water that still gains a ton of good eats. Yellow and chartreuse are fine options, if you have trout that will commit to them. Black or tan are also good colors for a tracer in the right conditions. Choose whatever you can see and what the trout will eat with confidence.
I fish with a white tracer most often. Not only do I see it best, the trout seem to agree the most. I believe it looks natural to a trout because the bellies of most baitfish are white or very light in color. Dead and dying baitfish also lose their color at the end. Does all of that really matter? It might. Most of my tracers are white.
Point and Counterpoint
I like fishing a tracer streamer because I can see it, and it provides a great reference for what my unseen point fly is doing.
“Yeah, but the trout can see it too. And they might get confused about which one they want to eat.
“Yeah, but two flies hitting the water can spook fish in low water, or even in the shallow or soft stuff at regular river flows.
These are good arguments. And these are the counter thoughts that have caused me to rig up without a tracer over the years. I really don’t think trout are confused by two streamers coming through the water, but it might be too much for them. Yes, especially in low and clear water. But in high water? Two flies gain more attention. There’s also a commonly held belief that the rig looks like a larger fish chasing a smaller one — and here comes the trout as just a bigger part of that food chain.
Regardless of why it works or what trout think, the tracer concept works for streamers, not only by giving trout a second option but (more importantly) by giving the angler a perfect reference to the main fly. The visible tracer keeps that visual excitement in the streamer game. And that’s just fun.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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