The Tracer Streamer Concept

by | Dec 31, 2023 | 19 comments

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Stop Trying to See Your Streamer

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 . . .

Shenk’s White Minnow variant — a favorite tracer.

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Tags and Trailers

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.

River Rat — another favorite tracer

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.

READ MORE : Troutbitten | Category | Streamers

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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19 Comments

  1. “And that’s just fun”

    Reply
  2. Hi Dom. Can you talk about the rig you are using for 2 streamers? Floating line, mono rig, sinking line (not likely)? Thanjs

    Reply
    • Hi Burt. I would say that for this tracer concept, it doesn’t matter. You can run any rig you like, then just tie a tracer a couple feet up the leader.

      I fish streamers with a few different rigs. And if you’re looking for more streamer articles, check out the Streamer Category, linked below the article titled on this page, or follow some of the articles featured just above this comments section.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • Dom. Looking forward to trying this. I find many video versions of the Shenk’s, but none of the River Rat that look remotely like your picture. Just read that you don’t have a link. I’d be tempted to try a #10 jig hook, marabou tail, very sparse Senyo’s White Laser dub, white SH collar, red hot spot; gold bead. Close?
        Thanks. Ron

        Reply
        • Hi Ron,

          Yeah, it’s simpler than that. What you said is good too, I’m sure. But the River Rat is not on a jig hook but a scud hook, tungsten bead, then a long marabou tail, cactus chenille and a couple turns of hackle at the head. I usually finish with a red collar.

          Cheers.
          Dom

          Reply
  3. Hi Dom,
    Can you provide any links to tying the streamers you mentioned?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Gene. I don’t have any links to those flies. They are just old favorites of mine. The Shenk’s White Minnow is a common old school pattern. I just tie it with cream colored rabbit dubbing. The River Rat is just marabou, palmered cactus chenille, and two turns of hackle behind the bead.

      I will mention, though, specific pattern is not important here. Just so the pattern is visible and has the qualities mentioned in the article above.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • I want to tie that river rat!! Looks sharp

        Reply
  4. Dom, I use the same setup as you do and I catch a lot of fish. As far as I’m concerned there is no good argument for someone not fishing a two-streamer pattern unless they can’t cast a two-fly system. Chubs, minnows, and other bait fish run in schools so the idea of an additional streamer scaring a trout is erroneous. I will admit that trout can be more difficult to catch during times of low water. There are many reasons for that but it is not because you are fishing two streamers. In fact, two streamers just might be what it takes to get a look. Fish eating is predicated on the movement of food items and a school of streamers might be the ticket for a few takes.

    Reply
  5. This is a great post. I have an ongoing score to settle in a Sierra Nevada impoundment where every now and then the trout will take a fly while it’s on the sink. This is really easy to forget and it is also very difficult to feel the take since most of the time one is making hero casts and there’s a mile of line between you and the fly for quite some time. Added factor: given that it is not unusual to be at an elevated position so one can look deeper into the water thus a bright streamer configuration like what you suggest might help a lot. I tend to shy away from dual fly configurations but that’s simply a factor of how I like to fish. I have missed a few too many monsters in the lake and what you propose might help. I would probably modify the rig, in this instance, to have a greater distance between the two flies. Thanks for your consistently inspiring blog.

    Reply
  6. How often do you hook two fish at the same time with a double streamer? I’ve had it happen a couple of times, and usually (but not always) the tag fly breaks off when the fish go different directions.

    Reply
  7. Very good article and information. Thank you

    Reply
  8. I have tried a rig similar to this in the past with wooly buggers and had issues with the flies spinning around the line causing twists in the tippet/leader. Maybe something I was doing wrong? I have been using micro-swivels and tying about 2 feet of tippet to the trailing fly to the micro barrel swivel and leaving about a 6″ tag end that I tie the top fly to. This seems to be working fairly well. Any fixes you have with line twist fishing with this rig or other suggestions on preventing it?

    Reply
    • Hi Josh,
      This is why fishing is kinda complicated. I have never had any twisting problem with any tag dropper ever. So let’s figure out why you have.

      Honestly, I suspect that what you are seeing and calling spinning is not a problem. A tag dropper spins one way and wraps around the mainline a bit, then it spins the other way and unwraps. I have a lot of people tell me it’s twisting on them. But that’s not a problem. It’s expected. And as long as it’s not knotting up, it is no issue at all. Spin and un-spin. That’s what it does.

      Also, do not use thin tippets for streamers. I never use less than 4X and MUCH more commonly I use 2X an larger. Thin tippets are the only reason I can think of for actual twisting.

      Lastly, I really don’t like hardware on the tippet section. There is no need for a swivel, no matter how small, and it only hurts the presentation. It also takes too much time to rig. I don’t even like micro tippet rings on the tippet end.

      https://troutbitten.com/2018/03/21/fly-fishing-strategies-tippet-rings-for-tag-droppers-no-thanks/

      Reply
  9. You just answered my question. I was thinking of using a micro tippet ring and getting back to a weighted soft hackle on the tag dropper. I am fishing mostly steelhead now on Erie and I do lose some fish using the tippet rings. But I break off almost as many on the tag to main line. I’m going to beef up the tippet to 2x and 3x like you mention. The 4x just seems to break too often.

    Rick

    Reply
  10. This is a great idea to try on my Michigan smallmouth rivers. Shenk’s white minnow one of my fav smallmouth flies. Of course two smallies on at once could get crazy! Fun.

    Reply

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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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