If you follow me on Instagram then you know that I love to fish for big brown trout in small water with streamers. However, many of my followers make the mistake of thinking that streamer fishing is the only method I use. I will do anything to catch trout, whether that means throwing a dry, a nymph, euro nymphing, or a streamer. I just happen to love streamers the most.
Surprisingly, streamer fishing has taught me a lot about the importance of fly presentation. It is easy to think of streamer fishing as one of the more mindless types of fly fishing. I get it, to the uninformed observer a streamer angler is simply casting out, retrieving the fly, covering a lot of water, and waiting for a follow or a take. Streamer fishing can certainly be exactly that if there is no thought or purpose behind the actions being taken by the angler.
Streamer fishing from a drift boat is anything but a thoughtless process. The streamer is selected based on its size, coloration, and movement. As soon as a cast has been sent out, the angler should consider where their fly is traveling as they retrieve, its appearance in the water, and the structure you are passing the fly through, as well as the speed of your retrieval. While all of this is taking place during the cast/retrieve the angler must be watching downstream for the next area they are going to target on the next cast. It is a lot going on at once.
Streamer fishing while wading smaller water is similar but on a slower scale. You can be more deliberate with what you are doing and take the time to ensure your streamer is presented in exactly the way you want.
How the streamer is presented to fish is what makes them strike, more so than the color or size of the fly. If the retrieve is too fast, or too slow the fish will not eat. If the streamer does not achieve proper depth or pass through structure that serves as an ambush area for the fish they will not eat. However, if the streamer is passing through structure at the right pace with a retrieve that makes it appear injured or fleeing you are much more likely to hook up with a giant. Just like with traditional nymphs or dry flies, the presentation of a streamer will get you more eats than if your streamer perfectly matches the bait fish in the water.
Trout feed mostly due to opportunity and convenience, especially when it comes to streamer fishing because it is a high risk, high reward situation for the trout. They can potentially gain a lot of calories for a bit more effort, however if they miss the streamer they have expended more energy and gained none in return. As such, you need to present the streamer in such a way and in such a place that it makes the trout take that caloric risk. Presentation is key.
Ben Wayne is Highland Outfitters’ fly shop manager and wildwater guru. He specializes in seeking out big, wild brown trout in back country streams in the Appalachian Mountains. With his background in biology and education, he has a wealth of knowledge on the water and in the shop.