By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
“The tug is the drug.” “Streamer addict.” “Streamer junkie.” “Strip it and rip it.”
Sounding more like lines spoken by pro fishermen on the bass circuit, the list of catchy euphemisms streamer anglers use is lengthy.
Fortunately, late fall is when streamer anglers are less trivial and more mainstream. And this fall they should bear the fruits of their addiction because with our low water, this streamer season looks to be one of the best in years.
This is the first column in a two-part series to help you better understand streamer fishing. Here I’ll describe the basics and in the next edition of EBS I’ll cover a few deadly retrieves, five of our local favorites, and more.
Get the terminology correct. “Fishing streamers” means to fish large flies by casting and retrieving them back, dead-drifting them, or dragging them in the current. The roots of the term come from Atlantic salmon angling, because the patterns used were called streamers. However, in Western fly-fishing circles streamers refer to baitfish or crayfish patterns, including Wooly Buggers, sculpins, crayfish, minnows, and anything large that swims in a river or lake.
Change your mindset. If you’re going to be a committed streamer angler, and one day hope to be a self-proclaimed “streamer junkie,” you need to accept quality over quantity. This means fishing all day and catching only one fish – but it might be a trophy. Or you sacrifice catching anything at all for the excitement of seeing a trout ambush your 4-inch-long fly, only to miss the hook and leave your heart racing from another near-catch. If you don’t believe missing fish is as fun as catching them, streamers may not be for you.
Learn to double haul. This advanced cast is crucial to success in the streamer game. It adds distance and line speed to your cast, which makes fishing heavyweight flies easier. A casting “haul” is when you pull on the fly line with your line hand, doubling your ability to load the rod. Being able to air it out 50 or 60 feet can be effective by covering a lot of water. Learning it takes discipline and practice – like a short game in golf. Book a casting lesson, read Lefty Kreh’s “Modern Fly-Casting Methods,” or YouTube your way to success.
Adjust your gear arsenal. Longer, heavier rods make casting big flies easier. A streamer fiend will typically use 6- and 7-weight rods in lengths of 9 feet 6 inches and 10 feet. The heavy artillery is ideal for larger rivers such as the Yellowstone and Madison. For small waters like the Gallatin River and its forks, 5-weight rods will suffice but consider 9-foot and 9 foot-6-inch rods. For lakes and larger rivers you’ll need sinking or sink-tip fly lines.
Weight for it … When fishing streamers, be at the right depth and get the flies there quickly. A weighted streamer enables you to effectively cover more water because you’re not waiting for the fly to sink. I prefer to have weight tied into the body of the flies and have each pattern in several different weights. Generally, three weight combinations will do: minimal and medium weight, as well as cannonball style.
Whether you sink or swim in the streamer game depends on your dedication. Junkies don’t become junkies overnight – it’s a slow, gradual process and you don’t typically know you’re there until you fish all day and catch one fish; but it’s a big one, and that’s when a new recruit is ordained.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and Pat operates the Montana Fishing Guide School and the Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School.