5 Tips to Improve Your Streamer Game

I had a pretty busy year. A few months ago I published a smallmouth book that I co-wrote with my friend and bass guru, Tim Landwehr. Smallmouth: Modern Tactics, Tips and Techniques is chock full of bass knowledge from today’s best Micropterus minds (if you fish bass or know someone who does, do yourself a favor and check it out). Then last month I published another book, one that puts all of the fishing information I’ve gleaned over the past 30+ years into one place. “From Lure to Fly: Fly Fishing for Spinning and Baitcast Anglers” is a multi-species tome full of photos from my fishing travels around the globe. I wrote it with one goal in mind: to shorten the time between the moment anyone picks up a fly rod and the moment it’s bent to the cork beneath the weight of a good fish. You might live near the great striper reservoirs of the mid-Atlantic, the smallmouth bass streams of the rural Midwest, the brown trout superhighways of Arkansas, or the muskie havens of Minnesota. Maybe you swing spoons for anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest or like to soak a ball of corn for carp. Whatever your favorite fish or fishery, the information in this book will help you learn to fish it with a fly rod.

Since you’re invariably reading these on a glowing screen, you might be wondering: “Why buy a fly fishing book on in the age of the Internet?” I’ll put it simply: the very thing that makes the web such a great resource for very experienced anglers—the abundance of highly technical information, the broad range of perspectives, the sprawling debate over which piece of gear or which presentation strategy is most effective for a given situation—is exactly what makes it a poor first encounter for those just getting started. That‘s because the one thing a beginner of any enterprise lacks, be it skiing or cooking or fly fishing, is the ability to stitch disparate pieces of information together into a coherent practice. It’s the difference between throwing a few stepping stones at random into a river and hoping they end up close enough to lead you across, and building a sturdy bridge that allows you to get from point A to point B and beyond. As someone who spent his own early years of fly fishing with only the most jerry-rigged understanding of the sport, I can assure you that there is a better way. From Lure to Fly is my best attempt to show that way, to build that bridge.

This book does come with a warning, however: You will end up fishing more. More creatively, more attentively, more persuasively. And if you’re doing any fishing right now during late fall, you’re most likely trying to persuade brown trout to eat a streamer. If that’s the case, here are a few tips from the book to help you improve your fall and winter streamer game.

1. Fish the Fly
One of my favorite quotes about streamer fishing comes from the Godfather of the game, Kelly Galloup. “Hunt the fly, don’t hope the fly” is Kelly’s maxim, and nothing could be truer. One of the fascinating things about streamer fishing is how the attitude of the angler gets telegraphed into the stripped fly. An angler deep in a daydreaming stupor will transmit that same sense of stupor over to the fly, which is a terrific waste of all the potential action modern trout streamers bring to the table. Remember that large trout are top predators in their system. This means they eat the moment they get hungry, and so our odds of finding them with an empty belly are rather slim. With our retrieves we are essentially trying to make a hard sell to our quarry: I know you’re not looking for a meal right this moment, but how can you resist this? Which brings me to my second point.

2. Pay Attention to How Your Fly Swims
The best tiers take pains to put out a dependable product by sourcing uniform ingredients and applying them with machine-like consistency. But true uniformity is impossible when we’re dealing with fibers from the natural world. Take a look at a rabbit strip and you’ll see that the hide thickens and thins even within the same piece of skin. Schlappen stems, likewise, vary in stiffness even on the same bunch. Deer-hair fibers are thicker on this hide than the other. In short, not all flies are created equal, and sometimes the only way to tell is to tie one on and play with it in the water. Don’t be afraid to dispense with flies that don’t swim right, even if they’re fresh out of the box. It’s been my experience that of any dozen streamers, some will swim great, some will swim just ok, and one or two should be gifted to known low-holers.

3. Make Fewer Casts
When we’re covering many river miles and looking for those few angry fish with chips on their shoulders, it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that the more casts you make, the better off you’ll be. But that is decidedly not the case. In fact, trying to squeeze as many casts into a day as possible can be very counterproductive. If you were working a rising fish with a dry fly, you would very thoughtfully stake out your one best cast; you certainly wouldn’t make 50 presentations. Streamer fishing from a moving boat is no different. For any given seam, dip or piece of structure, there is going to be one and only one best moment and angle from which to present a fly, so don’t be out of rhythm or position for that one cast that really counts.

4. Cast farther
For a vast majority of fly fishing applications, I advocate for the shortest cast possible. After all, with short casts, you’re able to control your line better, and most anglers are much more precise with their casting over shorter distances. That said, while we still want you to control your casts when casting streamers from a moving boat, you’ll have much more success when you can add feet to your presentation. Simply put, the longer your cast, the more space you have to convert a curious fish into eating. Imagine, as a thought experiment, a 100-yard cast. You’d have enough time and river to try doing twenty different things to your fly in the case of a following fish, and eventually, you’d find the right sequence of swoon, stutter, and dash to trigger it into biting. Unfortunately, we don’t have 100-yard casts. The reality of the situation is that with each strip of the line you, the angler, are running out of river. And that’s exactly why longer casts are important: They give you more time and room to seal the deal on a fish that is “this close” to eating.

5. Keep Your Cool
The brown trout is an incredibly explosive ambush predator, and to see one roll out of a logjam and charge, mouth open, across a sand flat is enough to fluster any angler. But fluster you must not. Lose your cool and there are a number of things that can, and will, go wrong. First, you might fumble your line and lose contact with your fly–in which case you can kiss that trailing trout goodbye. In the same way that smaller trout might refuse a dry fly that rings its alarm bells by moving in the wrong way, so will alpha fish reject a streamer that doesn’t match its expectations of how a chased sculpin, baitfish, or other prey item should behave (and how they should behave is fleeing for their lives). The other thing you might do in a state of panic is rod-set instead of strip-set. Few moments are more demoralizing than when you’ve been casting a huge fly all day to get a shot at a beast that actually had your fly in its mouth. Don’t let it happen to you.

Dave Karczynski is a photographer, author, and angler. Be sure to pick up a copy of one of his books for your next read, and check him out on Instagram @davekarczynski

Smallmouth: Modern Tactics, Tips and Techniques

From Lure to Fly: Fly Fishing for Spinning and Baitcast Anglers


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