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Streamer Fishing For Trout – How To Start

Streamer fishing for trout is one of the most exciting methods out there. The eats are violent and you often see the trout attack your fly. Streamer fishing can work in lots of different conditions, and even in the winter time as well.

If you’re thinking about streamer fishing for trout, you’ll need some different pieces of equipment. Usually, your 4 or 5 weight rod won’t cut it. The fly lines are also different as well. You don’t have to spend a lot on a streamer rod outfit, but it is important to set it up properly.

A 6 or 7 weight rod, a larger 6-8 wt reel, and a floating line or a sink tip line is necessary to start throwing bigger streamers. With this setup, casting streamers is much more enjoyable.

Streamer flies imitate small baitfish, sculpins, crayfish, etc. They trigger trout to bite because the trout think it’s a larger meal. Trout will eagerly chase down a streamer because it is a large food source imitation.

This article will dive into how streamer fishing works when targeting trout. Although there is some extra gear involved, streamer fishing can open up a whole new realm of adventure. Sometimes your biggest trout will be caught on a streamer!

Streamer Rod Setup

For throwing larger streamers, a 6 or 7 weight fast action rod is best. These rods will be able to handle the mass and weight of trout streamers. Leave your 5 weight at home, and bump up a size or two.

Faster 6 and 7 weight rods have enough backbone to cast a streamer effectively. They will also help a lot with landing the trout quickly. There are many inexpensive options out there, such as the Temple Fork Outfitters Axiom or Redington’s Vice rod.

9 foot rods are most common for streamer fishing. I really haven’t found a reason to go longer or shorter.

My preferred rod is a 7 weight Sage Motive. It is not a current model, but it’s very fast and stiff which works well. It was originally designed to be a saltwater/bonefish rod, but streamer fisherman found that it works great for trout.

Streamer Reels

A 6, 7 or 8 weight reel usually works well. You want to match it to your rod, and it should also be able to carry a streamer line. Most anglers prefer large arbor reels since you can reel in line much faster. When the diameter of the arbor is larger, your retrieval rate increases significantly.

I have an old Nautilus FWX on my rig right now, but most modern reels will work fine.

Personally, I prefer machined reels since they hold up better against drops and scrapes. Instead of being poured into a mold, they are actually machined out of solid bar stock aluminum. Machined reels are nice, but they cost more than cast reels (molded reels).

Streamer Lines

There are so many options when it comes to streamer lines. Every manufacturer has several lines available, it can actually get confusing for beginners. I will cover floating vs sinking tip lines, which are the two main options.

Floating Lines

Some folks prefer to fish streamers with a floating line. Adding a splitshot in front of the streamer will help to get the fly down. You can fish a full length 9 foot leader with a floating line, this will allow the streamer to sink more.

Floating lines are great if your river is more shallow. If there’s no need to get your streamer down deep, then a floating line can work great. For shallow banks and riffles, floating lines are usually the way to go.

Sink Tip Lines

These lines are preferred by most streamer anglers. Most of the line floats, but the last 10-15 feet is coated with tungsten. This allows your streamer to get in the strike zone much faster than a floating line allows. For deeper rivers with more current, sink tip lines are the best option. For anglers fishing out of a raft or drift boat, sink tip lines are great. They allow you to cover water quickly while getting your fly down fast.

For fishing sink tip lines, shorter leaders are necessary. Since we want our fly to track at the same depth as the sink tip, a 2-3 foot leader is all you need. Often this leader is just 15 or 20 lb tippet. If you were to fish a full 9 foot leader with a sink tip, the sink tip couldn’t get your fly to sink fast. There would be too much distance between your fly line and fly.

I tie a nail knot to my sink tip with a 35 lb butt section of mono line, then I will add a tippet ring. I’ll add 2-3 feet of tippet off of the ring and then tie on my streamer.

Trout Streamers

In recent years, trout streamers have advanced a lot. There are so many good patterns on the market today. Articulated or “tandem” streamers have become very popular. These are streamers with 2 hooks instead of 1. They have lots of action to them, and are often longer than a traditional streamer.

To select a trout streamer, you first have to know which food sources are in your local river. If you have lots of sculpins like we do in Colorado, you may want to fish sculpin streamers. If there’s lots of small baitfish, you’ll want to select a streamer that imitates a small trout.

Every area has their local favorites when it comes to streamers. It is always best to stop into your local fly shop and see what they recommend.

Below are some of my personal favorite streamers. These work well on the western slope of Colorado, but they will produce fish in most trout streams.

Mini Dungeon

The famous Dungeon by Kelly Galloup is a great fly, but I find that it’s too large for most trout applications. For local colorado streams, the mini dungeon works a lot better for me. It has a smaller profile with smaller hooks, and I seem to get a lot more bites on it. Fishing a smaller streamer is often more believable to the fish. If you put a giant fly in front of a trout, they may not want it.

The Mini Dungeon is a great sculpin imitation, but it can also look like a small bait fish.

I love the white and cream colors, as well as the black color.

Goldie

This fly is very simple and has a slim profile when wet. It will fool picky trout even in the dead of winter, and it can catch fish on most trout streams.

I fish the Goldie more than any other streamer. I just have a lot of confidence in it, and I always make sure to have some wherever I go.

The Goldie is also a really easy fly to tie, and it’s a great entry level streamer for beginner tyers.

Drunk n’ Disorderly

This fly has the craziest action of any streamer i’ve seen. The wedge head makes it dart side to side like a wounded bait fish. The action is truly incredible, and fish go crazy for it.

The original color pattern is orange and olive, but I usually fish the white D n’ D. Trout will come from yards away just to eat this fly.

Since the D n’ D is unweighted, you will want to fish it with a sink tip. You can also add some split shots to get it down faster. This fly really likes to float, so you need to sink it with a sinking line or some weight.

This is a more difficult pattern to tie, and I usually just buy them. They are pricey, though – Often $9 or more.

Sculpzilla

This is a nice sculpin imitation that has lots of movement in the water. The heavy cone head gets the Sculpzilla down quick, so a sink tip isn’t always necessary. This is an articulated fly with a trailing hook, which prevents “short strikes”. Sometimes, trout will bite the streamer but not get hooked. This can happen if the streamer hook isn’t far back enough. The Sculpzilla’s trailing hook helps with hooking more trout.

The black Sculpzilla is one of my favorites, but I will also fish olive and natural.

This fly is also great for swinging. It can be cast with a trout spey rod and swung across the river.

Pocket Rocket

This is a great little pattern from Rio that I have been enjoying fishing. It is designed for swinging and for trout spey setups, but you can also strip it like a regular streamer.

It has a small profile, which is great for the colder months when the fish don’t bite huge streamers. The ostrich herl adds action to this fly, and the dumb bell eyes get it down fast.

It is very reminiscent of an Intruder style fly for steelhead, but it’s sized down for trout.

Streamer Retrieves and Tactics

When fishing streamers for trout, we usually strip the fly back to us. By using the stripping method, we give the fly action to make it look like it’s swimming.

The general rule of thumb is that you strip slower when the water is cold. Trout are more lethargic when the river is cold, so a slower retrieve will get you more bites. When the water warms up in the summer, you can strip faster so the streamer moves quicker. Trout are very active during the warmer months, so a faster retrieve works well.

The “pause” is really important when fishing streamers. This is when you stop the fly in between your strips. Trout will often take a streamer on the pause – since it looks like a wounded baitfish or sculpin.

Play around with your retrieves and your pauses. Some days the fish will want a fast retrieve, and other days they’ll want it slow. Streamer fishing is really a game of trial and error, and can vary a lot day to day.

Streamer Colors

It is often said that on a bright day, you should use a bright streamer. On a dark day, you should use a dark streamer. This is good advice, but it isn’t always the case.

The best way to fish streamers is to change flies a lot. Famous angler Kelly Galloup will change his streamer every 5 minutes until he starts getting bites. You don’t have to do this, but changing patterns really helps a lot.

If the water is off color or muddy, fishing a black streamer works well. It offers the best silhouette and fish can see it much easier. For really clear water, muted colors work well. I’ll often fish an olive streamer if the water is clear.

My favorite streamer color is white. White streamers are super easy to see, and you can track them very easily. They work well on sunny and cloudy days, too. Over the years, I have gravitated towards white in a lot of my streamer flies.

The weird thing about streamer colors is that you never know what’s going to work. You just have to try them out until you start getting bites. Olive may work great one day, but the next day they’ll only want black. This can be frustrating, but it’s just part of streamer fishing.

Streamer Tippet

When it comes to streamer fishing, you can use heavy tippet and get away with it. If the trout are going to attack your fly, they usually aren’t concerned with inspecting your tippet. I like to fish 0x fluorocarbon which is about 15 lb test. This allows me to land trout quickly, and also remove my streamer from snags without breaking off.

Some folks prefer to fish even heavier tippet, 20 or 25 lb test. On most rivers, the trout won’t care.

I like to fish fluorocarbon all the time, but that’s just my preference. You can definitely fish monofilament for streamer fishing if you’d like. Maxima nylon is a great tippet material for streamers, and it’s pretty cheap too. However, since fluorocarbon is so invisible to fish, I pretty much use it all the time.

If you want maximum durability and invisibility, go with fluorocarbon tippet. If you are concerned with cost and want to keep things cheap, go with nylon/mono tippet.

Streamer Knots

Although you can use a clinch knot for streamers, there are better options. The clinch knot doesn’t allow the streamer to move much. By using a non slip loop knot, the streamer will have a lot more side to side action. This action can produce more bites from trout.

There are many types of loop knots, but the non slip is my favorite. The video below by Tightline demonstrates this knot well.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article clears up some beginner confusion. Streamer fishing is actually one of the simplest ways to fly fish. There is no wrong way to do it, and it can be a great time.

The main concern is to get properly set up the first time, this will make your streamer fishing experience more enjoyable.

Once you are hooked on streamer fishing, it becomes very addicting – trust us!