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Wintertime Means Streamers by David Perry

Why Wintertime Streamers?
Over the past several years’ local tailwaters have proven the best time for chasing larger fish, with big streamers, is from December through spring. My friends and clients, who chase trophy trout, get just as excited as I get when the Christmas season comes to a close and we have a chance to get out onto the water.  Why is this a good time of the year to fish streamers?

Protein- Some species of fish have often come off the spawn and the larger fish will be looking for protein based meals to fatten back-up to their pre-spawn weight. Baitfishes are a large part of the protein diet and streamers imitate baitfish.

Lethargic- Even in colder weather trophy fish are territorial and will move for larger flies out of impulse as well as their need for food.

Hatches- There are not always as many hatches when the weather is cold, therefore the larger fish tend to key into larger flies that simulate baitfish. Cannibalism can be a wonderful thing in the world of streamer fishing. Remember, big fish eat little fish. 


Just being outdoors can be a different experience in the winter. Anglers see things in the winter that are not always visible when the leaves are on the trees. There are different rock formations and increased wildlife viewing opportunities. I have even noticed a 1950’s model Ford car body on the banks of one of Middle Tennessee’s tailwaters, which is not visible during the summer. In addition to the increased awareness of the surroundings, it sure can be cold. The good thing about fishing and stripping streamers is body movement and that movement will help the angler to stay warm.  Potentially there are many variations to fish with streamers, all of which stir the body and get the blood moving.

Frequently during high water situations an angler can walk the banks and just roll cast. Work the streamer down river, out to the center and down river parallel with the bank, although for me, this can often be the least productive. Stay away from the edge of the bank while walking to avoid stepping on undercut banks, which have potential for holding large fish right beneath your feet.

When wading, I like to work from the middle of the stream to the bank as often as possible. Casting straight across the current seems to work best, but imitating a fleeing fish in a slight downstream direction produces better than stripping upstream. Often when the larger streamers are stripped upstream larger fish will stop and wait before striking. Remember more times than not we are coaxing fish out of instinct vs. food and when the streamer appears most vulnerable or struggling in current, is when the predatory fish will strike. One of the best opportunities for a predatory fish to strike is when a baitfish is struggling upstream or just as the baitfish gives up and is washed downstream. Keep that in mind that a struggling baitfish does not move forcefully upstream.

My favorite way to streamer fish with clients and friends is from a boat. Again, we will cast the fly into the bank and work the fly back to the boat. Try to cast the fly within 6” of the edge of the bank and retrieve straight across stream as often as possible. (Hint: cast more upstream or more downstream depending on the current to get a good cross stream retrieve.) Also, boats let me carry more rods, rigged with different streamers.

Rod and reel with white streamer on rock. 

Crossing the Line

There seem to be a different set of tools that make a better streamer angler. Can we do it with 5 weights and floating line? Absolutely and that’s exactly how I started. I remember the precise moment on the river that I became addicted to streamer fishing and I was holding a 5 weight. The rod had green floating line, with 5x tippet and a white Clouser. After casting to a feeding fish and couple strips on the line we boated a large rainbow that was chasing that small school of shad.  The last few miles of the float that day yielded three of the largest fish I had caught since moving to Middle Tennessee and a sportsmen’s release that still lingers in my mind.

You have heard the story of the Clouser with floating line. But, dead-drifting a wooly bugger under an indicator can also be a productive way to fish for large trout. Be patient and don’t get stuck on one color, run the color charts more than once throughout day. However, lighter colors seem to be more productive more times than not.

Full sinking lines are great for fishing from a drift boat, especially when fishing non-weighted streamers. The lines are made in multiple sink rates, which allow the angler to pick different lines for different water conditions. My preference for Middle TN is a line that sinks at about 6” per second for the mid to slower water. This is only a personal preference, but this sink rate helps me to keep the fly at the correct depth for most situations. Try different sink rates for various speeds of current. A full sinking line is not the best product when wading, because they can wrap around the angler’s feet when stripped into the water. (Hint: Be careful the sinking line is a small diameter line and are weighted with tungsten, which can make some deadly tangles when stripped and piled.)

Sink tip lines can be very productive when fished from the boat, but they are the best way to get a light fly at the correct depth when wading. Sink tip lines perform similar to full sinking lines and perform better when wading and do not get wrapped around the angler’s feet like a full sinking line when the angler wades.

Hooked and Social Media

Keeping in contact with each other is something high on most people’s lists and it is an important part of human nature. Email, message boards and even this Journal are easy ways to communicate electronically. Social media is a new venue to contact friends and keep up with the latest fishing information.  Keeping in contact with the fly and ultimately the fish is where the angling rush comes to fruition and fishing stories begin. The hook is the only contact we as anglers have with the fish, so the hook set is extremely important to us. Getting the hook point to penetrate the bony and tough jaw of a large brown trout or other fish can be an interesting prospect at times. Hooks should certainly be sharp and a hook made of quality material is of the upmost importance.  A hook set and the power behind that hook set can be achieved several different ways. We will take a look at a few points that help with hook set.

Although raising the rod tip is the way anglers on TV shows usually set their hook; most anglers do not have several takes to get their hook set correct. Did I just write that out loud? Anyway, raising the rod tip to set the hook will instantly give the fish the upper hand. If the fish runs at the angler, the angler is not in a positive position to strip. Try stripping over your head and it is easy to see why stripping in that position proves a quick disadvantage. Sometimes an overhead hook set is the only way to connect with the fish. When this is the case, quick pulls with the other hand will help to bring the line tight until the angler can get into a more positive fighting position.

When fishing streamers the fish actually accomplishes a portion of the hook set for the angler. When the fish takes the fly, the hook is only sometimes fully lodged in the fish’s mouth. The point of the hook may be stuck, however the hook set may not be complete. Raising the rod tip can help to lodge the hook, but with the amount of flex in the rod, a slight raise of the rod tip still may not be enough. This is where the strip set comes into play. The strip set is best accomplished with a sideways pull on the rod. Some force here is applicable and just the right amount of force is best. The right amount of force would difficult if not impossible to put into words, but it is not hard to get that right amount after losing a fish or two.

The second part of the strip set is to take the non-rod hand and strip the line with a hard pull. This motion takes away any slack from the line and helps to get the angler in a more positive fighting position. With the rod low and the excess line taken, the angler is ready for most moves the fish makes including when the fish makes the run directly at the angler.  When fishing articulated flies it is better to put some extra pressure on the hook set, because of the connection between the two hooks. This is only a benefit to hooked up with a fish that has been caught on the trailing hook.

The Last Tangle

Although an angler cannot always see the fish strike, streamer fishing is still one of the most exciting types of fly fishing. When the fish comes off a good lie and follows a woolly bugger or comes up from the depths and hits a large marabou streamer, the heart rate of any angler increases at least two fold.
These tips can get an angler hooked on streamers and the excitement of streamer fishing. It takes much more work than just reading this article to become an effective streamer angler. There is additional information available from many different sources.  The best way to become an effective streamer angler is to get out and begin working on your Wintertime Streamer Tactics.

David Perry
Southeastern Fly
Guided Drift Boat Fishing

Please also check out our main website www.littleriveroutfitters.com for daily fishing reports, message board and online catalog.
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