The past year I have had an infatuation with fishing streamers.
Streamer fishing in this modern age usually provokes thoughts of 6 in. articulated monsters heaved at the bank and ripped back to the boat with ferocious intensity. What I am referring to is not this. I'm talking about tiny streamers. Things modern streamer anglers may scoff at.
The average size flies I've been using range from a size 14 to a size 8. This roughly equates to 3/4 of an inch to about 2 1/2 inches. This does not mean I never use larger flies; I do. However, on average, I stick to smaller patterns for trout.
There are a few advantages that make fishing a "tiny" streamer successful. Some of my advantages are based on actual testing and experience, but the last one is just more of a personal opinion.
1 - Fish Eat Fish
Most of the prey we imitate as fly fishers are insects. However, we should never overlook the fact that day in and day out, fish eat fish. I've watched several 4-6 inch rainbows pound on small minnows in my local waters, and I've witnessed those same 4-6 inch rainbows get hammered by bigger trout and bass. This isn't uncommon knowledge to most anglers. Fish eat fish.
Of course, fish key into insect hatches, and where there aren't a lot of baitfish or smaller fish, the trout won't be as used to chomping minnow. However, it is rare that a fish will completely bypass a baitfish or crawdad that's dead or dying when it floats past his face.
I found this to be true just yesterday. I was fishing a tiny streamer with a caddis imitation floating behind it. I knew the caddis nymphs were active, and I even saw several hatch, skip around, and flutter off the surface. The caddis started hatching in more substantial numbers, and I began to target specific fish with my nymphing setup. I landed a lot of the fish that were actively munching on caddis with my own caddis nymph, but, surprisingly, I landed more fish (and larger fish) on the tiny streamer than I did on the nymph!
Now, I'm not saying fishing small streamers always works. Nothing always works (except dynamite). There have been times where I could not get a fish to nudge or even look at my tiny streamer, but the fish would take nymphs or dries.
Fish eat fish day in and day out. With that knowledge, it's funny we have such a difficult time fishing a fish.
2 - Easy Options
When you fish a small streamer, you are offering a more substantial food source to a fish. If I had the choice to eat an entire pizza or a few Skittles I until I am full, I would choose the pizza every day. In the same way, it seems trout will often pick out a meal that offers a little bit more fuel. Allowing your streamer to drift past a trout as if it's dead or dying offers a tantalizing and easy meal to anything around, especially if it bounces right off his nose.
Even in clear water, I can fish tiny streamers and find success. Generally, my rule is the more clear the water the smaller the streamer size I go. If I can see the fish I will put on a size 12 or 14 streamer and sight fish it up. When the water is high and dirty I use lots of flash and bigger patterns. High and dirty water is usually when I'll break my tiny streamer rule.
3 - The Overlap of Big Fish & Numbers
One of the reasons I like using a tiny streamer is that I like catching both big fish and large numbers of fish. Probably every fisherman on the planet would confess to this. Except for those two or three weird guys that say they just like to be outside regardless of whether they catch fish or not... I say hiking would be a far cheaper way to be outside. Anyways, by fishing small streamers I've found that I can target likely holding lies for larger fish with success, and I can fish for numbers without changing fly pattern. In essence, by fishing a small streamer I run the chance of hooking into big papa or 15 of his grand babies depending on where and how I present the fly.
This overlap is typically not found by fishing monster 7 inch articulated streamers. By drifting a size 22 midge you may come into contact with big fish, but it won't be the norm (at least it isn't on most of the watersheds I frequent).
Now, I don't think a tiny streamer is a magic fly that is the perfect setup for every scenario. In fact, I switch from a small streamer, to a single nymph, to a double nymph rig, to a minnow and midge setup, to a single dry fly depending on the circumstances of the day. I am not set in stone that it's the ONLY way I'll fish, but it is usually always worth an attempt to see if it's the ticket for success on any given day.
I've had a lot of success catching bigger fish (anything above 18" is what I consider big in my neck of the woods), and catching larger numbers by using a tiny streamer setup that it has become one of my confidence rigs. Something I'm almost always willing to switch to regardless of hatch, temperature, front, or angler pressure.
4 - Using Unique Flies
I can't help but get this idea out of my head that by fishing tiny streamers I'm bypassing some of the security mechanisms built into pressured fish. Here's what I mean, the rivers I fish are hit hard by a lot of fisherman, some experienced, some novice. Each day, a myriad of anglers float pattern after pattern over these fish in hopes of catching "Big Mama," snapping a photo, then putting her back in.
Our fish get smart. Fast.
Now let's be real, how many times has any particular trout in a pressured system seen a Zebra Midge, an Egg, a Pheasant Tail, a Mop Fly or even a Wooly Bugger? Lots. Almost every article you read will list those flies as some of the top 10 patterns to have in your box (with the exception of the Mop because no one knows what to do with it). If you read that "Top Ten" article so did several thousand other people. This means all those other anglers will be fishing the same flies as you.
Of course, I fish those patterns, I like them, and I do have success with them. However, when I'm feeling edgy, fishing a heavily pressured section of stream, looking for wise fish, or just trying to locate fish, a tiny streamer has become an excellent tool!
By fishing tiny streamers you're placing yourself in a small percentage of anglers. How many times have you actually heard of someone fishing a sz. 14 streamer anyway? This means each time your fly drifts through a run, it may be the first time a fish there has ever seen anything like it.
Because he's never been caught on that pattern and it looks and acts like some form of food drifting by there are no warning signs screaming, "DON'T EAT ME!"
Bottom line is, fishing tiny streamers is unique, and that's a good thing. Fish something unique, try a few new patterns, new colors, no flash, all flash, try it bigger (3 in.), and and try it small (1/2 an inch). I firmly believe this will help you catch more fish.
My focus here, though. is not to tell you about how and where to fish, but rather an encouragement that you should try streamers in tiny sizes. There are plenty of books, articles, and videos that teach you how and where to fish streamers. From casting to the bank and stripping back, to dead drifting the fly under an indicator. Change it up and fish the style you find productive on your waters
Two books that have been great for my streamer techniques are:
- George Daniels - "Strip Set: Fly Fishing Techniques, Tactics and Patterns for Streamers"
- Kelly Galloup's - "Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout"
Try their techniques, try big flies, and try tiny streamers, and you'll be surprised by the results.
Below are just a few of the trout I've caught the past 3 months on tiny streamers all these fish were caught in the same fly pattern tied on a size 12 streamer hook.