Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Make Your Streamers Work For You

Before we dig into this... take a bit to watch this great and very relevant video by Brian Wise:

Mike is streamer royalty. He has created some killer patterns. One point he makes in this video is of particular value if you are planning to design a new fly or choosing a design that will catch you trout. Rather than just going bigger, bigger, bigger; as has been the trend for a while; tyers will start to make flies behave in specific ways to fit their needs.

Now, this is something I've been doing quite a bit of. Connecticut is not exactly a haven for those that like throwing 7-9 inch streamers for trout. I find 3-5 inch articulated streamers to be big enough to get the large predators up in arms, and not so big that they will give you the skunk every time you go out trying to get some large trout. So instead of pushing the size of the streamers I tie, I've pushed the action.

Bait fish that are injured rarely move straight, nor do those trying to escape a predator. It therefore stands to reason that streamers with a lot of action will improve your odds of getting a reactionary strike. On of the best ways to add action to a streamer, articulated or otherwise, is a deer hair head. Modifying the shape and size of the head on your streamers can give them different actions. Took me a while to get to that point didn't it? Well, that is what this post is all about.  Let's start with an old classic: the muddler. The trimmed dear hair head of the muddler is a streamer staple, and has been modified for more modern patterns. The dear hair head on Kelly Galloup's Sex Dungeon is essentially a large muddler minnow head. Sloping down from the collar to the eye of the hook and just slightly rounded on the bottom- that is the shape of the Dungeon's head.

Another key part of this fly's action is the dumbell eyes. Whereas a fly with the same head shape and no weight would dodge in any direction just a little bit. That is in many cases very good action, and that's why lightly weighted or unweighted streamers with a similar head shape are very effective, like Andreas Andersson's Rag Dolly. In the Sex Dungeon, however, the eyes add weight to cause vertical action. With each strip the fly is pulled up, and as the big head causes it to slow both the shape of the head and the weight of the eyes pull it back down, causing it to do a nice little jigging action. Add to that the articulation and you have a streamer that bounces and wiggles through the water with a very enticing amount of movement in it's materials.

What the the Sex Dungeon lacks in aggressive horizontal wiggle, another of Kelly's patterns, the Heifer Groomer, more than makes up for. And once again, the key to the Groomer is a slime body with a lot of motion and a large specifically shaped dear hair head. The secret to the Heifer Groomer is fairly simple. When I'm telling someone how to tie it, I get pretty specific about how to shape the head: make it look like a mentos candy.

Now, if you took those directions too far you wouldn't get the desired effect, but that is the closest common object I can think of. Instead of making the head just a round dis, make it a round disk that is flat on the bottom and a little bit more round on top.

What this very specifically shaped deer hair head does is cause drag. It create little eddies around it's rear and keeps the fly from drifting more than an inch or two past the point where the strip or rod motion ends. At that point the rear pushes the front and causes the fly to articulate horizontally. If you practice it is possible to get your retrieve to look incredible. This fly, with a fast twitchy retrieve, looks as much like a jointed rapala as a streamer probably can.

If you are not one for flies with articulation, the rounded head on a Zoo Cougar or Zuddler can give a pretty great action too, you just have to modify your retrieve to make the fly either wiggle (fast-short retrieve) or dart around (Slow-short retrieve), or whatever suits you.

Last but not least is the wedge shaped head. Tommy Lynch's Drunk & Disorerly and Andreas Andersson's Sid use a wedge shape head to get maximum action with minimum effort. The D&D, as far as I know, was the fly that really championed the effectiveness of the wedge by combining it with a well designed tail and body that flows and looks very much like a living fish. Pat Cohen's slop mop is good two but to bulky for my tastes.  The wedge causes the Drunk & Disorderly to do some crazy things in the water. It ducks, dives, and weaves through the currents very much like a frantic bait fish or spooked salmonid.

Instead of just diving when pulled forward, a fly with a wedge head is likely to dodge right and swing the tail out in the opposite direction. This causes the fly and tippet to be angled once they stop moving. On the next strip, the tippet either pulls the fly back up, or down and to the left. I doubt any strip will have the fly going in a straight line, and if so your leader might be a little too stiff...

This illustrates the value of the loop knot when fishing streamers. If you want to get the most out of the fly, use a non-slip mono loop or a double surgeons loop. They allow the flies to act the way they were made to.

Using the shape of a streamer's head is just as important is getting the action you want as the materials you choose. Experimenting with different shapes and sizes will improve your chances of finding an action that works on the fish you are targeting.


  1. Well done Rowan, I have a new respect for streamers and patterns.
    Tie, fish, write and photo on...

    1. Streamer fishing is work. It takes a little more thought and effort than most fly fisherman give it.