Streamer Flies and Why Fish Strike at Them

Fly Talk: Streamer Flies and Why Fish Strike at Them

by Dimitri Ristic


Almost 100 years ago, during 1920s, the streamer fly became a very popular fly in the northeastern parts of the US and Canada. Why streamer flies attract fish to strike at them would be a logical question. If we look at all streamers we can divide them into two very different classes.

The Two Groups of Streamer Flies

There are those designed exactly to imitate a baitfish and those that imitate nothing in particular.

The ‘Imitating’ Streamer Flies

Here, the better a streamer fly is in imitating the size, the shape and the color of the baitfish – the more successful the fly will be. Choosing a streamer which imitates the type of baitfish in the water where we are fishing will most likely result in a strike. Smelt is the most important baitfish for trout and salmon. Also, sculpin, which we imitate with the Muddler Minnow and Black-Nosed Shiner are good choices. So, the conclusion is, if the fish are hungry – the closer we imitate their baitfish, the better off we will be. Now, what if our knowledge and observation shows that the fish aren’t hungry and our idea to use a streamer that imitates baitfish doesn’t work? What do we do then? If we use science and a process of elimination, assuming the fish are hungry, science would tell us that there are three reasons remaining: anger, curiosities and spirit of play which will also make the fish strike at an artificial fly. The conclusion again would be to use the second group of streamers, which imitate nothing in particular.

The ‘Attracting’ Streamer Flies

We cannot make fish angry, curious or playful with worms, grasshoppers or half-dead shiners, but with the streamer-attractor we can. Fish are curious and they will hit anything that looks strange as well as playful, same as a cat plays with a mouse. They like to play with smaller fish too and chase them.

To summarize, in the world of streamers, we have two groups, the one group that imitates baitfish and the second group that imitates nothing but attracts the fish we try to catch for the reasons mentioned above.

The Quality of Streamer Fly

Now, what would be the quality of the streamer fly that we are using?

First of all, we need to achieve quality of construction which means that fly will stand up under unusual abuse. Secondly, extremely important quality characteristics of the streamers we try to tie would be: form of the streamer, flash and action.

The Form

Some streamers which anglers make, or buy, lack the form of any known fish. Flies are dressed with stiff necks which, even wet, makes the fly too bulky at the head. An excess of hackle throat or collar, or an excess of the underbody, often contribute to this. Most of the flies are badly overdressed and they lack the trim and, as a result, they catch fewer fish than the streamers which are slimmer, more like the shape of a minnow. The ends do not taper, the forepart is too heavy and the fly looks more like a brush than a lifelike fly. The form is a mater of proportion.

The Flash

The flash is dictated by water conditions and the conditions of light and weather. We see the flash of the minnows in a quiet pool when they turn to pick a speck of food and we see the flash from their silvery bodies. Flash is what attracts the game fish to the baitfish (to a streamer), but we also need the form and the action to make the fish take the fly. Too much flash can scare them too.

The Action

The fly must have an action suitable to the water where it is being fished. In fast water the current provides much of the action, but in the slower water action is provided by the fly, if the fly is correctly tied. The quantity and quality of the hair and the way it was applied is important to make the fly “alive”.

To be a successful fisherman using streamers, all you have to do is watch minnows and learn what fly to choose and how to use it.


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