Since I have been guiding for trout in Chile I’ve found that the same techniques used on the rivers in the US and Canada generally apply, with the exception that here the fish are much less pressured and there’s usually not much need for very fine tippets or ultra delicate presentations, although like everything in fishing there are always exceptions. On a typical day we’re usually looking to bring trout up to the surface on dries, and throughout the season we can have great dry fly fishing either throwing big foam patterns or fine tuning our smaller traditional flies to convince more selective fish sipping in the foam lines. But there are many times when switching over to streamers can be the key to having a successful day and also bring the possibility of hooking into anything from a memory-etching trophy trout to a variety of salmon species that enter the river systems throughout the season.
Tip 1: Proper Fly Presentation
When my clients are first starting out fishing streamers the typical question they ask is how they should be presenting their fly. This can depend on a lot of factors but the first is whether we are fishing from shore or from a boat. If fishing from a boat we are typically using sink tips or full sinking lines and casting toward the bank quartering slightly ahead of the boat and retrieving the fly so that it pulls off the bank in a perpendicular fashion. Sometimes the current will push on the fly line and pull the retrieve downriver along the bank which can also be effective. This is especially true when streamer fishing from shore. For example when we are walk and wade fishing a run or even pocket water we start by casting short distances up along the same bank we are fishing from, angling our cast upriver and retrieving the fly downriver through the holding water. Because we have the current pushing the fly down at us fast retrieve movements are required along with good slack management that I’ll explain later.
We typically work our way up to the top of the run and then begin casting toward the far bank and stepping back down though the run. Because of the force of the river’s main current a lot of mending is required to maintain the fly over in the holding water for as long as possible, allowing time for the trout to react to the fly. This usually requires a floating line to keep the line up and mendable or a short sink tip if getting the fly a bit deeper is also necessary.
Tip 2: How to Retrieve the Fly
The next important to key to success with streamers is in how the fly is retrieved. There are many different retrieve techniques for streamers based on water conditions and the time of the season we’re fishing, but my most common ‘go to’ retrieve is the one I describe as a “pop and pause”. This refers to the action of the fly as it moves through the water in a way that pulses, or pops, through the water sharply and then is followed by a pause that is long enough to allow the streamer to dive and undulate downward, creating a sort of jigging effect that allows the fly’s materials to swim in a manner that looks like an injured fish trying its best to flee to safety.
I believe the pulsing of the fly is so important because the sudden movement has the effect of pushing water which the trout are able to detect or feel with the lateral line that runs down the length of their bodies. This ability helps trout find food when water visibility is low and they aren’t able to depend on eyesight alone. This pushing of water, even in clear water, seems to really activate them into chasing. But it is during the pause that most of the takes occur and they can be incredibly aggressive at times and others the line will just stop. Fishermen can sometimes confuse this for a snag on the bottom until the line begins ripping out through the rod guides.
There are different ways to impart this the pop and pause action. The most common is to keep the rod tip low to the water, or even slightly submerged and then give a sharp jerk retrieve with the stripping hand. Keeping the rod tip low helps to transmit the action you are giving to the fly line more directly down to the fly. With the pause that follows there should not be a sense of urgency to get the hand back for the next strip, it takes developing a certain feel and it’s huge help if you can see the fly and watch the action your imparting. If a client still has doubts about how long to pause I usually tell them about a second. I also try to emphasize that the more erratic the better so its always good to mix it up, sometimes giving two or three strips in succession and then allow the pause… but always the pause.
Another way to impart the same action which can be easier for beginner streamer fishermen is to use the rod tip to pulse the fly and then stop the rod to allow the fly to pause and dive. The rod tip movement will create slack and so the stripping hand rather than being used to impart action is used just to pick up this slack. We still try to keep the rod tip low to the water which again helps to transmit the action directly to the fly.
This technique is very handy to master and can also be used when fishing from shore. In this case we begin at the lower end of a run and work our way upriver, casting upstream. It requires a bit more coordination and can take some time to focus on both the action you’re imparting with the tip and also quickly picking up enough slack that you’ll be able to get the hook set in when the fish takes. When pulsing the fly with the rod tip it’s important to not pull the rod too far behind you for two reasons; First it becomes more difficult to pick up the extra slack created by the greater rod movement and the second is if your rod is already behind you it’s almost impossible to get a decent hook set if the fish strikes at this moment. Short casts are key and again being able to watch the fly‘s action can really improve success, not to mention you get to see the fish when it comes after the fly.
The final way we can get this same action is when we are fishing from the bank and casting toward the far shore. As mentioned by doing so we are putting our line across the river’s main current and so we have to begin mending immediately to keep the fly where we want it. The benefit of this is the mend itself gives the fly a nice pulse and then allows it to pause and hold in the likely water. We can control the frequency of the pulses with the mends and little or no line retrieving is necessary.
Tip 3: How to set the Hook
Another important techniqueI try to get my clients doing as soon as possible is to use the strip set for setting the hook rather than lifting the rod. It’s a much more solid, effective set and if the fish doesn’t get hooked the fly will continue with the same action and many times the fish will make another attempt to eat. If the fisherman sets by raising the rod and the fish isn’t hooked then the fly just got ripped far out of range for the fish to have any chance at a second try.
One more key to successful streamer fishing that’s worth mentioning but can also be the most elusive is to really think about what you’re trying to imitate. In most cases on rivers we are usually mimicking injured baitfish. So the more we get into the role and really try to move the fly with this in mind the more convincing the presentation and more success that’s likely going to follow. It’s important to not get lulled into a monotonous retrieve and stop being connected on this level if there hasn’t been any action for a while. It seems the guys that stay in the mode, believing that the fish is always about to slam their fly are the ones that keeping moving the fly with the right action and end up having the most successful days on the water. It can make all the difference.