Fall Streamer Season Tips with Rich Strolis Part 2

Man with beanie and jacket holding large brown trout out of the river.

Written by T&T Advisor Richard Strolis

Welcome back for another installment of Streamer Tips that will provide you with better success on the water when employing those big bugs. Back in September of 2022, we released the first installment, which discussed six topics covering the organization of your gear, fly line maintenance and a few pointers in converting follows into eats. If you haven’t read it yet, back up, stop reading any further and click this link: Fall Streamer Season Tips. Once you’re done, come back and continue with what we have here, as it builds upon everything in the earlier article.

There are so many topics in relation to streamer fishing that an entire blog piece could easily be devoted to each of them. For the sake of variety - and not getting so technical that I lose you all - we will keep this limited to subjects with some very clear and concise tidbits of information that you can plug-and-play into your streamer fishing repertoire.

  1. Spend the extra money on a good fly line(s).  If there is one thing that I would say gets overlooked most often in any sound fly fishing system, it is, without question, the fly line.  Of all the things that have changed in the last 10-20 years, the quality, variety, and innovation in fly line technology tops the list.  The line is what connects you to the fish that you chase, so it makes sense to spend the money on the one thing that is so important in the equation.  The reality is that the most expensive fly rods aren’t going to make you the best fly caster.  If your casting technique has holes, no magic rod will solve that problem, only practice and time on the water.  However, the worst thing you can do after making that big purchase on a new rod is not doing the same with the fly line.  When I was guiding regularly, I would have clients every week who were super excited to fish that new rod, but nine times out of ten, those same people would just put any old line on the rod without giving it any thought.  The cost of the fly line is far less than the rod or reel, so don’t skimp. If you are completely lost on what line to purchase, start with someone at your local fly shop or reach out to a knowledgeable person in the fishing world who spends time on the water in a similar fishery to yours. Many are more than willing to assist you in putting together a system that will work well for you.  The diversity in integrated sinking lines, different sink rates, head lengths, etc., is far greater now than when I was growing up.  Back then, it was simply a full sinking line or floating line available.  Now, you can fine-tune your lines to cover a much wider set of situations.

  2. Have more than one fly line type at your disposal. It may sound like I am pushing you to spend more money and overcomplicate your streamer fishing, but this is not necessarily the case. To build on your fly line purchase, I am a big proponent of having variety in the fly lines that you use for fishing streamers. This notion compliments the idea of having a variety of flies that cover the water column when you build out your streamer selection. Some of the patterns that you will fish will perform well on a standard integrated sinking line or floating line per se. But many will be more productive on a specific type of line. If you really wanted to have a diverse array of sink rates in lines, you could go way into the deep end of the pool with literally dozens of different lines. That is a decision you can make for yourself. As I always say, in any aspect of this sport, you can make this as simple or complex as you want, but that is the beauty of the lifelong journey. For the sake of simplification and time, I will generally say that three fly lines can cover most situations that you may encounter. I would have a spool with an integrated sinking line with a head length of 25 feet or more, an aggressive weight forward floating line, and an intermediate line on a third spool (the most overlooked line in my opinion). All three of these line choices will have a purpose depending on conditions, and can even be useful in a variety of water types in one particular outing. The key is figuring out during your day which is the best suited for the prevailing conditions and then making it work. The notion that you need to constantly change spools as you traverse the water you are fishing simply isn’t the case. You can easily split the water column with any of the three line types under a variety of conditions with some manipulations of the fly line (which we could devote an entire article to in and of itself, and maybe will at a later date). Best advice is to pick that line that will cover the widest number of situations that you encounter that day and utilize it in the appropriate water, based on the intel you have garnered so far. If you are constantly hanging up, then you might be fishing too heavy of a line or fly, and you need to change one or both. If you are on a budget, a selection of poly leaders and a floating line can be a very good alternative that will work fairly well, too. The beauty of the poly leader system is you can quickly change it without switching spools, and they are available in a wide range of sink rates, from hover to fast sinking. That said, if you have the option, I would recommend you always go with the variety of fly lines.

    Carrying case with various colored fly lines, flies, and fly fishing rods.

  3. Spend the time building a useful leader. Leader design when fishing streamers has many schools of thought, preferences, and ideas. I suggest experimenting with them all until you find one that works the best for you with your casting stroke and the way that you fish. Personally, I still am a firm proponent of a tapered leader system when I fish streamer, and I have openly stated that in a variety of interviews and articles. The material you build your leaders out of, once again, is a matter of personal preference; the pros and cons of fluorocarbon vs. mono are all well documented. My only caveat is that regardless of which one you decide on, make sure that it is a material with low stretch, as that will come into play when you strip-set the hook on a fish. What I use changes almost every season, as I like to experiment with new materials to see how they stack up against ones that I have used previously. When building your leader, be more mindful of material diameter as opposed to the breaking strength designated by the manufacturer. That one component will dictate if your leader will turnover properly when you cast. You generally do not want to step your leader down more than three to four thousandths per section, as it will have the propensity to hinge on the cast. If you step the diameter down too drastically, it can decrease your ability to deliver the goods accurately and efficiently. A straight-level section of leader can also be used but can often prove problematic when used in longer lengths, windy conditions, when you get fatigued, with heavier or bulkier flies, or for those who are novice casters. A properly tapered leader will help prevent the dreaded errant-cast dump and allow you to lay that line out straight so that you can be in contact with the fly the second it hits the water.

    A basic leader might consist of the following: 12-18 inches of 30 pound (.020 in), 12-18 inches of 25 pound (.019 in), 12-18 inches of 20 pound (.015 in), 12-18 inches of 16 pound (.014 in) for the bulk of the leader. Then I like to do one of two things from this section down - either incorporate a perfection loop, or add in a small barrel swivel. My good friend and legendary Michigan guide Jac Ford turned me on to adding a loop in this section of the leader. Jac prepares his terminal section of tippet, usually of 12-14 pound test mono, with another perfection loop. He then loop-to-loops the two sections together. This serves two purposes: first, if you are constantly changing flies and your terminal tippet gets too short, instead of decreasing the overall length of your leader over time and having to retie more than one section, you simply retie and loop together your terminal tippet. Secondly, this is rather helpful if your fly breaks off as the tippet will always break at that loop-to-loop connection instead of anywhere else up the leader, which will save you from rebuilding the entire leader. I took Jac’s idea a step further, and to help cut down on line twist, I add in a small barrel swivel instead of the perfection loop on that last section of 16 pound material. I then loop the end of my terminal 14-12 pound tipped and thread the loop into the bottom end of the swivel. The swivel does the same as the double loop connection only the swivel will help minimize the amount of line twist throughout the course of the days fishing.

    Fly fishing line shown close up in the hand to show leader combination.

  4. Recognizing notable structures and targeting the underwater highway. The underwater highway can become an important key to your success in the fall. Pre-spawn trout - especially brown trout - will utilize these avenues and channels as they migrate through a watershed to get themselves in position in those key areas where they will eventually spawn. Recognizing this structure will shorten your learning curve in potentially locating some of the better fish in the fall. This year in New England, the weather has been rather out of character, and typically, our rivers are much lower than they currently are. Usually, late summer into early fall is the time to locate these areas of interest so you can game plan your approach as the weather changes. At low water, you can identify depressions and channels, which are both holding areas and highways that the trout will utilize to migrate. These areas can be hard to identify in high water conditions, but when the river is lower than normal, I will often not even bring a fly rod, and just go on an exploratory trip to find those particular areas of interest. When the rivers fill back up again, you can use all that intel you gathered to target those areas, and many times you will find a fish holding or intercept one on the move pre-spawn. When the water rises, trout will either do one of two things, based on several variables. They will either hunker down in a depression or other area that provides a break from the current, or they will move closer to shore to find the same type of reprieve. Covering the water and seeing where the action is will help you figure out where the fish are holding. As I have stated in previous articles, it isn’t always a pound-the-banks scenario. If the banks aren’t getting you the responses you are after, maybe work other sections of the river, but never neglect to recognize what the river structure is showing you. Any river is dynamic and will provide you with a variety of scenarios that change as you move.

    Outdoor landscape photo featuring a stream with pronounced rocks in the water lined with bright, full trees from New England.

  5. Fish your window. This is a topic that I love to address with other anglers, both in conversation and whenever I am teaching on the water. We, as fly fishers, often become robotic in our actions, repeating the same motions almost mindlessly and sometimes not maximizing our fly’s ability to fish the water. We have all been there: we had some success early on in a piece of water, and instead of changing something when it slows, we continue to do the same thing over and over again, without success. This is very much in line with the definition of insanity, to say the least. One of the questions that frequently arises is, how far do I retrieve my streamer back to my position before I cast again? I always tell people to fish the “window” and let that dictate how far you fish that fly until you pick up and cast. There is typically a window in the water that will appear where your streamer will actually come into view as it traverses the water column. This window may be further away or closer to your position depending on a few variables - if you’re wading, how deep you are wading; if you are standing up in a boat or a raft, water visibility, light penetration and the color of your fly all change where that window might be. One thing that the angler should always be in control of is knowing where your fly line is, from the second you present your fly until you retrieve it back to your position. When that streamer comes into view, you need to broaden your vision in a sense. What I mean is to make the streamer the secondary point or periphery point of interest, and make the primary focus the water around it. By doing so, you may very well see a fish shadowing the fly from below, offset on one side, or even trailing behind. When you recognize your quarry, then you can impart some actions to entice an eat. Conversely, you may not see anything, and if the coast is clear (figuratively speaking), then by all means, pick up and cast at your next likely lie. Sometimes you may not have a window, or a very small one for that matter, so try to visualize what you think might be happening as you fish that fly back to you.

  6. Be observant and take note of changes. I am forever the optimist, but I am also forever thinking about patterning while fishing. I think it is clearly something that all of us who fly fish consider to some degree. Just be consciously aware of everything that is going on during your day, and not just in the water. The recognition of change isn’t just about bite windows, it goes further into fly selection, changes in productive structure, and the cadence that you fish your fly. Flow rates, water clarity, light conditions/weather and barometric pressure changes are all factors that should be noted. Somedays, one of these things may be the subtle change that sparks a series of positive reactions leading to fish in the net, and other days a chain of events might shut the fishing down entirely. Granted, we all cannot pick and choose the days that we fish because of other obligations in life, but sometimes you can game plan and often almost predict good fishing based on those aforementioned things. Keep a journal either physically or mentally, and you will start to notice patterns in a variety of ways that will increase your success rate. And then, when you think you have it all figured out, you will inevitably get thrown a curveball that completely spits in the face of your theories. But in the grand scheme of things, that is totally normal and okay, because if you are in this for the adventure, it plays to that theme wholeheartedly and will keep you engaged and coming back for more.

    Brown trout in the water with its head poking out laying on a bed of fall leaves.

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