Streamer Tactics


Downstream Sweep

A Downstream Sweep is probably the most popular presentation of streamers on streams. Usually, it is used with Full Sink or Sink-Tip lines. Cast the streamer across and slightly downstream. As the streamer moves downstream, line drag will cause the streamer to sweep across the feeding zone of the fish. The fish are presented a broadside profile of the fly as the sweep is beng made. This will generally provoke a strike. Once the pattern is directly downstream, retrieve with quick strips and pauses. Use your rod tip to work the streamer back and forth within the current as you are retrieving the line.
Another way to get a jigging motion to the streamer is to use two sizes of tippet where the streamer is tied to the smaller diameter tippet and the larger diameter tippet is attached to the leader. Put a small split shot where the two tippets are joined. This will produce a jigging action to the fly upon retrieval. Also try jiggling your rod tip so the the fly also twitches while it swims.

Downstream Retrieve

Baitfish will often move downstream when spooked. This presentation mimics that movement and is particularly good around undercut banks. Make a curve cast upstream close to the bank. Let the streamer sink and reach mend the line to get the streamer even closer to the bank. Strip in your line and move the rod tip downstream faster than the current. A sinking line works well in deep waters and medium currents. However, you can use a floating line when the current is slower and the water is more shallow. The upstream cast should give the streamer enough time to sink as it moves downstream.

Dead Drift

The Dead Drift Presentation is made by casting upstream with a tuck cast and allowing the rod tip to move at the same speed downstream as the streamer at a 45 degree angle. The streamer will reach it's deepest position directly in front of you and will sweep upwards at the end of the swing due to drag. Try to keep the streamer off the bottom, it is not a nymph, but moving like a baitfish. Keep the slack to a minimum in order to respond to the strikes with a good opportunity for a hook set. Dead-Drifts are particularly good within pocket waters and deep riffles.


Count and Retrieve

Count and Retrieve Presentation is the most common technique on lakes. The rate of descent will be based on the type of sinking line that you use. Apply an overhead cast and count the seconds of descent that you need to get to a certain depth. It is important that you have a knowledge of the depth of the bottom and what kind of bottom structure is there. In shallow lakes of less than 7 feet, there is most likely submerged weedbeds, and you will want to count only to the depth that your streamer will not get hung up in the weeds. Fish like to strike upwards and a slow descending line will often give you a good idea as to the depth of the feeding zone. A clear intermediate line is often a good choice since the line is less obtrusive than many of the other sinking lines. With streamers, many of your strikes are in the upper 4 feet of water and they are not subtle. The fish attack them as baitfish, very aggressively. There are a number or retrieval patterns to try:

Types of Retrievals
  • Standard Retrieve: This is a 3 inch strip about 2-3 seconds apart. You might also try increasing the strips to 8, 16, and 24" lengths. The shorter strips work for daces and small shiner imitations. The longer strips, 16 to 24 inch, are better for larger baitfish such as minnows and shad.
  • Varied Retrieve: Here you vary the length of the retrieve from 3" to 8" to 16", with pauses of 8-10 seconds.
  • Dead Drift: No retreive but a slow trolling action with your fins if you are in a float tube.
  • Hand Twist: A slow and steady motion, twist the hand one way and then the other, allowing the line to fall aside.
  • Slow Retrieve: 24-30 inch strips done slowly, pause, and repeat.
  • Fast Retrieve: Putting the rod under your armpit and stripping with both hands. Try this with Hornbergs, Matukus, and Daces.


With a float tube you have the ability to move around. This gives you an opportunity to troll the streamer flies without retreiving. Trolling can be very helpfull in exploring a new lake , to cover a lot of water, and keep your fly in the water. Keep your rod tip down, even in the water, as this will give your a better direct contact of the fly to your stripping hand without any slack.

Types of Actions
  • Twitch: Use your index finger from your rod hand and twitch the line in patterns.
  • 3 inch Pull and Release: Here you pull the line about 3 inches and release it
  • Dead Drift: No retreive but a slow trolling action with your fins.

Wind Drifting

When the fishing is slow, wind drifting can be the ticket since the fish are too lathargic for an aggressive attack. The hits can be subtle, so react with a calm pull of the line for hook ups. Cast the streamer and let the wind blow the float tube through the lake. A full sinking line will maximize your depth and may work the best since lethargic fish tend to be within the deeper levels of the lake. Try Woolly Buggers, they work well with this technique.

© 2023 Steve Schalla
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