5 Tips for Streamer Fishing in Current
Whether you're fishing current caused by wind, tides, runoff, or just a stream's natural flow, it's essential to fish it properly.
Fish use current and current breaks to their advantage, so you need to present the fly in a strategical way that will look attractive and (hopefully) elicit a strike. However, this can be tougher in moving water because unlike in still conditions, that water flow will obviously have an effect on your fly and fly line.
Two fish I've spent a lot of time fishing for over the years in current are trout and striped bass. It's crazy how you can roll right up to a spot that is loaded with fish, but if you aren't positioned properly or casting at the right angle to the current, you'll just barely scratch the surface of what's there....or possibly even blank. It's all about showing the fly to the fish correctly and at the right depth.
Here are some helpful tips for fishing a streamer in any type of current when targeting not just trout, but other current-loving fresh and saltwater species, too:
Get Positioned: Not getting the fly deep enough to draw a strike is a common problem, especially when current is involved. Even if you have a properly weighted fly and/or line, it still has to make it to the right depth. One way to achieve more depth is to angle your cast far upcurrent of your target zone which gives everything more time to sink as it rides the flow back down into the strike zone. This definitely works to get deeper, but it can also make for less line/fly control, especially in faster and/or mixed flows.
In addition to casting upcurrent for more depth, positioning myself upcurrent of my target zone can help get the fly deeper, too. This allows the fly more time to sink before it reaches the best area and might eliminate the need to cast so far upcurrent. That can give me a more friendly casting angle for better control over the path of my line and presentation speed.
Let it Hang: A popular method of fishing a streamer in current is to let it swing across the current at a downstream angle on a tight line. As it swings, you can impart twitches, strip it, or simply just let it ride the current. As the fly nears the end of the swing, it'll slow down and eventually stop directly downstream of you. At this point if the fly is still in some good water, letting it hang down there in the current can work, especially with a floating line since the fly will tend to ride up and swim in the water column.
As the fly hangs, you can also impart twitches and even feed out additional slack to let the fly ride back a few feet at a time. I also find this effective for tightly working an undercut from shore or even up underneath overhanging branches that would be tough to thoroughly fish if casting from the opposite bank.
Fish Systematically: When swinging streamers, you'll often hear that you should cover the water systematically by casting once or a few times from a particular spot, then take a certain amount of steps downstream and repeat the same cast in this new segment of water. If you think of the water as a sort of "grid pattern" like a sheet of graph paper, this lets the fly thoroughly work through a productive area grid by grid, then when you move a few feet and repeat the process, you're then thoroughly hitting the next grids of water. This is certainly very good advice that I do follow, especially if working a large holding area when you're not exactly sure where the fish will be stationed.
I'd also like to add that I fish the smallest holding water systematically, too. Take a small pool, for example. Starting at the head of the pool, I'll basically take the same approach by first fishing through the head of the pool, then slowly working my fly back through the tail of it a few feet at a time. If you start by casting right into the heart of the good zone to begin with, you might run the risk of spooking fish with your presentation or from the line sweeping through. Sure, if you hook a fish right at the head of the pool that can blow out other fish holding in that pool too, but I'd much rather spook fish with a hooked fish rather than from my presentation itself!
Change the Angles: Sometimes, simply changing the angle that your fly is being fished in the current can make a fish eat. Stripping a fly with the current, perpendicular to the current, swinging a fly down and across current, or letting it hang below you in the current are all examples of presenting the fly at different angles. Depending on the species, activity level of the fish, and the fly your fishing, it can be beneficial to try a bunch of different things, particularly in water that's heavily fished or if you're seeing fish chase the fly. Changing the angle changes the depth, swimming action, speed, line of travel, and profile of the fly which can all make it look both different and more enticing. That can give you an edge over other anglers.
Dead Drift: Surely you've heard of dead-drifting nymphs and dries, but what about streamers? Well, it works. Dead-drifting a streamer is a great way to fish one deep and catch the eye of an inactive fish hunkered down low that isn't in the mood to chase. It also allows the streamer to drift broadside to the current along a straight path which is ideal for covering something like a current seam or along an undercut bank.
Dead-drifting can even work when fishing current in a lake, too. Current in a lake? Wind, creek inflows, or dam generators can all cause current to some degree. I've caught both bass and trout while simply casting a streamer out on a floating line (no indicator) and letting it slowly dead-drift in a modest wind-blown current. It's pretty cool just seeing the tip of the fly line tick ever so slightly only to lift up and be greeted by a healthy fish. Flies with a soft, flowing material such as those that use marabou or a material like Polar Fibre are perfect for this technique since they don't really need any movement to look alive. Try it!