Fishing Small Streamer Flies
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
When streamer fishing is mentioned, one typically thinks of flies that are modest to large in size.
A sizable fly represents a more calorie-dense meal and has a lot of "drawing power," meaning that it can attract attention from further away than a comparatively smaller fly. Of course, not every rule in fishing is set in stone, and sometimes fishing with smaller streamers is a productive way to catch fish of all sizes, including those elusive monsters. I've caught some pretty impressive fish on streamers that would be deemed by most as small, including my biggest trout thus far, a not-so-small specimen from Pyramid Lake, Nevada that I'd guesstimate to weigh around 18 pounds. A versatile fly angler needs to be able to adjust to the given species and conditions at hand, and downsized streamers can be a great way to do that.
Here are some notes to think about regarding fishing with little streamers... Water Conditions: When water conditions cause fish to be more skittish, a smaller streamer can be an excellent choice. A perfect example of this would be fishing crystal clear and very shallow water. Throw in other variables like calm water conditions and a bright, sunny sky, and that can make the fishing pretty tough.
While fish can more easily spook in conditions like these, that awesome water clarity and shorter water column means that small, subtle streamers can be spotted and intercepted very well. A larger pattern can simply be too intrusive in conditions like these; sometimes just that fly landing in the water will send nearby fish shooting off to parts unknown. A smaller streamer is much easier to "sneak" into the water without a big commotion.
Pressured fish: One thing I learned years ago while conventional bass fishing on heavily-fished bodies of water was that downsizing my offering was sometimes the ultimate ticket to success. The exact same holds true when fly fishing, too. On pressured waters where fish of any species might see many of the same flies day in and day out, breaking the norm and fishing a smaller, more realistic pattern can be a great tactic to try out. Just like in the conventional bass fishing world, the term "finesse fishing" applies here. Match the Hatch: Not all baitfish are the same size, plus there's often more than one type in a given body of water. If the predominant baitfish where you fish are noticeably smaller than the streamer you're using, you might be putting yourself at a disadvantage. Now, matching the exact streamer size doesn't always matter a ton, but I've definitely witnessed times where the fish were keying in on bait of a particularly smaller size. It's always smart to carry different sizes in your box.
Less Impact: One nice thing about a smaller streamer is that it also means a smaller hook which has less impact on the fish. With its narrower gap and thinner wire, the hook won't poke such a big hole and has less chance of inflicting more severe damage in the mouth or gills like some bigger streamers can.
Easier to Cast: Using a smaller streamer can be much easier to cast depending on the weighting and materials used. A nice bonus here is that the ease of casting may also mean that you can possibly drop down one or two sizes in rod/line weight. From a personal standpoint, I've always been really enthusiastic about smaller line weights because of the lightweight feel and increased fun factor when hooked up. Going to a lighter rod also allows you to more effectively fish a lighter leader if desired, too. Fishing a lighter leader setup offers more stealth, lets the fly swim even more naturally, and can help it sink a touch faster.
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