Catching fish on streamers seems really simple, and it can be. Still, there's a lot of considerations an angler has to make for the best success. This time I'm not talking about what pattern is tied on. Nor am I talking about the stripping speed or cadence that's being used. What I'm getting at here is really a very, very simple concept, and that's the importance of extending your retrieve. Huh?
Too often, streamer anglers give up on the last 10-20 feet of a retrieve and lift the fly out of the water for another cast. I can see three reasons for this: folks tend to think the strike zone of the fish is not close to their position, they want to keep the leader outside of the guides to make the next cast easier, and sheer impatience. With some species and in some areas, this can be a big mistake. Personally speaking, I've caught countless stripers and Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout nearly at my feet. Both of these fish are notorious for following the fly and striking at the very last second, often seemingly coming out of nowhere. You can say that these fish have huge strike zones, which can literally be from yourself out to where your fly first hit the water. Sometimes, fish like this need just a few extra feet of retrieve to be fooled.
You're likely wondering how I do an extended retrieve. I want to bring the fly in a few extra feet, but like most, I am not too keen on stripping the leader inside the guides (there are exceptions to this). What I typically do is this.....with just a foot or two of fly line remaining outside the tip-top guide, I'll hold the line and quit stripping. Then, I keep the rod tip as low as is appropriate and simply pull it back to about 90-degrees to my left or right side which brings the fly much closer to the bank or boat I'm standing on. I'll often twitch the rod tip as I'm pulling back to further animate the fly and try to coax that last second reaction. This is especially easy from a boat, as you can dance the fly boatside for a few seconds or even pull/jig it around the bow or stern for a few added feet of retrieve. You can even perform a figure-8 or easily give the fly a quick direction change or two. A few new, erratic moves can get an indecisive follower to eat.
Aside from the two personal examples I gave, other good instances to use an extended retrieve might be:
- When the fish are scattered out over a large open area. Unless the water is crystal clear and I'm 100% certain a fish isn't in the vicinity of the fly, I'll finish the retrieve all the way in and extend it. If I'm just picking apart specific structure or fishing very distinct holding zones that I know will be the only places I have a legit chance of getting bit, then I'll keep the retrieve very brief and just target those areas.
- When bank fishing. Fish can often cruise things like rip rap, weeds, or ledges right in front of you without being detected. I always recommend casting to the closest areas first, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice by totally ignoring them even after moving on to more distant presentations. If there's a chance a fish could be in or move into a close spot, bring the fly through that likely every time—even if it's literally right off the rod tip. You might be surprised to see what happens when you bring your rod back and pull the fly over that ledge right in front of you.