I'm a straight-up streamer junkie, period. I've always gravitated more towards bass and saltwater fly fishing where streamers obviously reign supreme, but even when trout fishing, streamers are my favorite way to catch 'em......dry flies being a very close second, of course! With the species I target, finding baitfish flies in my box is a given. Through the years of catching fish like largemouth, snook, and stripers, I've gained a lot of confidence using these flies and have found some things that often seem to tip the odds more in my favor.
Here's 4 things that I feel help boost my success when fishing baitfish-imitators (but can work with other flies, too!):
Vary that Retrieve: In my mind, perhaps the biggest tip here is to vary the retrieve when fishing streamers. I'd doesn't matter if the target species are inactive or aggressive; whether done fast or very slow, using a mixed stripping cadence can make your fly look way more enticing.
When stripping these flies, I often notice anglers doing what I call the "robot retrieve" which basically means every strip is around the same length and speed. Will it catch fish? Oh absolutely, but why not up your odds? I don't know about you, but to me a retrieve like that looks far too unrealistic and pre-programmed.
When mixing up a retrieve, keep these three things in mind: speed, stripping length, and pause time. Depending on the activity level of the fish, you vary those three things to different degrees. A run-of-the-mill retrieve might be stripping 12–15" at a time at a modest pace. A much more varied retrieve might look something like this: short strip, short strip, 2 second pause, long strip, short strip, 3 second pause, long strip, long strip, medium strip, short strip, 5 second pause. You get the idea. Be erratic!
Fish Slower: Baitfish flies can definitely be retrieved too fast. I think folks tend to naturally strip these flies faster that usual because they figure a baitfish is going to be nervously darting around out there and they want to imitate that frantic swimming action. I get it, and a fast retrieve can work wonders sometimes, but during more inactive times it can also kill your success. When the water is colder or hotter than what is optimal, chances are everything is going to slow down a bit. Fish your flies accordingly.
More Sinkage: This might sound a little weird, but I've found some great success by fishing my flies deeper in shallow water. Let's say you're fishing down a bank casting for largemouth, but when you retrieve the fly you can clearly see it during the entirety of each retrieve. What I've seen when fishing streamers high in the water column like this (but from a more elevated position), is that sometimes fish will either ignore these flies, track them for only a few feet, or perhaps just come up and kind of "flash" or turn on them. From a more typical casting position, you may not even be aware any of this is happening.
If I'm fishing a fly high in the water column and having no success or actually seeing fish not committing, just fishing it slightly deeper can make a difference. Often times, keeping the fly down just enough where it barely disappears from view as you strip (perfect if fishing over weeds or a snaggy bottom) is enough. Of course, this all depends on the water clarity and exactly how deep the water is, but in the right scenario it works!
Less Flash: I've never been a fan of using a ton of flash in my flies unless I'm fishing stained water. Then, a flashy fly such as a flashtail clouser coupled with solid, contrasting colors like white with chartreuse can be a top pick. I've seen some flies with so much flash that in clear water under bring sunshine they even startled me! I get it; baitfish can shine and flash, but some of these flies look way over the top to me.
Generally, I like to keep flash at a minimum by using just enough to give the fly a little sheen and sparkle without freaking out the fish I'm actually trying to CATCH! A few strands mixed into the body or perhaps separating the back/body fibers is usually good enough to give the fly a good natural sparkle and still let the colors of the fibers also show through. A little flash can go a long way!