Fly fishing with streamers is a great way to increase your chances of landing a large trout. Our guide will show you how to best swing a streamer.

Why Fly Fish with Streamers?

If you think about what it would take to become a large trout, you must admit that it needs protein. And it needs lots of it. A small bug is nice if it comes near but a larger meal is worth going after. A large trout will expend the energy needed for a larger meal and when it does it often will give you a sudden and explosive strike.

This does not mean that you won't catch smaller trout with a streamer. A twelve-inch trout will go after a three-inch minnow or sculpin. Last summer when I was swinging flies for summer steelhead I would often hook a twelve-inch trout instead.

Keep reading below to learn about what a streamer is, good streamer design and techniques for swinging streamers.

What Is a Streamer?

A streamer is a fly that imitates sculpins, crayfish, leeches, minnows or other foods.
All of these creatures swim through the water and will attract the attention of a trout.
In short a streamer imitates anything that is not an insect.
A streamer may also be a fly that doesn't imitate anything in particular. There are times when "curiosity catches the trout." If the streamer looks like food and acts like food it may be enough to cause the trout to mouth the object till it knows for sure.

Productive Streamer Design

In general streamers should be dark in color, lightly weighted and have some built-in life and movement to them. When you are fly fishing on low light or overcast days, use a dark color. This shows a good profile. Brighter colors can be used successfully on bright days but be careful with a lot of flash in that it may alarm the trout.


Here are just a few examples of good productive streamers:

Krystal Woolly Bugger

These come in many colors, but be sure to have the darker colors in your fly box.

Muddler Minnow

These are a good imitation for sculpins.

Conehead Zonker

There are many similar streamers to the Zonker. The natural movement these give in the water imitates various aquatic life forms.

Explore Essential Fly Fishing Flies

Streamers are a great way to go after larger trout who are holding in deeper water. Nymphs and tube flies help you cast to smaller trout in more shallow waters. Explore our fly guides for more information. Be sure to check out our store for curated fly boxes.

How to Fly Fish With Streamers

There are three main methods of fly fishing with streamers: the classic swing, the drag-free dead drift and the downstream retrieval.

Swinging a Streamer

Swinging a streamer can be the easiest to learn. You start by casting across or a little upstream. Start with an upstream mend. This allows the streamer to sink. Once the streamer starts across the stream do a downstream mend or take four or five steps downstream. Keep the rod tip low and point the rod tip toward the fly. This gives the trout a good broadside look at the fly. At the end of the swing let the fly hang there for a few seconds. Trout will often follow a streamer to the end of the swing before they strike.

While using this classic swing method you can (and should) cover a lot of water. You start at the upstream end of a run and work your way downstream.

Using Dead Drift with a Streamer

A drag-free dead drift is where the fly fisher avoids adding any movement to the streamer. You cast upstream and allow the streamer to sink. As the fly passes you, the rod tip is lowered to extend the natural drift. This method is used to imitate a stunned life form that may have just gone through turbulent or rough waters.

Downstream Retrieval

A streamer retrieved downstream will imitate the natural behavior of most injured or fleeing minnows. Twitching the streamer during the retrieve will send a message to the larger trout that the minnow is struggling. The speed of the retrieve will depend on the speed of the current.

Retrieving a streamer upstream against a strong current is very unnatural. Think about it, if you were hurt or being chased by someone faster and larger than you would you run up or down a set of stairs?

More Fly Fishing Streamers Tips

Large trout are territorial. They will defend their spot on the river. I believe that if you caught a large trout on the river and came back the next day you would find the next smaller trout in the same spot.

Streamers are most successful when fished near the bottom. Using cone head streamers or adding a small split shot an inch or two above the streamer is often very helpful.

You may need a sink tip line with a rapid sink rate for fast or deep water. A short leader of six feet or less and a strong tippet will be needed.


Fly fishing with streamers can be used successfully in attracting large trout.

When fishing streamers keep in mind what you are trying to imitate. Watch your fly; would an aquatic creature really act like that?

Streamers are often overlooked by fly fishers who love (as most of us do) to fish the dry fly. There are times though when you should think outside the “dry fly” box.

Where Will Your Fly Fishing Journey Take You?

Find somewhere to swing your streamers. Our state fly fishing guides will help you know where to go and what to cast.