Streamer Fishing from a Raft

Simple Tips to Increase Your Chances of Landing a Trophy Brown Trout When Streamer Fishing

He signed the book and handed it across the counter. Not one to waste words, he simply smiled and carried on with his work. On the title page he’d written, “Randy: Enjoy the snow! Feels like a streamer day to me! Josh G.”

A few hours on the river would reveal whether Josh Greenberg, owner/operator of Gates Au Sable Lodge and author of Rivers of Sand: Fly Fishing Michigan and the Great Lakes Region was correct. While Greenberg does has have a stellar reputation for knowing the where and how of Michigan rivers, we crossed our fingers in hopes the overcast sky and light snow in the air would help make his prediction a reality.

As we launched the raft downstream of the lodge, nickel-sized snowflakes fell like confetti, the wind acting as choreographer for the feathery particles dancing around us. Cedars nodded at the tannic water as if to say, “Cast here,” and the towering pines whispered their approval.

“Though the air was cold, snow was swirling around the boat and the bite was slow—the essence of the day was a depiction of serenity.”

The familiar sound of fly line racing through the guides was accompanied by the soft “plop” of water-soaked streamers landing in what we hoped would be the hangout of a hungry trout. Temps were below freezing, our toes beyond numb, and fish lethargic, but we persisted knowing that it takes only one streamer-eater to make the day.

The unfamiliar observer might define our “drift” as a state of movement, which is void of direction or significance. Those more informed souls, who have experienced the cadence of the oars, charm of the current, and camaraderie of fellow fly enthusiasts, will have also discovered the personal momentum found only while in adrift in a boat or raft. Though the air was cold, snow was swirling around the boat and the bite was slow—the essence of the day was a depiction of serenity.

Rowing downstream looking for trout

Whether you’re positioned in the front or back of the boat or raft, always be looking downstream to locate the best possible place for a trout to hide.

Floor Level

The lucky soul who’s preparing to spend a few idyllic moments drifting with the current and is intent on reaping the rewards of throwing streamers may want to consider a few things before launching downstream. While these reminders are simple, they are vital for retaining your sanity and remaining in good graces with your guide or rower.

It only takes one lost fish due to a tangled line to recognize how important it is to make sure the floor is clear of any obstructions. Streamer fishing requires a clear area to strip your line before you make a single cast. Boat bag, fly box, cooler, jacket, or net, whatever is on the floor that could possibly catch or tangle your line. Get it out of the way before you cast.

“As we drifted through the holy water, an ill-mannered brown ate the streamer like a 1-year-old double fisting birthday cake.”

Since you’ll be casting in a standing position, your feet can be just as much of an obstacle. Use your arm to cast, keep your body in a fixed position, and keep your feet stationary. Moving your feet is a sure guarantee the line will get tangled under your shoe or boot when you try to shoot line. If a casting brace is available, lock yourself in to prevent habitual movement of your feet and resulting tangles in your line.

To effectively cast and hook fish, line control is paramount when streamer fishing. Excess line on the floor won’t help you cast farther or catch fish. Only strip out as much line as you can cast and shoot. Otherwise your line will twist and knot as it sits on the floor.

I have yet to meet a guide or rower who enjoys removing a hook from their skin. When casting out of a boat or raft, the use of a backhand cast is essential. This technique will keep the line over the bow of the boat and prevent the fly from being cast over the rower’s seat.

streamer fishing downstream

Since the boat is drifting downstream, get an idea of where you’ll cast. If you’re not looking ahead and picking a spot, you’ll end up drifting past the prime location and casting too late.

Location & Presentation

When it comes to their preference in prime real estate, brown trout reside in log piles, undercut banks, off the bank on secondary shelves, and around structure. Streamer fishing for brown trout from a raft or drift boat will be much more productive if the fly is placed intentionally and not randomly. The odds of catching will always increase if you hunt the fish and cast to where you know the fish is most likely to call home.

While some fly fishermen claim to possess blind faith and their approach to casting is quantitative versus qualitative, the idea of streamer fishing is not to make as many casts as possible believing a fish will magically show up and eat based upon some phenomena or stroke of luck. Experienced anglers believe faith and expectancy are a result of logic, and that logic is based upon an understanding of where the fish reside and the proper presentation of the streamer.

Whether you’re positioned in the front or back of a boat or raft, always be looking downstream to locate the best possible place for a trout to hide—that’s where you’ll cast. Since the boat is drifting downstream, getting an idea where you’ll cast will allow you to prepare and then execute the cast in sequence with the drift. If you’re not looking ahead and picking a spot, you’ll end up drifting past the prime location and casting too late.

Your casts will be much more precise if you have time to prepare for them. If you see structure on the right of the boat, fixate on the spot and cast to it. Get your streamer as close to the structure as possible. The closer your fly lands in proximity to the fish, the more likely the fish will respond with a predatory eat. The same goes when casting to where you believe a fish may be pinned to a bank; try to get as close to the edge of the bank as you can.

When in the back of the boat watch where the angler in the front is casting. If he or she casts to the front of a log pile, cast to the back. Take the time to communicate with your fishing partner on what streamer pattern and color you’ll be fishing. If you choose a different color than your partner and vary the fly pattern, the chances of getting a bite from a stubborn trout will increase.

Smaller rivers require different presentations than bigger rivers. When fishing small rivers make your initial cast at more of a 45-degree angle in front of the boat. In bigger rivers with consistent flows, fish perpendicular to the boat, casting over the bubble line to the slowest water, especially when fishing in colder weather as fish will hold in much slower water.

Presenting the fly with a slight belly in the line will turn the head of your fly downstream. Don’t force the cast. Slow down and drive the rod with your thumb. You want direct tension from the fly to the reel when the fly hits the water. Remember this mantra: “Soft landing. Tight line.”

pulling fish out of water

Temps were below freezing, our toes beyond numb, and fish lethargic, but we persisted knowing that it takes only one streamer-eater to make the day.

Keep It Tight

One of the most important elements when fishing from a drift boat is to always keep tension on the fly. Whether using a “jig, strip” or “pop, strip” retrieve, don’t allow slack in the fly line. Streamer fishing requires a strip set, and to set the hook you’ll need tension on the line before you set the hook. A tight line will make it possible to get a big fly with a big hook into the mouth of a hungry trout. One of the hardest habits to break for trout fisherman is to not lift the rod when strip setting. To ensure a proper strip set keep the tip of your rod in the water when stripping the fly back to the boat. This little trick will help you strip set properly and hook more fish.

While it would take several books to record all the tips, tricks, and nuances to streamer fishing, and there is no substitute for time on the water, these simple tips will help maximize your effort. For top-notch streamer tips you can’t go wrong with reading or watching anything by Alex Lafkas. Lafkas is a veteran trout guide and possesses unlimited knowledge when it comes to steamer fishing. Lafkas has helped shape my approach to streamer fishing and much of the information shared in these simple tips I’ve learned through him. Feel free to visit alflyfishing.com to find more information and up your streamer game.

Conclusion

That cold day on the Au Sable was worth the hours of casting, cold toes, and frozen fingers. As we drifted through the holy water, an ill-mannered brown ate the streamer like a 1-year-old double-fisting birthday cake. Once hooked, the wise, old fish put on a display of acrobatics that were circus worthy. It was an impressive fish and well worth the effort.

Josh Greenberg was right—it was a streamer day.

 

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Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the March/April 2020 print issue of Tread Magazine

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