Streamer fishing tactics for UK River Trout
South Wales based angler Ceri Thomas looks at unconventional tactics for UK rivers, and discusses how he employs streamer fishing tactics on flowing water for wild trout.
The idea of tossing a streamer or lure on a UK river is a bit repellent to our cultured history of upstream dry fly fishing, manicured chalk stream banks and so on. The truth of it is trout are opportunists and will eat literally anything that provides protein, not just small invertebrates. Rodents, snakes, smaller fish and even their own kind are all on the menu.
It’s well known that anglers in the USA like to fish streamers. You often see awesome trophy shots on Facebook, with huge exotic flies with names like ‘sex dungeon’ or ‘zoo cougar’ hanging out of a huge browns hooked jaw. Despite the obvious proof they work, here in the UK streamers have never really taken off as a ‘go to’ method; but times are changing with excellent patterns now available from UK suppliers, including Fulling Mill.
I first started using streamers in the UK around 20 years ago after several visits to the USA. Just like in the mid-western rivers I fished, I found British wild trout liked to strike at lures in sombre colours, mainly black, dark brown and olive. Forget your brighter colours that you would use for rainbows. Fulling Mill do a great selection of patterns in these colour schemes.
Streamer Fishing Tactics
How and when to fish them:
My streamer fishing tactics are easy, just follow these easy steps to getting the most out of streamering. Fishing streamers is far more effective in certain conditions. Bear this in mind and you will maximise your success.
River in Flood
Floodwater conditions offer the perfect opportunity to fish a really large streamer, such as the Fulling Mill Skullhead Zonkers and Skullhead Wooly Buggers. In these conditions ‘normal’ fly fishing is simply not possible, but with a size 4 streamer attached the trout will notice your fly even in chocolate brown water!
These outsize flies silhouette extremely well in coloured water, where larger fish feel safe and feed heavily, using the cover a flood provides. Look for slacks, back eddies, pool tails etc. – basically anywhere out of the main flow where food collects and baitfish can be corralled. Casting need not be far – just a few yards into a nice seam under your feet will do. Dead drift your flies with an occasional twitch in such areas for best results.
In low light
Low light conditions are another prime time to use a streamer. Wild trout lose their caution at dawn and dusk. Nocturnal trout enter the shallows to hunt minnows, attack mice and other rodents that swim across the river. This behaviour is more evident in the Summer months, from late May until the season’s end. Where many anglers pack up and go home after fishing a late evening spinner fall, I stay on and rig up a streamer for night-time feeders.
Prime areas to fish at night include pool tails, long still flats and shallow riffles – be prepared to find large fish in just inches of water – one night on the Taff I had a 20 inch plus brown nail a woolly bugger on the swing in just 6 inches of water, an area completely devoid of fish in the day time.
When night fishing I like to use a big hairy, heavily palmered fly, like the Fulling Mill olive grizzly bugger. Takes come from below at night, and the hackle helps keep the fly up in the water column, allowing the fly to drift and pulse better, silhouetted by the night sky. A top tip from my streamer fishing tactics armoury!
At night it’s easier to cast your flies down and across, searching the water. Gently swing your streamer round in the flow, with the odd figure of eight or strip to entice a take. Don’t forget the hang – this is where a lot of takes come! That big hackle helps with this, making a bulge and wake that a following fish will find hard to resist
Day Time – Scale down
When day time fishing I tend to use smaller streamers – the Jig wooly buggers from Fulling Mill are simply perfect, and these can also be fished on a French leader. I also tie smaller lures for day time use, with a size cap of around 1.5 inches in length. Fitted with a heavy bead, they are intended to get down deep quick, and can also be used with a Euro line or French leader.
The CT Tungsten Bugger:
Hook – Fulling Mill grab gape black nickel size 10.
Tail -Black marabou
Body – Black wool
Rib – Silver wire
Hackle – Coch-y-Bonddu or furnace hen
Head collar – Peacock lite brite
Bead – 3.8 mm Fulling Mill gold Tungsten
When using a streamer in the daytime, I cast upstream and across as tight to far bank cover as possible. Twitch your fly back downstream in short jerks, interspersed with dead drifting. The natural escape vector of prey is always downstream, so this technique imitates natural movement well. I find upstream streamer fishing far more effective than the traditional ‘’down and across’’ throw – takes are more solid, with less tail nipping. Another advantage is there is far less chance of spooking your quarry. The key is never to linger, cover lots of water and you will eventually find an aggressive trout willing to hit your lure.
Streamer fishing tactics for fast water are deadly! River browns like to attack streamers in fast water. Here they don’t get a chance to examine the fly, or have the time to make an informed decision. In such areas it is far easier to trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response by swinging a streamer past them quickly. By concentrating your efforts in fast water, you will have far more strikes to streamers, especially during a bright day.
When all else fails…
Sometimes the trout just won’t have it. The river seems dead, nothing is rising, whatever you try is just ignored and it seems a blank is inevitable. This is when a streamer can turn your day around. Try it, you have nothing to lose… Right?
For some reason on certain day’s river trout ‘like’ to eat streamers – I have no explanation for it, but if they are ‘on’ you can have a great day, so it is worth trying by making some prospective casts, just to see.
As an example last year I had a tough midsummer day on the Taff, I really struggled, with the fish seemingly in lethargic summer mode and not interested in anything. I tied on the streamer, made a ‘last cast’ upstream into a deep pool I had already fished…. Bang, first cast a 16 inch brown! Half a dozen more fish later, with a lot more missed it turned out to be a good day – saved by the streamer.
My set up
If I am heading out just to practice my streamer fishing tactics at night, I use a fast action single hand, 5 or 6 weight rod, non-stretch fly line with an aggressive taper (Airflo Xceed or 40 plus floater) 5 foot intermediate polyleader, and 5 foot of 6lb fluorocarbon tippet. I don’t go any lower or use ultra thin diameter stuff, as the risk of a break off gets higher, especially as you need to get the fly tight to snags and rocks for best success. The large size of these flies requires a tippet diameter to match, to ensure best presentation and turnover. Standard Fulling Mill Fluorocarbon is tough as old boots and does a good job. 6lb sounds heavy duty but the fish won’t be leader shy, the idea is to provoke an immediate ‘fight or flight’ response – they will either nail it or lose interest quickly, with no time to look at your leader closely.
If you haven’t tried streamer tossing in the UK yet, then make sure you give these streamer fishing tactics a go! It really is an effective method, and great fun too. There are no excuses now – you can pick up the right flies from the guys at Fulling Mill! Happy hunting.