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Streamer Fishing 201: It's All In The Presentation

Streamer Fishing 201: It's All In The Presentation

Last week we briefly discussed the importance of your streamer presentation and how it is more important than the fly itself. This is something to keep in mind every single time you're out streamer fishing. I’ve had very few days where the fly I was throwing actually mattered. Most of the time the size, color, or profile matter much more than the specific pattern. That being said, we won’t be discussing flies this week. Instead, we’ll be covering the much more important aspect. Presentation, presentation, and most importantly, presentation. There’s many different ways to present and retrieve a streamer, but not all of them work at the same time. In this week’s streamer class we’ll be going over the different techniques and retrieves used for streamer fishing.


The Swing:

Swinging a streamer is generally considered to be the easiest form of streamer fishing. The approach is simple, cast your fly 45° downstream and keep your line taut to feel any strikes that may occur. Throwing in a mend upstream is sometimes necessary to match the speed of the current and/or allow for a slower drift. Swinging is typically not a go-to method when throwing streamers, but usually comes into play in colder water. Heavy sinking lines and usually a heavy weighted streamer is necessary for this approach.

This is the most commonly fished method when throwing streamers. Fishing this method allows you to cover the same amount of water as the swing, but with more activity through the fly. Fishing the downstream approach can be done at any time of the year. The beauty of this presentation is it triggers the territorial instinct in trout because our streamer resembles something swimming through their home and the fish want it gone. Trout are always territorial so when no other approach is working, this can get the job done.

This is the hardest and most hands on approach to streamer fishing. It is also my favorite way to fish a streamer. When you spook a small trout, minnow, crawdad, or any other big food source, they almost always flee away downstream because it offers them the path of least resistance. This is very important to keep in mind.

Trout aggressively respond to fleeing food sources because if they don’t react quickly the chance at an easy big meal will be gone in a blink of an eye. Unlike the downstream approach where fish are eating your fly in a territorial manner, the eats on an upstream presentation are taken in a predatory manner. We’re perfectly imitating how their food source is fleeing away and in turn the trout eat it as a meal.

I mentioned that this approach is considered the most difficult way to fish a streamer, and it absolutely is. Unlike the other methods described, we’re fishing with the current rather than against it. This means the current is already moving our streamer downstream. In order to make up for this and to move it fast enough to resemble a fleeing baitfish, you have to strip very fast. This can be difficult when you’re first starting out because it’s a much faster rate than we’re used to. The goal is to move the streamer as fast as physically possible, so be ready for some sore arms.

A retrieval method that aids the upstream presentation is the jerk-strip. We’ll discuss the jerk-strip in more depth in a little bit. The upstream presentation is best fished in warmer water when trout are actively hunting bigger food sources, think mid spring through fall. 

Other Notable Techniques:

  • Directly across stream with a swing and/or strip
  • Jigging
  • Topwater patterns such as mice, frogs, gurglers, etc. 
  • “Killing” the fly to void any movement 
  • Dead-drifting/nymphing


The Standard Strip:

This one is pretty straight forward, grab your line and pull it in. There is some nuance to this though, not all stripping cadences are going to work on a given day. Some days the fish seem to want the streamer stripped in as fast as possible. Sometimes it’ll be a “strip-strip-pause”, sometimes it’ll be long, slow strips. Mix up your stripping and you’ll eventually find the movement the fish will like.


The jerk-strip is arguably the best way to fish a streamer. You are still trying to find the right stripping cadence like you would with the standard strip, but with the addition of a “jerk.” The “jerk” is done by manipulating the rod to provide more action and/or speed into the fly. If you’ve ever fished a jerkbait (ugh did he really just mention that?) then you’ll know exactly how to fish this retrieve. The difficulty fishing this retrieve is it takes some muscle memory to get it down, particularly when you’re fishing upstream. It’s sort of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach. As you jerk the rod, you are also stripping in line to not only move the fly, but to also make up for the amount of slack created. 

Two-Hand Retrieve:

This is another weird one that takes some getting used to as well. This is not a method I would recommend fishing from the shore on a river. However, when floating or fishing a stillwater this can be a must-need retrieve. This retrieve is done by tucking your rod in your armpit after casting and using both hands to retrieve, alternating between each hand as you go. The benefit of using this retrieve is allowing your fly to continuously move without any pauses that are typical from using only one hand. This continuous motion is very important when fish are keying in on super slow moving baitfish, and in this opposite direction, moving at insanely fast speeds. 

One thing to remember, there’s no wrong way to move a streamer. Mix up your retrieves, try different presentations, look outside the box, get weird. 

We hope our Streamer Fishing 201 class helped you get further into streamer fishing. Stay tuned next week for our 301 course. If you have any questions regarding this article or streamer fishing in general, feel free to email Xavier at, or call the shop at 303-330-1292. 

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