I am frequently asked what my thought process is when tying a streamer, especially when it comes to larger flies. My brain works in a scattered fashion, so I imagine I often cause more confusion than clarity. When helping a friend figure out the basics for teaching a streamer tying class for beginners, I decided to break it down. Hopefully, in a more helpful way. Its a combination of what goes through my head, and common missteps I see.
It all begins with what your intended target will be. That will steamroll into more questions. For example, here are some common questions that go through my head. What species of fish? Am I targeting any fish or the larger fish? What am I trying to imitate? Am I looking to imitate something specific, or looking more for a specific action? What water conditions do I want to fish this fly in? What motion do I want the fly to have? How will it cast? How durable do the flies need to be based on the fish I’m targeting? What hooks and why? I will try to break down the answers to these questions and why it matters.
What species of fish?
This is pretty basic. Knowing what type of fish I am targeting will narrow down a number of things. I will know what type of water it lives in, what its main forage is, what colors it may prefer, if the fly needs to withstand sharp teeth, how strong the hooks need to be, how sharp the hooks need to be, how large the fly should be, etc.
Am I targeting any fish of that specific species, or the largest of that species?
This is a common question for me as I often try to target the largest fish of that particular species. For example, I can tie a 4″ trout streamer to catch just about any size fish in the river. Or I can tie 8-10″ streamers to target the largest fish. Large trout will certainly eat small streamers, but I want to fish a large enough meal that the small trout won’t want to eat it.
What am I trying to imitate?
This is pretty straight forward. If I am imitating a sculpin, I know the shape, color, and size I’m trying to achieve. If I am imitating a bluegill, I want to tie a fly that will hold a tall profile for its size. And so on.
Am I looking to imitate something specific, or looking more for a specific action?
I am often not trying to imitate a specific prey. I fish for a lot of predator fish, and I like to tie flies that impart a specific action that will spark their predatory instincts. There are times when not “matching the hatch” can be beneficial. Having your fly standout in a sea of baitfish can help a fish key in on your fly.
What water conditions do I want to fish this fly in?
River and lake conditions can vary drastically. Having fly colors and size appropriate for clear water, stained water, and every thing in between will help. In clear water, natural colors often work well. In stained water, dark flies with bright/contrasting colors often produce best.
What motion do I want the fly to have?
This plays a big roll in how the streamer is built, and what materials are used. If I want a jigging motion, I’ll know I want a fly that has some weight near the front. If I want a fast drop, I’ll use materials that are not real buoyant. If I want a slow drop, I’ll want some buoyancy built into the fly. If I want a fly that pushes a lot of water, I’ll want a big head make of something like deer hair, craft fur, or wool. If I want the fly to have a very erratic motion, I’ll often incorporate weight into the rear of the fly combined with a wide head.
How will it cast?
The larger the fly, the more I’m concerned with how it will cast. Using materials that don’t hold water, yet still hold a good profile are key. Also, using materials that will help hold the profile, while using less material overall, is very important in making a large fly that is easy to cast.
How durable do the flies need to be based on the fish I’m targeting?
This one is pretty straight forward. If I’m targeting a fish with no or small teeth, I can use any material I wish. If I’m targeting toothy fish, I’ll want to use materials that aren’t easy to destroy or pull out when removing the fly.
What hook(s) to use and why?
This question can get pretty lengthy, and I plan on addressing it in the future. Basically, your hook(s) should be based on your targeted species and how they attack a fly/prey.
The most common issues I see, in my opinion, are not using the right amount of materials and not using the right hook(s). I often see people use too little material because of how it looks dry. They don’t take into account how those materials will collapse in the water or when moved. On the other side, I also see way too much material on streamers. This will make the fly harder to cast, and harder to move. A fly that is harder to move in the water will often hinder its action. Knowing when and how to use materials is vital in building a streamer. The larger the streamer, the more important it is.
When it comes to hooks, I often see a hook that is too small or too large. A hook that is too small can reduce the odds of hooking a fish. Using a hook that is too large for the fish you are targeting can also reducing hookup percentage. An oversized hook can also affect the action of the fly.
So that is my breakdown of what goes into building a streamer. Again, this is just my opinion and what works for me. Building large streamers is absolutely my favorite part of fly tying. It allows your creativity and imagination run wild. I am often accused of acting like a kid, so I guess this explains my fascination with streamers.