The best streamers for smallmouth bass are…

If you do a search for “best” or “top ten” streamers for smallmouth bass, you are presented with an eclectic mix of patterns, typically opaque, with big googly eyes and using all kinds of new-agey materials — often accompanied by seductive promises of fish-catchess prowess. And oh, by the way, you can’t have the recipe, but here’s where you may purchase the wonder fly.

Ahem.

I can’t claim to be an expert on the lesser pie-holed cousins of the bucketmouth, but when I sat down at the vice this weekend to tie some smallmouth streamers I kept things pretty basic. I have a strong suspicion this selection will be met with approval by the target audience — the key word being selection. Some will ride topwater. Some will swim just below the surface. Some will plumb the depths and jig on the retrieve. They feature colors that range from earth-tones to fluorescents. You know the drill: give the fish a choice.

Now, I just gotta get them wet.

Clockwise from bottom left: Gartside Gurgler variants (size 2), three sets of Woolly Bugger variants (sizes 4-6), Deep Threat variants (sizes 4-6), and in the center, some neutral buoyancy thingy I tied on a whim.

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Trout Streamer Leaders for Floating and Full-Sink Lines

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “What’s your streamer leader formula?” The answer depends on two factors: the kind of line I’m using, and what I want the fly to do.

When I’m fishing streamers for trout, I fish two kinds of lines: either an integrated full-sink line or a floater. Let’s start with the full sink.

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Here’s a pdf: Trout Streamer Leaders

I use the full sink mostly in winter. Sometimes I’ll use it during warmer weather if the river is running high. I choose the full sink when I want the line to help the fly get down; consequently, the leader is kept short, three feet or less. Anything over three feet and you begin to defeat the purpose of the full-sink line. Don’t worry about the fly being so close to that heavy, dark string — the last thing a predatory brown is focusing on is your line.

There are a few deep holes in the Farmington that I like to dredge in winter. Unfortunately, bottom structure — snags — is often part of the cost of admission to those lairs. That’s when I’ll use the lighter of the two sinking line leader systems, simply because it’s easier to break off the snag from hell.

As you can see, the floating line system is likewise simple. A standard-issue Ox or lx tapered leader does the job nicely. This is what I’ll use for the vast majority of my streamer fishing, or when I am fishing a big floating fly like a mouse pattern. I’ll add tippet material that matches the terminal end of the taper if the leader gets too short. I will also add tippet material if I want to get my fly down deeper. A floating line gives you the ability to mend, and consequently harness the power of the current or sink your fly. So, about 7 1/2 feet for most applications, and about 10 feet to help get the fly deep.

Big trout don’t care about that heavy black string snaking through the water ahead of your fly. Taken on a Deep Threat streamer and a full-sink line.

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A floating line, a 7 1/2 foot leader, a presentation near the surface, and all is right in the streamer world.

Big wild brown hen 8-2015

 

The Hi-Liter Soft-Hackled Streamer

I’m gotten a lot of requests to do a video on my soft-hackled streamers, so here you go with the Hi-Liter.

Hook: 4XL streamer, size 6
Thread: Chartreuse
Bead: Spirit River Hot Bead 3/16″ Chartreuse, seated with .010 wire
Tail: Hot or fluorescent pink marabou over 8 strands pink Krystal flash
Body: Pearl braid
Wing: 8 strands pink Krystal flash to mid-point of tail
Hackle: 4 turns chartreuse marabou blood quill

The following content draws from my original post on the Hi-Liter:

It was the mid 1980s. I’d just landed that coveted first job as a junior copywriter at a mid-sized Connecticut advertising agency. Every job that came across my desk included a creative brief: the background, current situation, brand essence, single most important thought, and support points for what I’d ultimately be creating. I’d pore over the brief with the eagerness of the cub writer I was. But then, I’d want that brief to be even briefer. So I’d reach into my drawer and pull out a highlighter marker. Usually bright green or fluorescent yellow. Sometimes pink. When I was done, that brief would be focused on the essentials. I could see at a glance what was really important.

That’s the energy behind the Hi-Liter streamer.

The moment it hits the water, trout can see what the most important object in the pool is. It’s that thing. That bright, moving, flowing thing. Can’t miss it. There it is. Never seen a baitfish in those colors. But oh, look how it moves and pulses and flashes. The heck with those little black stones. I want that thing. Now. Better eat it before it gets away.

I’d like to tell you that I thought long and hard about the Hi-Liter, and that I field tested it for months. But the truth is that I made it up on the spur of the moment several years ago just hours before I stepped into the river. The trout liked it that day. And they still do.

The Hi-Liter. It looks substantial here, but it casts small, and slims down dramatically in the water. 

HiLiter studio

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A wallflower this streamer is not. Subtlety escapes it. See how the colors pop against muted earth tones? I love the Hi-Liter on bright, sunny days.

HiLiternatural

All wet. My original prototype from years ago.

Highlighter Streamer

Tying notes: With the bead head and the wire seating, the fly will ride hook point up. The weight addition is subtle; this is not intended as a “carpet bomb the bottom” fly. For a more traditional style streamer, skip the bead and the wire. Besides the marking pen reference, the original color scheme draws from the extensive use of chartreuse and pink in striper files. I also tie this fly with a fluorescent yellow or chartreuse tail, and a white hackle. Try not to over-dress the fly; you want the hackle to act as a veil, creating a translucent effect against the body.

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The Hi-Liter Rogues’ Gallery:

Farmington River someteen-inch brown, 3/13/15

16%22 late winter brown

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Farmington River, 1/21/15

Streamer Brown 1:15

Trout streamer: the Hi-Liter

It was the mid 1980s. I’d just landed that coveted first job as a junior copywriter at a mid-sized Connecticut advertising agency. Every job that came across my desk included a creative brief: the background, current situation, brand essence, single most important thought, and support points for what I’d ultimately be creating. I’d pore over the brief with the eagerness of the cub writer I was. But then, I’d want that brief to be even briefer. So I’d reach into my drawer and pull out a highlighter marker. Usually bright green or fluorescent yellow. Sometimes pink. When I was done, that brief would be focused on the essentials. I could see at a glance what was really important.

That’s the energy behind the Hi-Lighter streamer.

The moment it hits the water, trout can see what the most important object in the pool is. It’s that thing. That bright, moving, flowing thing. Can’t miss it. There it is. Never seen a baitfish in those colors. But oh, look how it moves and pulses and flashes. The heck with those little black stones. I want that thing. Now. Better eat it before it gets away.

I’d like to tell you that I thought long and hard about the Hi-Liter, and that I field tested it for months. But the truth is that I made it up on the spur of the moment several years ago just hours before I stepped into the river. The trout liked it that day. And they still do.

The Hi-Liter. It looks substantial here, but it casts small, and slims down dramatically in the water. 

HiLiter studio

Hook: 4XL streamer, size 6
Thread: Chartreuse
Bead: Spirit River Hot Bead 3/16″ Chartreuse, seated with .010 wire
Tail: Hot or fluorescent pink marabou over 8 strands pink Krystal flash
Body: Pearl braid
Wing: 8 strands pink Krystal flash to mid-point of tail
Hackle: 4 turns chartreuse marabou blood quill

A wallflower this streamer is not. Subtlety escapes it. See how the colors pop against muted earth tones? I love the Hi-Liter on bright, sunny days.

HiLiternatural

All wet. My original prototype from years ago.

Highlighter Streamer

Tying notes: With the bead head and the wire seating, the fly will ride hook point up. The weight addition is subtle; this is not intended as a “carpet bomb the bottom” fly. For a more traditional style streamer, skip the bead and the wire. Besides the marking pen reference, the original color scheme draws from the extensive use of chartreuse and pink in striper files. I also tie this fly with a fluorescent yellow or chartreuse tail, and a white hackle. Try not to over-dress the fly; you want the hackle to act as a veil, creating a translucent effect against the body.

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The Hi-Liter Rogues’ Gallery:

Farmington River someteen-inch brown, 3/13/15

16%22 late winter brown

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Farmington River, 1/21/15

Streamer Brown 1:15

Trout streamer: the Deep Threat

When it comes to fly design, I always ask, “What do I want the fly to do?” With the Deep Threat, the answers came easy. I wanted a fly that would sink quickly. I wanted a fly that was highly impressionistic (Sculpin? Salamander? Frog?). I wanted a fly that would create the illusion of life, even if it were at rest. A fly rendered in natural earth tones. Most of all, I wanted a fly I could fish along the bottom, hook point up, in the cold winter waters of the Farmington River.

And here it is. The Deep Threat draws from many patterns. You can see little bits of Woolly Bugger, Zonker, Peanut Envy, and Alaskabou in its lineage. Its core of natural materials will whisper to the trout, “I’m alive.” There’s a calculated minimal use of flash and sparkle; enough to get a brown’s attention without overwhelming the pattern. I’ve been testing the Deep Threat for months, and I’ve been able to get to the bottom of some very deep pools on the Farmington using a full sink tip line and some mends. The fly is officially trout-approved. Fish it, like I do, with confidence.

The Deep Threat

Deep Threat