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I’ve spent nearly 50 years of my life fly fishing for trout and over that time, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the best streamers for trout.
Streamers and hairwings can be a remarkably effective way of catching trout. Odd to think that this style of fishing has only developed since the 1950s. Arguably the old style wet flies and spiders of the 1700s share many of the same characteristics so perhaps nothing is new after all!
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When I started fishing in the UK the early 1970’s many beats and clubs thought ‘proper’ trout fishing was with ‘proper’ flies – mostly dry flies at that! Streamer fishing remains more popular in North America but attitudes have changed a lot and there are a number of key fly patterns you could fish anywhere. Here we have a look at some of the best streamer and hairwing flies for catching trout.
What is a Streamer Fly?
For the most part, streamer flies are likely to imitate ‘other’ fish food such as fish fry or baitfish – not actual ‘flies’ or immature fly nymphs or caddis.
Properly they are lures and only ‘flies’ by courtesy. Streamers are of course tied with similar materials and fished in a similar way to wet flies.
What Makes A Great Streamer For Trout?
The great thing about streamers and hairwings is their mobility – the materials in the dressing impart movement and life. Usually, we judge flies by their ‘GISS’ qualities – General Impression Shape and Size but in this case the key qualities of effective streamers are likely to be different.
The best streamers for trout will have these following traits:
Fly Fishing Streamers Action
The movement imparted by the long hair is likely to be the key attractor element for switching on the ‘eat me’ trigger in the trout.
Fly Fishing Streamers Imitation
The accuracy of the imitation is likely to play second fiddle to the movement in the materials, but there may be some secondary features, such as glass or dumbell fish-eyes, that reinforce the ‘edible’ features of the streamer.
Fly Fishing Streamers Attraction
The color or density of the colors may be important in emphasizing the attractiveness of the best streamers. Also other elements as suggested above – key trigger items – such as eyes or silver flash to suggest fish scales.
Some hairwing patterns are in effect conversions from salmon fly dressings discovered where the color/pattern was found to be attractive to trout.
What Do The Best Streamers For Trout Imitate?
Streamers will typically imitate fish fry – there are various classes of pattern such as ‘minnows’ or dace but also other aquatic creatures.
And some patterns probably rely more on the attractor element and do not imitate anything specific – at least not to the fly fisher though they may to the trout, and hence the evolution of some salmon flies to ‘best trout streamers’.
10 Best Streamers for Trout (And Hairwings)
Since the streamer and hairwing has been around for roughly seventy years we have now reached a stage where there are ‘classic’ streamers and ‘new’ or modern streamers – a fresh generation of mainly larger lures for larger trout. But when fishing smaller streams and rivers the classic (and usually smaller) patterns will do just fine.
Here it is, my list of the best streamers for trout, as well as some great hairwing patterns that can be super-effective.
1. Muddler Minnows (The Best Streamer Fly)
This style of streamer has a spun deer hair collar and a lead weighted body to take the ‘fly’ down near the bottom of the lake or river. River patterns will need more weight so you may need a couple of patterns/ weights if you fish stillwaters and rivers.
There are numerous subsequent variants, but you could do much worse than the original muddler minnow with its plain deer hair ruff and gold tinsel body.
This is not only one of the best streamers for trout, it’s also a classic fly that pretty much every angler will have in their fly box.
2. Thunder Creek Lures
This is a North American series developed by Keith Fulsher; another small baitfish style of tying. The wing is built up from layers of different coloured bucktail and roughly represents the lateral line coloration of small fish fry.
There is a painted eye on each side of the tying and a silver or gold tinsel body wrapped on the hook shank to glint through the hairwing.
These flies should catch you more than just trout and can be fished in a wide variety of settings. The pattern might not be permitted on some English chalkstreams but will catch you trout anywhere and is a one of the best streamer flies – a good alternative when you have tried all of the conventional offerings.
3. The Woolly Bugger (Classic Trout Streamer)
One of the original streamer patterns devised by Russell Blessing in the late 1960s. There are several variants. Try a fish fry dressing with a white chenille body and marabou tail – a highly mobile attractor feature—and painted eyes. Alternatively, go dark brown or black.
Like many simple impressionistic patterns, this is a very effective lure and one of the best trout streamer and fry imitations for the river or lake. Some folk have suggested this pattern should be banned, it is so effective!
4. Munro Killer (Best Trout Streamer For Rivers)
This streamer pattern is probably best suited to rivers rather than lake fishing. As far as river trout streamers go, this is one of the best.
5. Clouser (Most Versatile of Streamer Flies)
A hairwing with bead chain eyes and often with USD/ up side down hook. Fished hook up this can help avoid tangles in weed strewn lies.
If you size this properly, the Clouser can be fished in freshwater or salt and is one of the best and most universal dressings. Trout, panfish, predators – this pattern covers just about every scenario.
Part of a style of fly tying rather than an actual pattern; probably a cone head version of the Wooly Bugger is amongst the most effective streamer patterns but the principle could be applied to pretty much any streamer.
So; why have I put coneheads in a class of their own? One of the features of streamer fishing is that it is usually targetted at bigger fish, deeper down in the water column.
If there is no rise and perhaps the water is colored the larger size and dense colouring of the streamer will make itself known to larger fish when small patterns might disappear in the murk.
A tungsten conehead will get down to the fish quickly – if water is coloured then river levels may be up and fast flowing following rainfall, and you need all the help you can to get the fly to the fish so it does skim over their heads.
A conehead wooly bugger is probably the first choice in these situations.
7. Sculpin (One of My Favorite Streamer Flies for Trout)
This is a baitfish pattern primarily for North America sometimes tied with a large weighted flat head – typically an olive or brown dressing with a large dollop of dyed rabbit fur and often with some cock hackles to add to the movement effect.
Although a real sculpin might grow to six inches in length a shorter dressing of the fly will suffice. Again this can be tied hook point up to reduce snags or point down in the conventional style.
Fished dead drift or on a jig retrieve this is an effective trout streamer for the larger fish. When it comes to streamer flies for trout, this is one of my favorites.
8. Zonkers (Best Trout Streamers For Quick Strips)
These are lures tied with a strip of fur – usually rabbit fur – with the hide backing left on. The hook shank may be wrapped with tinsel or fur to add more attractor key elements and is usually weighted too. An ideal candidate for a cone head or tungsten bead.
Whilst the zonker can be dressed up it is equally effective as a simple dressing and in my view if the fur strip is left unhindered it can offer plenty of ‘wiggle’ to attract some larger trout.
Mostly we have been looking at baitfish imitations as the streamer is ideally suited to a wafty wiggly representation in the moving water or on a jigged retrieve – but a crayfish with two front arms tied zonker style or from feather will again offer plenty of lifelike features to a hungry larger fish – something like a Crawdad or any of the ‘articulated’ crawfish patterns.
A slow figure eight retrieve should get the arms moving nicely as the lure moves close to the riverbed in an appealing fashion.
10. Leeches (Best Trout Streamers For Stillwater)
Essentially this is something like a wooly bugger with a foam fish ‘egg’ tied behind the hook eye and represents a class of fish food not covered in the examples above. One or two of these in the fly box might just save the day, and they represent two forms of fish food in one!
This is an effective streamer fly to fish on a slow gentle retrieve, on the swing, or dead drift.
How and When To Use A Streamer Fly?
This style of fishing tends to be for larger trout (but will cover panfish and a variety of other fishy critters too).
Tied in smaller sizes streamers will also entertain smaller trout on smaller waters. The streamer style of fishing has evolved targetted at the bigger fish but there is no reason why you cannot use them for smaller trout and on smaller rivers if you keep the dressing size appropriate.
In colored water after a heavy rainfall the streamer may offer some tactical advantages over conventional fly patterns. The larger size and density makes them more visible.
The streamer can be fished very much like a salmon fly ‘on the swing’ cast across the river. Allowed to swing downstream then retrieved back past the fish you should be ready at all times to lift and strike. In lakes a conventional cast and figure eight or jig retrieve will likely be more appropriate.
The streamer and hairwing style is primarily suited to fishing for bigger trout (and salmon and pike – and in smaller sizes perch or panfish too).
You will need to consider the venues you fish and think about how heavily your streamers should be weighted. And in some locations streamer fishing would be against the club rules (well it would on the English chalkstream beats anyway!).
However this is an effective means of fishing and is of course still imitative – covering baitfish, crayfish and leeches – so although not copying real ‘flies’ the streamer does represent real fish food to the trout and is a true form of ‘fish stalking’
You will need at least a few of these patterns in your fly box if you are a casual fly fisher but for the dedicated big trout hunter (and for pike,salmon and other species too) a wide selection of streamer or hairwing patterns will be needed at differing weights and lengths.
Whilst less traditional than the ‘Jock Scott’ salmon fly this style of fly fishing is just the next step in the evolution of our sport!
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