Pro Tips: In High Water, Slap That Streamer

Written by: George Daniel, Livin On The Fly

This gorgeous brown fell to a slapped-down streamer in the high, muddy water of spring.
Photos by George Daniel

When you’re streamer fishing in high and off-color water, the rules of “gentle” trout presentations go out the door. Trout, like other fish, possess a repertoire of senses for feeding. In clear water, trout may use sight (just one option) as a means to locate food. But when their ability to see food is limited there are other means–taste smell, hearing, and feeling–to locate food. Anglers who use live bait or scented lures have an advantage over fly fishers in muddy water because trout can smell and locate the offering. The best attention-grabbing tool a fly angler has in those conditions is often sound. Sometimes, slapping the fly on the surface is the only thing that will alert the fish that there’s something to be eaten nearby. There may be some scenarios in which a hard slap on the water will spook fish, but if we spook them, at least we know that we have been heard.

It’s no secret that in high and muddy water, trout will often hold tight to the bank–for protection from the current and feeding purposes–and it may seem counter-intuitive to slap a fly down in slack or soft water. But SLAP! you should, and you should do it hard.  As a general rule, the muddier the water, the harder you need to slap the streamer. I don’t think you can be too aggressive with your streamer presentation in these conditions. Here are two suggestions increase your slap effect.  

First, use greater force to present the fly. I know: common sense, right? But I’m often surprised how delicately anglers present their streamers in dirty water. You can create greater force in one of two ways: with a more aggressive stroke or with the aid of an aggressive haul during the presentation cast. A combination of the two works, as well. Either way, use more force to present your streamer on the water. 

Kelly Galloup’s Zoo Cougar makes quite an impact on the water, alerting trout to its presence.

Some streamer profiles are designed to create a greater slap. Any streamer with a wide-profile head will create a heavier impact on the water. My favorite streamer for fishing the shallow banks near my central Pennsylvania waters is Kelly Galloup’s Zoo Cougar. I fish it on a floating line with a small split shot on the nose to create neutral buoyancy. And when I tie my Cougars, I go for a wide deer-hair head profile.  

Why? Think about hitting the water with your hand in two positions: karate-chop style and palm-down. Obviously, the flat profile will create a louder sound and disturbance. This is the power of the slap in dirty water, and this is why I strive to fish a streamer with a flat profile, when I want the wider surface area to create the type of impact that I am sure trout will register.  

Let ’em know you’re there and hang on!  

George Daniel operates Livin On The Fly, a guide service in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also the author of Strip-Set: Fly-Fishing Techniques, Tactics, & Patterns for Streamers, as well as Dynamic Nymphing

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