Pro Tips: Four Hot Tips on Tippets

One of the easiest ways to improve your presentation in your trout fishing is to pay more attention to your tippet.  It’s as important as the fly pattern you choose, and the size and length and. . .

One of the easiest ways to improve your presentation in your trout fishing is to pay more attention to your tippet.  It’s as important as the fly pattern you choose, and the size and length and taper of the terminal end of your leader can even determine how your casts look and feel.  By looking at downloads of my weekly podcasts I know that most anglers are still confused and sometimes wigged out by leaders, because every time I do a podcast on leaders or tippets,  the downloads go through the roof.  But it’s not rod designing (instead of rocket science I figured I’d use an analogy that is technical and tricky and can’t be done by most mortals).  Paying attention to your tippet requires just a few easy steps.

  1. What does the transition to your tippet look like and how do you fix it?  I don’t worry too much about the butt section of my leader—I use furled leader, standard solid nylon leaders, and braided leaders almost interchangeably and find that it’s far more important what goes on at the other end of my leader.  Watch the end of your leader when you cast.  Move into a place where you have sun on your leader and a dark background and watch how it lands.  If everything straightens above the water at about the same time and the leader floats to the water, you’re in good shape.  If you see an area of the leader just prior to the tippet that dives to the water before the butt section or the tippet you know it’s too heavy or too short.  (this is almost always bad).  If you see exaggerated curls just before the tippet your transition is too long (this is not necessarily bad because you can use this property to put slack in your leader and avoid drag.
  2. How do you know what size of a transition piece to use?  Take the size tippet you plan on using and slide it up against the rest of your leader.  The terminal end of your leader, before the tippet, should be just a whisker heavier, about .001”, than the tippet.  And you don’t need a micrometer to eyeball what .001” looks like.  Just compare a piece of 5x and 4X to see what the difference looks like.  It’s not as hard as you think.  Besides making a smooth transition to improve presentation, you never want to go more than .002” of an inch (or two X sizes) in a trout leader.  Knots won’t hold.  (The same does not hold true for saltwater leaders, with their heavier diameters and less emphasis on delicacy).  I switch back and forth between a triple surgeon’s knot and a 5-turn blood knot depending on how impatient and hurried I am.  Surgeon’s for speed, blood knot for a slim connection and I suspect just a bit more strength.  And if there is a big difference between your new tippet and the butt of your leader, add two transitions, stepping down 1 or 2 thousandths between these.
  3. How do you know how long your transition should be? I like a minimum of 8 inches for a transition section just so I don’t have to tie on a new one anytime soon.  But if it’s not windy and I really want some delicacy I might make it a foot or even 14 inches long.  Again, make a cast and look at how your leader lands.  Your casting style and the conditions might vary from mine so experiment until you get it right.
  4. How long a tippet do you use?  I can’t tell you the number of times I have fished with a relatively experienced angler and looked at his or her tippet and am shocked to see their tippet at about 8 inches.  When I ask if they think their tippet is OK, they look at it and say “Yeah, I think it’s good enough”.   In my opinion nearly all tippet sections on knotless leaders are too short.  They’re designed to look good when you cast, but a 20” tippet leaves little room for changing flies and it does not help with delicacy and drag reduction.  I use a minimum of four feet for my tippet on leaders from 9 to 12 feet long, and I might go five feet on a 15-footer.  For furled and braided leaders you can even go longer—they’ll straighten a 6-foot tippet on a calm day.

Remember that the object of your tippet is to keep your fly line and the heavier part of your leader from landing too close to the fish.  It’s critical in trout fishing in clear water, and it’s almost as important in fishing for bonefish or snook or stripers on the flats.  And in trout fishing, the longer your tippet, the less likely drag will set in right away.  Plus in nymph fishing a longer tippet sinks a fly quicker because fine diameters have less resistance.  So watch the end of your leader, and play around with it until it looks right.

Tom’s Amazing Experience in Cuba: It’s Not Just About Fishing


Cuba’s bonefish habitat is vast, unspoiled, and does not see heavy fishing pressure.
Photos by Tom Rosenbauer

For the past two Decembers, I have been lucky enough to host an Orvis Adventures trip to Cuba, and for an all-around experience, the trip is so satisfying on many levels. First, I had always wanted to . . .


Cuba’s bonefish habitat is vast, unspoiled, and does not see heavy fishing pressure.
Photos by Tom Rosenbauer

For the past two Decembers, I have been lucky enough to host an Orvis Adventures trip to Cuba, and for an all-around experience, the trip is so satisfying on many levels.

First, I had always wanted to visit Cuba. I think the country holds a special fascination for people who grew up in the 1960s, and it’s part of our history. Although time has not quite stood still in Cuba, because it is a Caribbean island nation that has not been overwhelmed with resorts or the other trappings of modern tourism, you see interesting sights every time you turn your head. Eventually, there will be more development (and the Cuban people want and need this for the most part), so I consider myself fortunate to see Cuba before it is overrun by American tourists. Currently, you don’t see many Americans there at all: I think we were the only Anglos on our flight into Santa Clara, and I did not meet a single American tourist in our travels in Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

It’s totally legal for Americans to visit Cuba now, even though our current administration has tightened some of the travel restrictions. Customs and immigration, both coming and going, are less of a hassle than visiting Canada these days—and you can legally bring back as much rum, artwork, and cigars as you can carry. Orvis hosted trips fall under the People-to-People cultural-exchange classification, which means if you have meaningful cultural exchanges with the Cuban people you are not going to get into any trouble with either the Cuban or the US government. And I would not have it any other way. The art we experience on these trips, the amazing music we enjoyed, and the conversations with Cuban people on architecture and history fully round-out this trip. And of course, the fishing is like you dream about. I am already daydreaming about next year’s trip.


1950s-era American cars are seen constantly on the streets, either as taxis or everyday vehicles.

I’ll get to the fishing in a minute. But first, here is a sampling of what my group did this fall. It was exciting because this was a new venue for us: Instead of going to Havana and seeing the amazing sights there, we traveled to Trinidad and Cienfuegos on an experimental trip because most of my group had already seen Havana and wanted to see more of the country.

  • We enjoyed a walking tour of Trinidad. This city has a lot of history, but it is also the center of the artisan trade in Cuba, with amazing art galleries, pottery studios, and handmade goods produced by Cubans exploring their new freedom in private enterprise.
  • We were treated to a private concert by a singing duo, Lia Lorente and Pachi Ruiz, who played and sang both traditional and modern Cuban music. They were even joined onstage by their son and daughter, making for a heartwarming experience.
  • We visited the archeological site of San Isidro de los Destiladeros, where they are restoring an 18th century sugar plantation. It was a sobering experience, as much of the tour was about the use of slave labor and how the slaves lived. History is not always uplifting, but our tour guide was tried to give us a sense of what it must have been like for a slave living under these conditions.
  • We visited the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens, which feature amazing plants and trees from around the world—and the birding was also spectacular.
  • We also went on a walking tour of the historic heart of Cienfuegos. This city is referred to as “The Pearl of the South” and is one of Cuba’s only cities to display both French and Spanish architecture. There is no other place in the Caribbean that contains such a remarkable collection of neoclassical structures.

There is music everywhere in Cuba.

In between those activities, we toured the countryside and saw what small towns in the Cuban countryside are like. We talked to local people on the street, listened to street musicians, and talked to artists. And we ate. Man, did we eat. On the Orvis trip, you don’t eat in any hotel restaurants or get any fast food. All of our lunches and dinners (when we’re not fishing) are in paladares—privately owned restaurants, usually in homes—where we were treated to everything from traditional Cuban meals with fire-roasted pork, beans and rice, plantains, and yucca, to more gourmet offerings such as wood-fired red snapper and crab. And we drank a lot of rum. The favorite was Havana Club Siete Anos.

One memorable dinner was at Don Alexis. We had been there the year before and were excited about returning. You walk into a tiny space with a wood-fired grill and writing from appreciative patrons completely covering the walls. There are a few live turtles in a corner. (Don Alexis swears they are only pets.) Dogs run in and out. Don Alexis himself is a whirlwind. He greets you like family with hugs and smiles and is then constantly in motion. One minute he is searing shrimp on the grill, and then he runs to the open kitchen and washes a couple dishes. He makes drinks at the bar. He serves appetizers. He returns to the grill and places a big red snapper over the fire. He plays the bongos with the band. He goes back to grilling. And so it goes throughout the meal. Although his family helps out with some of the serving chores, Don Alexis is really a one-man floor show. And his food is spectacular.


A classic Cuban banquet, similar to the spread a Cuban family might have for a holiday gathering.

And then there’s the fishing. We all enjoyed the cultural part of the trip, but we were about jumping out of our skins in anticipation of the last five days of our trip. Cuban bonefishing is similar to what you find in The Bahamas: great habitat, with a variety of sizes—from small fish in large schools to very large singles or doubles. Although you can catch the small ones in muds over open water, most of the fish we concentrate on when fishing the flats average three or four pounds. I have caught bonefish there up to eight pounds. What makes the fishing so great is that Cuban bonefish have not experienced as much pressure as those in other parts of the world, and they do what you expect them to—when you present a fly to a Cuban bonefish with a reasonable presentation, it eats. Sure, they’re spooky when you drop a fly line on top of them or place a weighted fly too close. But they don’t look at a fly and bolt in the other direction, as bonefish do in some parts of the world. In fact, Cuban bonefish, even when spooked and swimming away, will often take a fly on the run. You don’t see that in many other places today.

You’ll see permit and tarpon on the flats, as well. Orvis Adventures’ Jeremy Kehrein caught a grand slam (a bonefish, tarpon, and permit on the same day) the week before we arrived. There are also numerous barracudas (one of my favorite fish to catch on the fly), sharks, snappers, and jacks. The area we fish is in a protected national park, and only five boats per day are allowed on the water. You seldom see another boat, and if you do it will be one of your buddies. The guides rotate the flats and stay away from each other, so you fish in total solitude for the entire day.


You can find true solitude on the Cuban flats.

We also got to fish a very special tropical river for tarpon and snook. This year, we saw literally thousands of tarpon rolling, and we seldom went five minutes without seeing fish. These are juvenile tarpon, which means they run from a few pounds to close to 80 pounds. Most of the fish we caught were in the 5- to 20-pound range—big enough to put a nice bend in your rod and give you spectacular jumps, but not so big that you spend more than a few minutes playing them. I did hook one of about 40 pounds that took a bit longer to play, and the hook pulled out before I landed it. These are not easy fish to interest in a fly, as baby tarpon can often be snotty, but there are so many of them that you are bound to hook up eventually. You’ll go through streaks where they won’t touch a fly, then suddenly, they’ll eat voraciously. Why? I don’t have a clue.

I love Cuban fishing guides. They are extremely professional but always fun, and they never yell at you for blowing a cast. Unlike a lot of saltwater guides, who run the engine and take you to a flat without explaining what is going on, Cuban guides start the day with, “What do you want to do today?” Look for tarpon? “Si.” Fish bonefish all day? “Si.” Fish the channel for barracuda? “Claro que si!” Want to wade instead of fishing from the boat? “No hay problema.” The fishing is challenging enough for an experienced angler (especially with the chance for permit on the flats or the opportunity to wade-fish very shallow water) but Cuban guides are so relaxed that it is the perfect first introduction to bonefishing for a novice. They’re supportive, patient, and great teachers.


The fishing for baby tarpon can be spectacular.

A trip to Cuba is not inexpensive, about the same price per week as The Bahamas, Argentina, Chile, or New Zealand. (Currently, flights are inexpensive.) But I can’t imagine a richer experience or better saltwater fly fishing.

Orvis Adventures is hosting trips to Cuba on February 2-9, April 6 – 13 and October 19 – 26 in 2019. Tom Rosenbauer is hosting a Cuba trip in November or December 2019. Most or all of last year’s customers on Tom’s trip are re-booking, but there are still a few open spaces. Contact Orvis Adventures at (800)547-4322 to be contacted when we have the date finalized. The trip is limited to ten anglers.

Watch for an upcoming Facebook Live on Cuba featuring Tom and Jeremy Kehrein of Orvis Adventures!

Pro Tips: Tom’s 5 Tips for Preparing for a Bonefish Trip


If you want to improve your chances of catching bonefish, work on the required
casting and angling skills before you head to the tropics.
Photo by Sandy Hays

I’ve watched even experienced trout anglers become frustrated, angry, and even embarrassed on bonefishing trips because they weren’t ready for the wind, difficult fish spotting, and unfamiliar directions given by a guide. Just a little preparation will make your. . .


If you want to improve your chances of catching bonefish, work on the required
casting and angling skills before you head to the tropics.
Photo by Sandy Hays

I’ve watched even experienced trout anglers become frustrated, angry, and even embarrassed on bonefishing trips because they weren’t ready for the wind, difficult fish spotting, and unfamiliar directions given by a guide. Just a little preparation will make your first trip a lot more fun. And since most people travel a long way and spend a week’s pay or more for a bonefishing trip, the investment of time and energy in a little pre-trip training is certainly worth it.

1.Practice your casting. Most bonefish are caught within 40 feet, but that 40-foot cast must be made quickly, under pressure, with deadly accuracy, and often in the face of a stiff breeze. Being able to get 40 feet of fly line outside the rod tip is not enough. Pace out 40 feet and make sure you can hit a target the size of a hula hoop with reasonable consistency, with a wind coming from any direction, and be able to change directions to cast to another hula hoop with just one false cast. Bonefish are spooky critters, and too many false casts will ruin your chances.


2. Get a sense for how fast your flies sink. Either before your trip or just after you arrive, take three bonefish flies—a heavily weighted (also called “deep”) version, lightly weighted (shallow) version, and unweighted (tailing) version—to some shallow water where you can see the fly sink. Watch how fast each fly lands, as having different sink rates in bonefish flies is far more important that having the favorite fly on the island. Over sand and mud bottoms, you want the fly to sink to the bottom and make little puffs of silt when you strip, because these plumes attract the attention of a bonefish looking for a crab or shrimp trying to escape. Over weedy and coral-covered bottoms, a bonefish can’t see a fly that sinks down into the debris (and you’ll get hung up), so you’ll begin to strip your fly before it hits bottom. And you never know beforehand how deep the water will be on a given flat, so you must have some idea of how fast your fly will sink—and be prepared with flies with different sink rates.

3. Be prepared to have trouble seeing fish and to have to learn on the water. No matter how good you are at spotting trout or steelhead, you will have trouble seeing bonefish in the water, at least for the first day and probably for a couple of days. Count on it. Bonefish are nearly invisible underwater because their shiny sides reflect the bottom, and without a shadow to pinpoint their position you’ll have a very difficult time. If you are unlucky enough to have a week of cloudy weather, you may see very few fish unless they are tailing in shallow water. Some guides are excellent at helping clients learn to spot bonefish, while others, because of a language problem or reticence, just tell their anglers where to cast and forget about trying to teach them. Try to discipline yourself to look through the water, not at it, and remember that bonefish hardly ever stop moving, so look for shadows and grayish indistinct shapes that don’t stay put.


The ability to see bonefish in the water is acquired through experience, so
don’t be frustrated if you have problems early in your trip.
Photo by Sandy Hays

4. Learn to follow directions. Once you get onto a boat with a guide, remember that he will be giving you directions to cast by the hands of a clock in relation to the boat. Twelve o’clock is always directly in front of the boat, not where you are looking. And you will get befuddled—guaranteed. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a guide say, “Cast thirty feet at 9 o’clock. . .[Sigh]. . . No. The other 9 o’clock.” I even saw an enterprising young Bahamian guide on my last trip who had painted the hands of the clock, including the numbers, on the bow of the boat, just for clods like me.

The other miscommunication with guides and clients involves distance. Different people have different ideas of what 40 feet is, especially in the heat of the moment. Make a short and a long cast before you start and ask your guide how far the casts were. If you’re traveling to Mexico or Central America, it’s not a bad idea to learn the words for 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 feet before you leave.


5. Learn to strip-strike. Finally, the strike is the bane of all trout anglers. You should never strike a bonefish (or any saltwater fish) with the rod tip, but by making a long, firm strip with the line while the rod is held low. Raising the rod tip lifts the fly out of the water, and if a bonefish hasn’t really taken it or misses the fly, it may come back to a fly that just makes a long dart through the water rather than one that goes airborne. (Many guides, when they see a bonefish take a fly, will instruct the angler to “make a long strip” because they know if they say “strike” up will come the rod tip.) One of the best suggestions I’ve heard for people who cannot modify their reflexes to strip strike is to retrieve a bonefish fly with the rod tip held a few inches underwater throughout the retrieve. With the tip underwater, the line stays in excellent control and it’s almost impossible to make a “trout strike.”

Classic Tuesday Video Tips: Spey Rods, Fly Speed, and Covering Water


The transition from a single-hand rod to a Spey rod requires some adjustments to your thinking.
Photo by Sandy Hays

In today’s video Tuesday Tip from the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center, we offer a three-fer—three short videos that, together, offer some sound advice for those anglers who want to swing flies. . .


See All Orvis Learning Center Fly Fishing Video Lessons

In today’s video Tuesday Tip from the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center, we offer a three-fer—three short videos that, together, offer some sound advice for those anglers who want to swing flies with two-handed rods for steelhead or salmon. I am hardly a Spey specialist—which is why I leave the casting stuff to Pete Kutzer—but I know enough about swinging flies to realize how important fly speed and covering water are to the process.


See All Orvis Learning Center Fly Fishing Video Lessons


See All Orvis Learning Center Fly Fishing Video Lessons


The transition from a single-hand rod to a Spey rod requires some adjustments to your thinking.
Photo by Sandy Hays

Master Class Monday: When to Use Small Flies for Trout

When large trout are feeding on the surface, our first impulse is usually to put on one of those big foam attractor flies that float so well and can be seen from across the river. However, Amelia . . .

When large trout are feeding on the surface, our first impulse is usually to put on one of those big foam attractor flies that float so well and can be seen from across the river. However, Amelia Jensen–of Jensen Fly Fishing–shows why it is sometimes a mistake to use large attractor dry flies. Many times, especially in clear trout streams, a smaller dry fly with a long leader is more effective on spooky trout. Watch how she seals the deal with a smaller, more delicate fly and a longer leader on a difficult trout that was spooked previously by her larger dry flies.

Watch for further installments of Master Class Monday every week here at Orvis News, in the Advanced Tactics playlist our You Tube Channel, and on the new Advanced section of our Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center.

Podcast: Picking and Fishing, with Chris Pandolfi of the Infamous Stringdusters


Chris Pandolfi doing his two favorite things.
Photos via Facebook

This week we talk fly-fishing with Chris Pandolfi, vocalist and banjo player for The Infamous Stringdusters, a multiple award-winning bluegrass band (including the 2018 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, . . .



This week we talk fly-fishing with Chris Pandolfi, vocalist and banjo player for The Infamous Stringdusters, a multiple award-winning bluegrass band (including the 2018 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, “The Laws of Gravity”). Chris tells us what it’s like trying to fit in fly fishing while on the road, how the band supports Trout Unlimited, how fishing has influenced his music, and offers some great fly-fishing tips for novices.

Speaking of tips, in the Fly Box this week we have the following questions:

  • What are some tips for winter tailwater fishing in the Northeast?
  • What can I do when the bass don’t bite?
  • How do I catch suckers on a fly?
  • Can I use my 6-weight for carp?
  • What do you do when you’re rowing and someone hooks a fish?
  • How do I find information on small streams in my area?
  • How do I move on from tying big streamers to smaller trout patterns?
  • Is there a good way to practice setting the hook?
  • What is a good place to visit to fish small trout streams in the winter?
  • How much information can I ask my local fly shop for, without being a pest?
  • Why are fly rods today so stiff?
  • What is the best way to fish nymphs in water ranging from one foot to ten feet deep while floating?
  • What is the best way to practice casting when I have a variety of rods?

If you don’t see the “Play” button above, click here to listen.


Chris Pandolfi doing his two favorite things.
Photos via Facebook

Master Class Monday: How to Avoid Micro-Drag

Drag on a dry fly or nymph can be insidious, causing you to get more refusals, misses, and bad hook sets. Sometimes, this drag is barely visible to the fly fisher, either on a floating dry fly or on an indicator when nymph fishing. But it can be enough to . . .


Drag on a dry fly or nymph can be insidious, causing you to get more refusals, misses, and bad hook sets. Sometimes, this drag is barely visible to the fly fisher, either on a floating dry fly or on an indicator when nymph fishing. But it can be enough to cause a trout to refuse your fly. Learn how to recognize this tricky “micro-drag” and how to avoid it by changing your position or by making a different cast.

Watch for further installments of Master Class Monday every week here at Orvis News, in the Advanced Tactics playlist our You Tube Channel, and on the new Advanced section of our Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center.

Master Class Monday: How to Deal with Sun and Shade

We sometimes don’t pay enough attention to sunlight and shade when fly fishing for trout. But as Dave Jensen shows–using an example of a large cutthroat trout rising in a mountain river–your approach must take these conditions into account. This . . .


We sometimes don’t pay enough attention to sunlight and shade when fly fishing for trout. But as Dave Jensen shows–using an example of a large cutthroat trout rising in a mountain river–your approach must take these conditions into account. This video will change the way you think about your approach on trout streams.

Watch for further installments of Master Class Monday every week here at Orvis News, in the Advanced Tactics playlist our You Tube Channel, and on the new Advanced section of our Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center.

Master Class Monday: Tight-Line Nymphing for Beginners

Tight-line or “Euro” nymphing is a very effective way to catch trout when fly fishing, and it works when other methods are not effective, like when trout are in deep water and not feeding aggressively. Dave Jensen shows how he utilizes this nymphing . . .


Tight-line or “Euro” nymphing is a very effective way to catch trout when fly fishing, and it works when other methods are not effective, like when trout are in deep water and not feeding aggressively. Dave Jensen shows how he utilizes this nymphing method, and explains how a beginner can quickly learn how to catch those trout that seem to be glued to the bottom.

Watch for further installments of Master Class Monday every week here at Orvis News, in the Advanced Tactics playlist our You Tube Channel, and on the new Advanced section of our Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center.

Book Excerpt: How to Fish Streamers for Trout


This fat rainbow fell for a Bunny Streamer fished with a fast retrieve on Colorado’s Yampa River.
Photo by Jay Nichols

Streamers can be fished just like nymphs and wet flies—across-stream, upstream, and downstream. Streamers will take fish all of these ways, even dead-drifted directly . . .


This fat rainbow fell for a Bunny Streamer fished with a fast retrieve on Colorado’s Yampa River.
Photo by Jay Nichols

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Tom Rosenbauer’s book, Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide, from Lyons Press. This is a complete, soup-to-nuts revision of Tom’s classic, with lots of great new information and killer photographs.]

Streamers can be fished just like nymphs and wet flies—across-stream, upstream, and downstream. Streamers will take fish all of these ways, even dead-drifted directly upstream. They are most effective, however, when you give them some manipulation, either by stripping in line as they drift or by pumping the rod tip to give them life.

Streamers are usually used when nothing else will attract the trout’s attention, in high, dirty water, in the cold water of early season, and in very fast, broken water where smaller flies aren’t visible.

You can cover a lot of water with streamers, because a trout will usually take your streamer on the first drift, or at least make a pass at it. If he’s not interested, no amount of repeated casting will make him strike. If he swirls at your streamer but doesn’t take, try one of a different color, or one that’s slightly smaller than the one you’re using. Some fly fishers also use streamers to locate trout, returning later with a standard dry, wet, or nymph.

A popular way to fish streamers is to cast directly across the current to the far bank, stripping in line in foot-long pulls as the fly swings around in the current. This is one of the most effective ways of float-fishing large western rivers. Strikes to this kind of presentation will be quick and vicious, and the fish will usually hook themselves because of the tight line. Although there is not much finesse involved, introducing some strategy into your presentation will get you more strikes. First, make sure that you cast your fly right to the bank. Big trout, particularly brown trout, will lie very tight to the bank, where there is protection in the form of boulders and logs. Sometimes, the difference between casting 5 feet from the bank and bouncing your fly right off the shore will make the difference between a great day and a mediocre one.


When fishing from a drift boat or on foot, make sure to hit these spots where trout lie in wait to ambush baitfish.
Illustration by Bob White

The other consideration is the direction your fly swims in relation to the current. Regardless of the angle between your cast and the bank, make sure that the fly swims broadside to the current, or if not broadside, at least in an upstream direction. A fly that darts downstream, right into a trout’s face, is more likely to frighten your quarry than tempt it. Baitfish don’t attack trout, and a baitfish that moves toward—rather than away from—a trout is cause for alarm. Sometimes you can make your fly swim broadside just by the angle at which you cast, but sometimes, particularly when casting to the bank from a moving drift boat, you have to shoot a quick cast upstream of the boat. Just stripping in line will make your fly dart downstream, so the best thing to do is to throw a hard upstream mend just after the fly lands, so that as you begin stripping, the fly swims broadside to the current.

In rivers with very fast currents, you should angle your cast downstream to slow the swing of your fly. This works well with a sinking line, but with a floating line it often makes the fly skim just under the surface, too shallow to interest most trout. Just as in nymph and wet-fly fishing, casting slightly upstream or using a sinking-tip or sinking line will also make your fly ride deeper and slower. In very deep or fast water, try casting upstream and across, then mend the fly upstream several times while the fly sinks. You have to cast well ahead of where you think a trout might be lying, but by the time the fly gets below you, it will be much deeper than if you just cast directly across the current or cast at a downstream angle.

A deadly method of fishing streamers, although one that isn’t used very often, is fishing them directly upstream. Try to retrieve line just slightly faster than the current, so that your fly darts along the bottom in little fits and pauses, just like a sculpin or crayfish darting from one rock to another. This technique is often more effective if you attach a small nymph behind your streamer, just as you would when fishing a pair of nymphs.


The revised edition of Tom’s classic is practically a new book.

Streamers will also work when cast directly downstream. You can just let your fly hang in the current, using the current to give it life. You can also flip your rod back and forth, making the fly swim from side to side in the same spot. If this presentation doesn’t work, try retrieving your streamer back upstream by stripping in line. Try short, quick pulls; long, steady pulls; or even erratic strips. One of these approaches may appeal to the trout.

Dead-drifting a streamer along a bank so that its profile is perpendicular to the current works great wherever there is very roily water or a sharp drop-off. When you are dead-drifting a streamer, use your line to control the fly, as you would when fishing a nymph. A high-sticking technique works great when you want to float the streamer along an undercut bank or through a deep slot between two boulders. The advantage of a streamer in these situations is that the take is not subtle. When a trout attacks a baitfish, it almost always does so aggressively—no strike indicator necessary.

Using a streamer to imitate a stunned baitfish that has just been washed over a waterfall or through the turbines of a dam is among the simplest fly-fishing presentations. All you have to do is cast the streamer into the boiling water at the base of the waterfall or dam, give the fly enough slack that it can be bounced around by the wild and competing currents, and then hold on. The trout have figured out that the trip over the falls or through the dam’s turbines leaves the baitfish injured or just temporarily paralyzed, which makes for easy pickings. Don’t worry about missing the strike; the fish usually takes up all that slack in the first seconds of the fight.

Tom Rosenbauer’s Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide is available online, in Orvis store, and in bookstores everywhere.