Tuesday Tips: Floating Line or Sinking Tip for Streamers?

The combination of a sinking tip and a heavy fly allows you to get very deep very quickly.
Photo by Phil Monahan

I do a lot of streamer fishing because my home river, the Battenkill, has a low trout-per-mile number, so you need to cover a lot of water to find the fish. Also, Battenkill browns don’t rise nearly as much as fish in other rivers, except during Hendrickson spinnerfalls. So if you want to hook one of the 20-inchers that lurk in the ‘Kill, you usually have to chuck streamers.

My old fishing buddy Joe Phillips is a real streamer aficionado, and before he moved away, he caught more Battenkill browns over 20 inches than anyone I knew. Joe never uses anything but a floating line. He gets his streamers down to the fish by using a long fluorocarbon leader, weighted patterns, and split shot. But he also switches back and forth between nymph rigs and streamer rigs fairly frequently, so using a floating line cuts down on the re-rigging time. I’m sure that Joe would also argue that the long leader allows the fly to move more naturally in the current, which draws more strikes. Whatever the reason, his system clearly works.

Unlike Joe, I like to use a sinking-tip line or a separate sinking tip that attaches to a floating line with a loop-to-loop connection. This allows me to use a shorter leader—between 3 and 4 feet—which helps with accuracy and makes me feel more directly connected to the fish when I set the hook. With a sinking tip, I’m confident that my fly is getting down into the strike zone quickly, and I feel as if I know exactly where my fly is at all times. In general, a sinking tip will also cast easier than will a rig with a long leader and lots of weight.

PolyLeaders are available in different sink rates to match the conditions.
Photo via orvis.com

If you don’t want to buy another spool for your reel, check out one of the many interchangeable-tip systems on the market, such as the Orvis PolyLeader. Most come with tips of different densities and sink rates, so you can tailor your rig to the kind of water you’re fishing—fast or slow, shallow or deep. In general, these multi-tips don’t cast as well as integrated sinking tips, but the ability to quickly re-rig can be worth the hassle.

Whatever system you use, the key is getting the streamer in front of the fish. If you’re not getting deep enough, the fly goes over the trout’s heads and you won’t get many strikes. Hardcore streamer fishermen lose a fair number of flies because they are keeping their patterns right on the bottom, close to structure. One of my old angling gurus told me, “If you ain’t losing a few flies, you ain’t doing it right.”

Even when I have a fast-sinking tip on, I like to cast well upstream of the target lie and allow the fly to get to the bottom. If the water is fast and deep, I’ll cast my streamer quartering upstream and high-stick it past my position before I start stripping or letting it swing. That way, the fly looks like a baitfish swimming upward off the bottom, a suicidal path that trout will often intercept.

So, ultimately, the specific rig you use is less important than the result:

  • Is the fly getting deep enough?
  • Are you able to hit the targets you’re fishing to?
  • And is your connection to the fly good enough that you can set the hook quickly when you feel a strike?

If you’re concerned about cost, try it with the floating line you already have plus a long leader and some weight. A mid-level purchase would be a multi-tip system, which is versatile, but perhaps clunky to cast. And if you feel you’ll be doing a lot of streamer fishing, invest in a second spool for your real and a high-quality integrated-tip line.

9 thoughts on “Tuesday Tips: Floating Line or Sinking Tip for Streamers?”

  1. I have such a difficult time trying to get a good understanding on streamer tactics based on the info that is out there….like this. This description of streamer tactics is COMPLETELY counter to Kelly Galloup’s rigging, approach, and tactics. It is close to how he might fish with a floating line but he primarily fishes with full sinking lines and fishes his streamers in the top 12″ of the water column. his opinion is that if a fish is in three feet of water, moving up to the top 12″ of water is not too far for them to move for a meal. I think you just have to try out different systems and see what works on your water. some methods will work better in one drainage than in another. I know that for me, fishing full sinking line and fishing my streamers fairly shallow works well around WV/MD. I will use a floating line with a weighted streamer and use more of a jigging action in pockets and pools that are more than six feet deep or so but usually that’s after ripping a few through those areas with my first tactic and not getting any reactions. Thoughts/experiences???

    1. Hi Aaron, One of the beauties of the sport is that there are so many ways to skin the cat. I can guarantee you that Battenkill fish like a fly deeper than 12 inches, but I am sure that Kelly’s tactics are best for his local waters. It’s all about experimenting and figuring out what is bet for you.

  2. The ‘kill actually has pretty good trout per mile numbers compared to the entire state. Obviously, not compared to out West but honestly you cant compared East vs West.

  3. One thing I have learned through doing electrofishing surveys is that no matter how much we like to imitate bugs the real calories in a river are found in various baitfish. Every time I do this I swear I will streamer fish more often. I don’t.

    As for those rising trout Phil; I have two words. Flying Ants.

  4. This year, on the kill and other Vermont rivers, I’ve had a lot of fun and good luck with an OPST Skagit line in combination with a choice of three 5 foot sinking leaders for (1) riffles, (2) runs and (3) buckets (deeper holes). Skagit casting presents the streamers where you want them with little effort and precision.

  5. Another method I was just introduced to that wasn’t mentioned: the tight line/euro rig. Gets the streamer down fast and zero drag; very deadly.

  6. I use an 8 or 9 ft. straight 6# maxima for the my leader works great in Lake Tahoe
    I have landed 28 inch Browns the bigger ones just break it off on the strike

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