Salomone: How to fish streamers in shallow water

The advantage is with on-foot anglers who have the right gear

Michael Salomone Vail Valley Anglers
The author holds a brown trout. The Eagle River's current low levels provide an opportunity for anglers on foot.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

The Eagle River is low. Water is in good condition, but it’s too low to float in most sections. Therefore, the wading angler is at an advantage. As we slide into cooler weather, trout are making a change, too — they’re targeting bigger food sources. Now is the time to present streamer flies. The angler on foot presenting streamers in shallow water is going to see a lot of action.

Fishing with streamer flies is a presentation predominantly utilized from float anglers. Streamer fishing is a deadly technique. Casting from a moving boat aids the angler in presenting their flies. When that component is removed, how do anglers on foot adjust to present streamers in shallow water?

Appropriate gear is a good start. Streamers require a rod with a backbone. The modern, fast-action fly rods deliver, but even a fast-action 5wt fly rod can be taxing to cast all day long. A 6wt fly rod is the rod of choice for most fly anglers. One of my 6wt rods is a custom streamer rod with deluxe guides and top shelf cork. The rod is paired up with a large arbor reel and an Airflo streamer line. Having a rod like this allows me to throw the largest streamers in the fly bins with ease and gives me the control to steer bite-sized streamers through busy water.

This is the reason premium rods rule. Most anglers can cast any rod with some degree of proficiency. When it comes time to casting heavy streamers and weighted fly lines all day long, however, the rods on the top shelf are there. A premium rod will leave you feeling more refreshed and able to withstand longer casting sessions and it will improve placement accuracy late in the day.

Fish have gravitated toward more desirable water temperatures. Some fish will seek respite in the depths. Other fish, feeling the grasp of winter coming, will move into fast, broken water where temperatures remain cooler, oxygen levels are elevated and ambush feeding is possible. These are the fish to target.

Support Local Journalism

Even though fishing with streamer flies is a technique utilized mainly by float anglers, when it is adapted for anglers on foot effectively in shallow water, the results is a bevy of action.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

Where to target trout in the shallows can be a difficult equation to solve. Think about covering water quickly and efficiently to determine proper presentation locations. Shallow channels and small depressions become target-rich environments where trout can feed at ease. Individual boulders and current-breaking obstructions provide the same conditions. Search quickly until you have discovered a repeatable pattern, such as small fish chasing unweighted streamers in shallow channels. Then, look for similar river conditions with the same structure, pace and depth.

The majority of aggressive streamer eaters will be brown trout. Rainbows are feeling the change in the weather too and are putting on the feedbag. When a streamer is presented into a prime position on the river, the first cast will often uncover the biggest trout in the run. The most aggressive fish occupy the best feeding location. Heavy riffles create the kind of disturbance that tumbles small baitfish. The big dog feeds first and waits in the best position to ambush a meal.

If you have a fish take a swing at your streamer and miss, always take a second shot. Big fish are conditioned into looking for stunned, injured and disoriented targets. Often they will connect on the second pass. Rarely do I find a fish that will give chase a third time. The key is, you’ve located a giant. Remember the spot. Come back in a short while — an hour or even the next day. You could throw the same streamer again. A better idea is to switch up the color but make the same presentation and see if the hook sticks.

A smaller streamer is more easily controlled and directed through a run with efficiency. Beadhead, conehead and unweighted streamers entice consistent action in the shallows. A fast swing through a channel samples the mood of the fish. If a trout gives chase then the angler is onto a pattern.

Larger, articulated streamers deliver a swimming appearance. When given a disconnected, erratic retrieve the fly displays an injured, broke-back presence. Large trout that are stationed to feed will naturally find a wounded fish attractive.

Shallow water provides the arena for large fish to give chase. Anglers on foot have the advantage. A streamer fly stripped through swift, broken water will entice the big dogs to come out and play.

It’s best to cover water quickly to determine presentation locations when targeting trout in shallow water.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

Support Local Journalism