The earliest known streamer is not an easily determined concept. Some sources speak of 18th Century English patterns meant to look and act like minnows. We have dressings for a late 19th Century English minnow-like fly named the Alexandra. On the North American side of the Atlantic Ocean the Mickey Finn can apparently be traced back to a late 19th Century Qubecois named Charles Langevin. Later yet, somewhere near the end of the 19th Century in the United Statese Theodore Gordon developed his "Wonderfully alive" Bumble Puppy, which was also a minnow imitation. Other imporant early North American flies, many from Maine, include a rich variety of long feather-winged flies, some of which, like the Gray Ghost, we still fish with today. The Spruce Fly came to us from from Oregon in the 1920s.
The "streamer fly" moniker was apparently coined by Bill Bates in the 1930s.
More recent streamer twists include the Muddler Minnow from Minnesota, Joe Brooks's Blondes, Keith Fulsher's Thunder Creek Minnows, Dan Blayford's Zonker and Larry Dahlberg's Dahlberg Diver. In addition a few locally important Montana streamers would have to include the Missoulian Spook, the Big Hole Demon and the Marion Sculpin. Another important fly from abroad came to us from New Zealand in the 1970s: the Matuka.
The most recent streamer trends include trimmed and groomed all-synthetic fiber streamers first popularized by tiers like Steve Farrar and Enrico Puglisi, plus an actively developing new emphasis on maximizing action in the water with end-to-end flexible designs now known as "articulated streamers."
The hottest venues for currently trending new work are internet social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Youtube. On social media you can learn about everything from Dame Julia soft hackle wet flies to waggle-tail streamers made with synthetic fibers and molded soft plastic tails. Social media is visually exciting and it publishes almost without structure. The youtube "What we think you want to see" algorithm is likely to show you trout streamers, bass flies and salt water flies in rows of clickable thumbnail links that look like they were created by a scatter gun. Perhaps because of their visually adjacent proximity on our phones and desktop monitors, bass flies and salt water designs are suddenly influencing trout flies more strongly and immediately than ever before.
For reasons I don't pretend to know the rate of ongoing design change among online streamer flies far outpaces any design evolution in online dry flies, wet flies or nymphs. Dry fly presentations on social media tend to be tutorials on best practices and established historical designs. Streamer flies on social media continually showcase a surprisingly rapid pace of change. If you want to keep up with the latest developments you've got to be there. Social media is where the action is.
Today's articulated streamers look a lot like the century old Landlocked Atlantic Salmon trolling flies that once were popular in New England. The old flies used a long stiff section of gut or monofilament to connect two relatively short-shanked hooks, so a perhaps 4" inch long or longer fly could be constructed without resorting to a ridiculously long-shank hook. Today's articulated streamers are much the same but the monofilament that connects teh two hooks is thinner and more supple so the fly as a whole flexes more freely, thereby creating more lifelike action in the water.
One problem with two hook articulated flies happens when the fly folds over on itself so the rear hook snags the hook up front. This problem can be so annoying many articulated fly dressers clip the bend off the front hook, so the front shank becomes little more than convenient place to wrap the front end of the fly. At this point you have essentially created what I call a snellie. But I prefer to use a swivel up front instead of a clipped hook shank. This is not a how-to-do-it fly tying book. However, in the upcoming Snellie I will breiefly mention how to tie anything you want onto the front end of a swivel-based snellie. Snellies are, according to me, similar to articulated streamers. But better.
One of the nifiest new articulated streamers is the Game Changer, which as I write is still trending hot and heavy now on social media. The Game Changer clearly is a very good fly. There are too many photos out there on the net of large fish caught on this fly. The Game Changer is a successful way to make a long fly with maximum end-to-end undulation. It is a long and time-consuming process to make one. There is a reason they typically sell for $15 dollars each. Or more. Game Changers are usually made as large, long flies with the hook placed up front. I can do much the same with one of my snellies, with the hook placed at mid-fly instead of up front. I can make them faster too. A lot faster.
I don't have a lot to say about tube flies because I don' use them. Tube flies for larger, longer minnow imiations do have undeniable advantages over similar flies tied with long-shank hooks. I don't tie them because I prefer tying and using flies tied on snelled hooks, which is a subject coming soon, a few pages after this one. In the mean time the primary advantages most anglers claim for tube flies are the ability to place a relatively short-shank hook further back on the fly, which--at least by common claim--increases hooksupA, and the convenient ability to vary weight and even in some cases to add a spinner blade up front. I can do those things to with what I call "Snellies." We'll get there soon.
Snelled hook streamers, described in a later section, are the only streamers I amake that are not designed to ride hook pointing up. I like jig hooks a lot for streamers, but they are not a hook rides up requirement. I still tie a lot of streamers on down eye curved shank hopper hooks. If you put weight on the apogie of the curve, on a hopper hook, and then tie a streamer around that weight the hook will flip over and ride point up. With jig hooks it always works, no matter how you place the weight. Hooks that point up hook fish more reliably and they snag less. There are no tradeoffs I'm aware of. Jig hooks make better streamers.
My buddy Bill Blackburn used to make bamboo rods for Tom Morgan and now works independently. I have one of Bill's bamboo rods and it sure is nice. I have a four weight. His five weight is astonishing. Bill is the one who first introduced me to micro streamers. Bill likes to make tiny Thunder Creek Minnows less than an inch long. To get a Thunder Creek down to let's say 5/8" inch (approx 16mm) isn't easy. Smaller than that I've found almost impossible. They sure are good flies. These aren't exactly new. There was an article about mini streamers in Fly Tyer magazine a decade or two ago. But they never really caught on. Even now hardly anybody I know other than Bill uses them. I'm including this discussion here because they should be a big deal, even though they aren't.
Bill has a nifty story about fishing Poindexter Slough over near Dillon with two rod industry luminaries who were determined to do spring creek fishing the right way. There was not much of a hatch that day so the two luminaries fished upstream with tiny Copper Nymphs and Pheasant Tails while Bill went downstream fishing micro Thunder Creeks. Bill wacked'em silly while his two friends got skunked. I learned about this from Bill but I've been fishing tiny streamers for close to a decade how. They are powerful stuff. They make me wonder about old fashioned British style wet flies with duck quill wings. What are those flies? Are they supposed to be drowned mayflies? Or do fish bite old fashioned winged wet flies for the same instinctual reasons that make micro streamers so good? Bright flashy mini streamers often work well in the early season. But for spring creeks and late low clear water conditions every where else I like white, black or dull tan/brown better. In late season bright colors don't work well for me.
Most tiers--myself until recently too--make crayfish patterns like little cartoon charicatures with carefully separated pincer legs at the bend of the hook. But that's not how crayfish appear when they panic and swim. One summer day a decade or two ago I watched two grade scchool kids catch crayfish at Wade Lake in Montana. They were good at it. Crayfish like to hide under flat rocks so they gleefully spent the better part of an hour turning rocks over, trying to grab the lightning-fast tan/brown streaks that zoomed out from under those rocks. This was great. I got to observe again and again. Crayfish swim by violently flicking their spoon-shaped tails, so they zoom away in jerky bursts, much the same way streamer fishermen present their flies with an active left hand. More to the point--when they are swimming Crayfish hold their pincers folded together pointed away from their bodies, in order to make a long smooth, cylindrical, hydrodynamic profile. There is no need to imitate crayfish with anything fancier than a tan/brown Woolly Bugger. A light tan/brown Woolly Bugger is in fact, more matching-the-hatch compliant than spread-apart pincer legs.
Crayfish color is important too. Crayfish have a molt cycle. Right before they shed their last chitenous shell they are hard as a rock and dark maroon in color. After molting they they are soft, squishy and light light tan/brown. Every crayfish I ever found in a fish's belly was light tan/brown. They don't eat the red ones. That's selectivity at work for sure.
My late fishing buddy Willy liked to throw small lightly-weighted crayfish flies over weedbeds with less than a foot of clear water over top, and strip them quickly back to the boat. Fish would explode upwards out of the weeds to attack those flies. Willy was adamant. Small crayfish work better than big ones. "Small crayfish are what they want!" he said. Willy did make his crayfish with meticulously sideways splayed pincer legs. I noticed that much but I knew better than to tell Willy there was no need not to just use a light brown Woolly Bugger. Willy was certain. About everything. You had to accept that about him, or move on.
....gurglers popular more recently... ....where and how to fish them? Deep fast middle... Willy Self first brought floating streamers to my attention, almost when we first met, which must have been something like 2005. Willy was working the cash register at a local fly shop and guiding some. Willy wasn't happy. He wanted to guide all the time. Willy was an extraordinary fly tier. Willy was lacking in a few social graces. Willy often spoke in pronouncements that left little room for discussion. He was good with strangers at the fly shop but he also had a knack for pissing a few of his fellow industry people off.
I loved Willy. We became very good friends. It all started one day at the store when I showed Willy some blue nymphs I was making. They weren't my invention. I first learned about blue flies from a Colorado guy named Wayne. But I ran with it for years. Until I met Willy I was the only Bozeman guy I knew who made blue flies. I even asked Craig Mathews about blue flies once. Craig said "Some of our guides have been experimenting with blue Three Dollar Dips, but I don't think the public is ready for it yet." Anyway I showed my blue flies to Willy and he pulled out a whole box of them. We became instant friends. -
The one thing Willy had I'd never seen before were floating streamers. Willy's flies were a bit like standard fur strip streamers with a large wide closed cell foam head. They didn't sink. You couldn't sink them. Willy seldom fished them while wading. They were primarily a boat fishing tool. He tossed them out and then wobbled the tip of the rod left and right like a bait caster walking the dog with a Zara Spook. I was amazed. Big rainbows will bite that rig too but they're mainly a brown trout lure. It's not only effective it's a hell of a lot of fun. When big fish hit a floating streamer they smack it like a ton of bricks.
Tom Morgan showed me something once too, that rings a bell in the floating streamer context. Tom showed me a Floating Rapala lure he had modified as teenager, a few short years before he discovered fly fishing. Tom and his family owned and lived at the El Western Hotel in Ennis Montana, not far from the Madison River. Tom told me he liked to float from Varney Bridge all the way into town, as a teenager, in a small tin boat he had then. Tom at that time still had that tin boat. The way he fished then, with a spinning rod, was to troll floating Rapalas in the deep fast water in the middle of the river. He said he popped the rod tip up and down a lot too, in order to make the lure flop left and right. How and why Tom still had that teenager's lure some 60 years later was a minor miracle in itself. One of the lures he showed me had the diving lip broken off on purpose, which made it easeir to pick the lure up off the water and recast, at any time. Tom did say those floating lures worked best in the deepest fastest runs on the river. I asked Tom if he had ever adapted that idea in any way to fly fishing. Tom gave me one of his giant grins. "No I never did," he said.
Tom didn't fish floating lures or streamers, not after he discovered the fly rod. But Willy did. And so do I. Life is too short. Denying pleasure and fun is something the Pilgrims did. Large floating streamers are hot and they will bring up some of the largest fish in the river, from the deepest, fastest runs where no one else fishes.