tying freshwater streamers

Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody, Wyoming, retired National Park Superintendent

tying freshwater streamersOne of the replies to my Minimum Fly Box article wondered what I have as streamers in my fly box. I tied a lot of Carrie Stevens’ patterns that she developed in Maine years ago, and I used them when fishing in Maine and a few of the Lakes of the Adirondacks with some, but not exciting success. I tried a few of her patterns I liked such as America, Carrie’s Special and the classic Gray Ghost pattern as described in David Klausmeyer’s book, Tying Classic Freshwater Streamers. This book, a first edition, is now listed for a used copy at $124.99 on Amazon. Fortunately, my copy was $39.95 in 2004. If you can find a reasonably priced copy at a garage sale, I recommend buying it. If streamers are your love, this is the book to have.

Early on in my fly tying life I only used three different streamers, the Mickey Finn, the Black Ghost and the Gray Ghost. Today, I still carry those three and Carrie’s Special, but they didn’t get a lot of use until Dr. Sebetich, a retired professor of limnology, suggested using a nymph dropper off the streamer. I forgot that trick even though when in Alaska during the 1980s and fishing for salmon. The experienced locals suggested I use an all-white streamer. I did and I was not able to hook many salmon that way, but being primarily a nymph fisherman I added a nymph as a dropper off the white streamer and was able to hook salmon much more frequently on the nymph!

Dr. Sebetich, an ardent fly fisherman spends much of his time on and uses the streamer nymph dropper system regularly with good success on the waters of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. So Eastern fisherman might want to give it a try.

A streamer represents a much larger protein package to a predatory trout so perhaps it does encourage larger trout to strike that lure.   I cannot confirm that without some doubt, but in my limited success it does seem correct when the strike is on the streamer and not the nymph dropper.


  1. Interesting, Clay. Can you elaborate a little on the kinds of nymphs you drop from streamers (including weights and sizes), the kinds of streamers you’re talking about, the length of such droppers, the conditions under which you try it, species that seem to go for it (Steelhead? Salmon? Trout? Other?), and the depths and methods you’ve used to fish such rigs (including line type–sink tip, floating, etc)?

    I’ve not fished streamers as much as I’ve fished nymphs (although that’s been heating up more recently), and I’ve not used a nymph dropper off a streamer. Would like to give anything that works a go.

    – Mike

    1. Clay,
      There is no doubt that “A streamer represents a much larger protein package to a predatory trout”, thus its efficacy in many situations. In fact, most fly fishing historians agree that many of the early British artificials were really streamer style flies. Although they were not explicitly called “streamers” until the early 20th century, the style existed well back into the 18th and 19th century. The term “streamer” is of 11th-12th century Middle English origin “Stremer” meaning “a long, flowing ribbon, feather, or the like used for ornament, as in dress or decoration”. There’s no definitive evidence to its first use to describe flies like the classic New England streamers, but some credit Herters as marking some of their big fly patterns as streamers in the early 20th century. The classic Alexandra Fly (still popular today) is clearly a streamer as we know it, but was created in the early 19th century. And Joe Bates is the guy who really popularized the term in the 1960s. No one can enter the mind of a trout to know what instinct, other than “food” is in play when the trout attacks the streamer at the end of your line. But one thing is for sure, in most cases, the “Main Course” works.

      Mike Cline

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