4 Fly Fishing with Streamers Tips: Mastering Grid Techniques for Optimal Contact Drift | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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Fly fishing with streamers is an exhilarating pursuit that allows anglers to target big fish and experience explosive strikes. Whether you’re after trout, bass, pike, or other species, understanding grid techniques and achieving optimal contact drift scenarios can significantly enhance your success. I want to cover the importance of the full contact drift scenario and how it plays into your gridding techniques so you can further your success.

What Is Streamer Fishing?

First off, what is fly fishing with streamers? Streamers are large flies designed to imitate small baitfish, minnows, crayfish, leeches, and other subsurface creatures. Unlike dry flies that float on the water’s surface, streamers dive beneath, enticing predatory fish to strike. Here’s how to make the most of this dynamic technique:

1. Types of Fly Fishing with Streamer Flies

Before hitting the water, familiarize yourself with essential streamer patterns. Some common ones include:

  • Woolly Bugger: A versatile pattern that mimics leeches, minnows, and baitfish. Effective colors include black, olive, and brown.
  • Clouser Minnow: Simple yet effective, this fly imitates small baitfish. The original design features bucktail, krystal flash, and dumbbell eyes.
  • Sculpzilla: Renowned for trout fishing, this articulated fly closely resembles bottom-dwelling sculpins.
  • Crystal Buggers: Another versatile pattern and my personal favorite. It is simply another version of the Woolly Bugger but with a bit more flash. 

When fly fishing with streamers my primary patterns are a white crystal bugger and a olive tail with purple UV body.  They tend to be my go to patterns and work just about anywhere. Each fly is weighted with a gold or platinum bead and I vary the size from a small size 14 to a larger size 6. Outside of these common patterns I use various other large scale patterns depending on what I’m feeling. Outside of the crystal buggers I’m a firm believer in using my line as the weight and having weightless flies like Deceivers, I feel that I have far better control and casting ability. Want to learn more about weighted lines then read this article

2. The Importance of Grid Techniques

Grid techniques involve systematically covering water to maximize your chances of encountering fish. Here’s how to apply them:

  • Position Yourself: Stand perpendicular to the current and visualize a grid pattern. Imagine horizontal and vertical lines intersecting where you cast. The key is to keep in mind that the water is 3 dimensional so understanding the grid on all axis will help you visualize how to not only cover all water left to right but up and down throughout the water columns. 
  • Cast and Retrieve: Make parallel casts along the grid lines, varying your retrieve speed. Experiment with long and slow retrieves, quick and short strips, twist retrieves, and jigging motions.
  • Dead Drift: Occasionally let your streamer dead-drift downstream, imitating injured prey. This technique works well when fish are sluggish or water temperatures are low.

3. Achieving Optimal Contact Drift

Contact drift refers to maintaining consistent contact with your streamer during the retrieve. This by far is your most important and effective technique for success.  Here is an article on contact fly fishing that will help you understand the various types. Full contact fishing is your objective. Because you cannot often see the take of a fish it is paramount to remove slack from your system and enable the optimum scenario for a hook set.
When you are fly fishing with streamers there are a handful of methods you can use to enhance your connection to the fly. Taking all of these into consideration will help you avoid missed opportunities and increase your percentage of hookup scenarios.


  • Full Contact Line Control: Keep your line taut but not overly tight. Feel the streamer’s movement and any subtle strikes.


  • Angle of Presentation: First and foremost manage your angle of presentation. Typically you do not cast much beyond 30 degrees up stream.  Reason being it is very hard to control your retrieval speed and line slack.  With the current moving rapidly as you pull your fly towards your rod tip you’ll tend to lose control of the fly connection. In these scenarios it is important to manage that slack by observing and or utilizing characteristics as follows.  Otherwise the true objective is to either be pulling perpendicular to current or allowing for a swing and retrieve method. The one downfall is that baitfish will often run down stream and with current to avoid predators. This is where I think that a slightly upstream approach can have it’s benefits. Conversely when pulling perpendicular you are aiming to pull a streamer across the profile of your fish to entice a chase on a fleeing prey. 
  • Speed of Current: We all should know now that the water speed is typically significantly lower the closer you get to the substrate.  This is advantageous in that we know most fish sit low in a resting position. By running heavier flies you can therefore move the fly into slower water and allow for a more controlled return when casting slightly upstream.
  • Speed of Retrieve: Increasing the speed of retrieval is more than stripping faster in the standard sense of the way. Often you can employ a hand over hand or Tarpon style retrieve to greatly increase the speed of retrieval.  One specific advantage of this retrieve is a more solid strip set vs. an accidental trout set. 
  • Mend Your Line: Using mending techniques to prevent drag, increase or decrease fly speed, etc is often one of the more deadly techniques. Speak to any two hander and they will show you all the ins and outs of mending and it’s importance.  Understanding, how you mend is affecting the flies speed and depth as it relates to the targeted area is critical.  In most of these scenarios you are have a target zone where you are looking to have correct presentation and identifying that zone then targeting appropriately can be the difference maker. A well-placed mend ensures a different drift each time.
  • Vary Depths: Adjust your streamer’s depth by altering your retrieve. Let it sink deeper or rise higher to explore different water layers. Do the same by changing the weight or moving to a faster sinking line. Know your objective and where you believe the fish are sitting so you can present to them in a zone that is most effective for an attack. 

4. Favorite Fly Fishing with Streamers Retrieves

  • Long and Slow: Ideal for enticing wary fish. Let the streamer sink and retrieve it at a leisurely pace.
  • Quick and Short: Trigger aggressive strikes by rapidly stripping the line. This imitates fleeing prey.
  • Twist Retrieve: Add a twist to your retrieve, creating erratic movements that mimic injured fish.
  • Jig Retrieve: Lift your rod tip periodically to make the streamer dart up and down.
  • Jerk Strip Retrieve: An active retrieve utilizing the rod tip to impart action. Importantly, separate the jerk from the strip in our retrieve to impart the most action.

The Jerk-Strip Retrieve is so important that it is worth discussing in more detail.  The retrieve is a dynamic and effective technique used in fly fishing with streamers and likely the most reliable. It’s favored by seasoned anglers for its ability to trigger aggressive strikes from predatory fish. The additional action is truly a trigger for making fish react which is often our intention as we want to trigger a predatory response. Let’s dive into the details:

  1. What Is the Jerk-Strip Retrieve?
    • Unlike other retrieves, the jerk-strip utilizes the rod to impart action to the fly.
    • The goal is to imitate a fleeing baitfish that is compromised in some way—vulnerable but not fatally injured.
    • The motion is erratic, enticing aggressive responses from fish.
  2. How to Execute the Jerk-Strip Retrieve:
    • Allow the fly a moment to sink in the current.
    • Jerk the rod 1 to 2 feet, moving it quickly.
    • Simultaneously strip in the line as you return the rod to its initial position.
    • Repeat this motion without pausing until the cast is fully fished out.
  3. Key Points:
    • Active Retrieve: The jerk-strip is perhaps the most active way to fly fish with streamers.
    • Quick Pace: Adjust the pace based on current speed; faster for swift currents.
    • Aggressive Strikes: Often, aggressive jerk-strip retrieves result in the most violent strikes from fish.

Remember, mastering the jerk-strip requires precise timing and practice. When executed correctly, it can fool even the wariest of trout into striking. Your objective is to create that erratic action with the jerk and as you return your rod tip to the start position and pull in slack from your line alignment you are creating a dead or haulted scenario with the fly. It is the combination of erratic movement followed by this dead and vulnerable position that makes this technique so deadly. 


Fly fishing with streamers is an art that combines strategy, technique, and intuition. Frankly, the techniques described above can be utilized in all water types to be successful.  Master grid techniques, achieve optimal contact drift, and explore various water with significantly more confidence when blind casting with streamers. Whether you’re casting in freshwater rivers or lakes, or even salt water, fly fishing with streamers promises heart-pounding moments and the chance to connect with trophy fish.

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Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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