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5 Tips and Tricks for Fall Streamer Fishing

Looking out the window to view bright red Scrub Oaks and yellow Aspen trees means only one thing in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains… streamer season! Water is low, daylight is waning and the trout are thinking about various things. Rainbow trout are on the feed to fatten up for a long winter. The Browns are starting to feel their natural urge to get ready to claim spawning grounds and getting territorial. If you are done with throwing tiny nymphs and dries on extra light tippet, here are 5 Tips and Tricks for Fall Streamer Fishing that can be used anywhere but do well for us here in the Vail Valley and surrounding areas. 

Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight

If you are going to streamer fish, you need to have the right gear or it’s going to be a long day and possibly fruitless. Here are a few bullet points to make it simple

  • Heavy Fluorocarbon Tippet – 0X to 3X at the lightest. Trout aren’t keenly observing your #22 dead drifted streamer for an afternoon snack. They want a big meal or want your fish imitation to know it’s in the wrong territory. Fluorocarbon because it doesn’t stretch and sinks faster than nylon.
  •  Rods – 5 to 8 weight rods depending on the size of river you are fishing, size of fish and whether or not you intend to use a sink tip. Fast rods with a stout mid and lower section are ideal for turning over bigger flies and sink tips as well as fighting larger fish. Rods with a fighting butt are nice for streamer fishing as well.
  • Shorter leaders – Depending on where you are fishing, 5’-7’ of leader is plenty. Longer leaders can lead to missed hook sets or not feeling an eat. Remember, trout aren’t leader shy in these situations.

Bring Every Streamer You Can Carry

Streamer selection can vary between where on a river you are fishing because of structure, depth, water clarity and your approach. Bring em all.

  • Bring different colors, sizes and weights – Neutral colors are great – black, brown, olive and white are some of our go-to’s especially if they have flash or hot spots to entice a Fall eat. Size can help to match what their used to seeing daily and different weights are great for different depths or fishing small deep pockets ie. getting it in “the zone” quickly. 
  • Plan your approach – Fly selection is important and will change as you make your way downstream on foot or by boat. If your water is low and clear like we have around Vail, lighter flies are great for a subtle approach when fish are in long skinny runs. If you are fishing high gradient deep pockets, heavy flies that get down quick are key. If you are floating the Colorado River making long casts and long retrieves at depth, bigger streamers on a sinking line can be your best friend. Don’t be afraid to switch between your presentations. The fish will let you know what they like.
  • Multi-fly rigs – Try double buggersslump busters and buggers, Motor Oils and leeches. This can be deadly especially in bigger, deeper stretches

Vary your Retrieve and Presentation

I’ve streamer fished in the Fall on the Colorado River where both fishermen in the boat were throwing the same flies but one angler was catching most of the fish. Subtle techniques and differences can change a decent day to a great day of streamer fishing.

  • Swinging – Action isn’t always needed. Try swinging streamers to keep a specific depth and entice trout in cold water
  • Stripping – Vary your fly line retrieve and always include pauses. Mix it up with long strips and short strips as well as the number of them between pauses. The fish will reward you when you are doing it right with a solid grab.
  • Twitching – this motion is done with your wrist and can be done in unison with your strips, just make sure you collect the line when you are doing so in order to maintain tension when you do get a grab. Twitching the rod gives subtle action which can turn a refusal into a take. 
  • Dead Drifting – A dead drift imitates an injured or dying baitfish and can be killer along ledges, undercut banks and small high-gradient pockets. It can also be utilized to establish depth at the beginning of a drift. Use dead drifts from foot or the boat, especially in conjunction with strips and twitches. 

Know Your Water

We touched on it above and this brings everything together. Determine which streamers and techniques to use in every situation as the river changes obviously and subtly and demands different streamer fishing methods. It might not hurt to bring a few streamer rods with you if you have the arsenal. 

  • Depth – Choose between floating or sinking lines depending on where the fish are holding in the column. Vary your retrieve based on how they want to eat your flies in skinny vs. deep water.
  • Structure – Rocks, log jams and undercut banks to name a few are all great places for fish to hold as they provide safety from predators and a break from the current to exert little energy. Have high expectations when fishing around these fish holding areas.
  • Fish it all – Don’t overlook the skinny stuff. In low water, skinny water holds fish if there is a rock to hang in front of or behind. You might not want to pitch an articulated streamer on a sinking line in water like this but could be ideal for a small streamer double fly rig. Test it out on the finned ones and cover it all. You might be surprised where some of your biggest fish are hooked and this can be used when nymphing or dry fly fishing otherwise. 


If it went without saying, we wouldn’t have to say it. So…. leave spawning fish alone! Know what a redd looks like so you can avoid stepping on them or fishing over them. Fall is an important time for brown trout to take care of their natural business, so if you’d like to continue to have big streamer eaters for the next generation of fly fisherman, please please please let the fish spawn without harassment. If you see people fishing over redds, assume they don’t know any better and educate them politely.

Are you ready to throw some MEAT? I know we’re pumped. Show up well equipped, bring the gamut of flies, show them a fine selection of flies at various retrieves and cover all the water you can! Most importantly of all, don’t fish for spawners! 

New to the streamer game? Hit the Eagle River with Eagle River Outfitters’ Dave B. to learn the ropes. Need a quick cheat sheet? See below for a list of his Fall Favorites for the Eagle and Colorado Rivers. Question? Give us a call at the shop – 970-470-4412. Have fun out there and stay safe.

Dave Budniakiewicz
Eagle River Outfitter
Contact Phone: 970-235-0655