We’ve all been there: the sun is high, the dry fly bite is tapering and you start thinking about what to try next. Many people go to the nymph rig, but I jump right to streamers.
Usually I keep two 6-weights rigged in the boat: one with a RIO Grand floating line and one with a 150 or 200 grain RIO InTouch 24ft sink tip. My favorite rod for this type of fishing is a 9’ 6wt Sage IGNITER, but I prefer fast rods overall. I also fish the Sage X 9’ 6wt and it has excelled in many small stream situations. For deeper and faster water, the sink tip helps you to fish unweighted flies at a greater depth. Many days the unweighted flies will out-produce anything with weight because of the increased action of the fly. I use a 2 to 3 foot section of 0X to 3X on the sink tip – without any leader -- with floating flies to help keep them down in narrow rivers.
For clients, I find the sink tip is much easier for them to cast. The difficulty with the sink tip is that it sinks, of course, and can quickly find bottom when you pause the fly. To prevent this, lift the rod up on the retrieve, almost as if jigging. This will lift the line up in the water column and will allow you to continue the retrieve without interruption. I typically lift the rod tip up and drop the tip back to the water once the line is lifted higher in the water column. As I drop the rod tip back to the water I increase the speed of my strip to pick up the slack line that was created by the lift of the rod tip. This will give you a better hook set as the line is tight throughout the entire retrieve. Large brown trout frequently eat the fly on a long pause. In order to stall the fly the line must be high in the water column in many low water situations, which is why this is necessary to master.
One of the most important things to consider when selecting a streamer is the water and light conditions. Low water is typically clear and the high sun of summer penetrates the water column much more than in the spring or the fall. With these conditions I typically keep my flies small in low water situations. A big fly would be 4 inches. I fish 4 inch flies when a river has a lot of holes that are 3 to 6 feet deep. When fishing smaller rivers with more 1 to 3 foot of water, I keep the flies small, in the 1 to 2 inch range. Sparkle minnows are a go-to and will generate a lot of action; they tend to work best on sunny days. Small marabou streamers, twitch flies (skunks, bitch creeks…), buggers, etc., they all have their time. I recommend switching frequently until you are consistently moving fish. Many times the fish are on a minnow bite in the summer, which leads me to start with a bright and small fly that time of year. On cloudy days, mornings and evenings when there isn’t much light penetration, olive and black flies should be early in the rotation. In addition to variations in color, I also carry flies in various weights from heavy to unweighted and in between.
I carry the floating line to fish sections of river with an average depth around 2 feet or less. One of the biggest advantages of the floating line is that it allows the angler to pause the fly during the retrieve in shallow or slow water without snagging on the bottom. It often works better for less advanced streamer fishermen because it won’t snag as easily, though it is typically harder for them to cast. A short 6 to 7 foot leader to 1X or 2X will suffice. I use the RIO Grand for small streamers which turns them over well on short casts and is a very good roll casting line.
Seeing fish come to the fly in low clear water is always fun. In addition, it teaches a streamer fisherman how to react when they see a fish chase, and how to turn those chases into bites. August and September are great times to start experimenting with small streamers. These techniques will be the ticket until rivers flows bump up due to fall rains. Most people don’t look at streamers as their first option in low-water situations but it can be one of the most exciting ways to fish low water.