What if I told you there was 1 style of articulated streamer that could produce fish in any and every possible situation?
Well, I’d be lying.
But what if I told you there were 3 styles of articulated streamers which under any circumstance would move fish and put you on the hunt?
I’m most certainly still stretching the truth, but this is a fisherman you're talking to, so that's to be expected.
Articulated streamers have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. I’m a young dude who was just a babe when it all started going down, but I've been lucky to have the pleasure of growing up in what is probably the fastest growing fly fishing style – streamer fishing. I am, by all accounts, a streamer junkie, and working for a summer at Galloup’s Slide Inn did not help my addiction in the slightest.
I’ve had a few revelations of my own, but most of my knowledge is a mashup of information from some truly awesome fly tyers such as Kelly Galloup, Norbert Renaud, Oskar Hagelin, Rich Strolis, Daniel Holm, Andreas Andersson, and Niklaus Bauer to name a few.
Something I've observed from watching these fly gurus tie is no matter what fly recipe, no matter how many articulations, and regardless of the targeted species, there seems to be 3 overall styles of articulated streamers.
1. Articulating flies.
Tie and photo by Gunnar Brammer.
I don’t simply mean a streamer with an articulation joint, but a streamer that will articulate.
Just because you put a joint in a fly doesn’t mean the fly will feel inclined to move at that joint; the movement itself is a design principle.
Here's the idea.
When stripping an articulated streamer, the front hook is designed to be more viscous in the water than the rear hook (through material selection).
When paused or in the absence of tension, the front hook will slow down faster than the rear, causing the rear hook to articulate either to the left or right, resulting in a “S” swimming motion.
Imagine a semi-truck trailer traveling at 70 mph and slamming on the brakes. The trailer itself typically articulates around the cab creating an “S” followed by some scary stuff that is beyond my point.
The idea is to design “brakes” on the front hook that lock up when you stop stripping.
So how can you incorporate this articulation into your fly? This principle is probably best displayed by Kelly Galloup’s various streamer designs, in which he uses wool and deer hair as the head materials to slow the front hook down allowing the rear to articulate.
It's as simple as doubling the bulk in the front hook as compared to the rear, or using “slipperier” material on the rear than the front, such as hackles for the tail section.
This principle is even used on flies such as Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer, where the front hook has the greatest amount of body material, and the reduction of body material is proportional to the size of the fish spines, creating less water tension in the rear of the fly.
Get 'er done.
Madison River brown trout caught in a soft water pocket on an articulating-style fly. Photo by Charlie Gordon.
Certainly this style of fly, including Sex Dungeons and Boogie Men, gets 'er done on rivers all over the world, but I have the tendency to fish them is shallower waters, in the top 2 ft. of the water column, and as fast as conditions allow for.
This fly is worked very effectively with the classic “jerk strip” retrieve, which allows you to quickly move the fly over high percentage areas with the slight pauses allowing for the articulation.
My favorite conditions for articulating flies is just past the peak of runoff when the water is high and visibility is low. These conditions have a tendency to congregate fish close to the shoreline, where the banks micro-topography creates soft pockets of energy efficient holding water.
During these conditions, fish are constantly looking up for battered and bruised “kids' meals” to float overhead.
This is prime time for strippin' junk in my opinion, and the best tip I have for anyone doing it, is to fish close to the shoreline and around any shoreline structure presenting “soft” water holding pockets.
Fishing close also keeps you in control of the line on the water, the line in your hand, and the ability to set when needed.
2. Jig flies.
Tips Up jig-style fly created and tied by Kelly Galloup. Photo by Gunnar Brammer.
Jig flies, unlike flies designed to articulate, typically lack “brakes” and instead employ gravity to get fish to strike in their moment of weakness.
Here's the idea.
Instead of brakes, the design is like a self-engaging gas pedal. When paused, the fly quickly begins to accelerate downward before being lifted back up by the line, creating the jigging motion.
Flies that lack significant water tension on the front hook (typically because they lack wool, laser dub, deer hair, etc., for head) are more susceptible to the effects of gravity.
The lead eyes that were intended to offset the buoyancy of the head materials now act as accelerators in their absence.
In my mind, Maddin’s Circus Peanut best exemplifies my personal definition of an articulated jig fly. The rear hook and front hook are identical with the exception of the chenille-wrapped lead eyes. The fly swims, jigs, and is a fish-catching machine.
Other examples include Galloup’s Tips Up, Big Hole Bug, and Peanut Envy.
Like most streamers, these flies are designed in a “rinse and repeat” fashion. The back fly and front fly are nearly identical, with the exception of the hook size.
With a longer shank in the front hook (typically a hook that is 2 sizes larger than the rear) you can create a successfully proportioned fly while increasing the force imparted by the mass near the eye of the hook.
The longer the front shank, the more aggressive the jig will behave, assuming the mass is near the eye of the hook.
Get 'er done.
Yellowstone River brown trout caught jigging a Big Hole Bug through a deep run. Photo by Steve Mock.
Where and when do jig flies come in handy? They're always handy because jig flies are simply jiggy!
They go up, they go down, you can swim them fast and drop them in a pocket, or you can let them get down and dredge some deeper water.
They're my favorite way to pick apart pocket water, especially that which is found above the Slide Inn yet below Quake Lake, and can be deadly on a floating line.
As a tool to hunt fish, and I mean hunt, – picking a stream apart seam by seam, boulder by boulder – the jig fly is possibly the deadliest weapon.
They also allow you to present a fly slowly, especially if a smaller mass is used to impart the jigging action, making them ideal cold water flies.
I tend to retain the principles of Kelly’s “jerk strip” when retrieving this style, but simply move the orientation to a more vertical format, while slowing down the presentation. This is ideal, as it allows you to keep tight on the slack created form the jigging motion, and increases your hook-up percentage.
Keep in mind I’m still referring to articulated jig flies. Although single flies are deadly, I have a hard time putting anything less than 4” on my line when trying to trick a predator into tackling my fly.
3. Jerk flies.
Variation of Galloup's Golden Shower, tied by Gunnar Brammer.
This style of fly is my personal favorite for lake fishing, and for deeper/slower rivers.
This idea was revealed to me in an episode of Tie TV, where Niklaus Bauer ties a Pike Tube Fly. Although the video was in Swedish, his hand motions were more than enough for the idea to stick.
Here's the idea.
By vertically displacing material on a fly, you create a sail which catches water and displaces the head of the fly left/right when forward acceleration ceases.
After realizing this, I began to see it in many fly designs, including Andreas Andersson's Delivery Man, Schmidt’s Double Deciever, Galloup’s Barely Legal, and the list continues.
The beauty of this design is it's a triggering mechanism, and I have two reasons for saying such.
First, flies that are vertically displaced have this tendency to ride on their sides when given slack. This may bother some, but to me it's a part of their design.
Picture the last time you saw a weak fish, maybe a dying salmon in late October from your local river. Weak fish have this tendency to float up and rotate to their sides, it's indicating that they are sick, or injured, or, in the case of the salmon, dying.
What predator doesn’t love an easy meal?
The second reason is for flies less dramatically displaced, solely from attaching eyes, or a single vertical stack of bucktail, or using Baifish Heads or Fish-Masks to laterally compress covered material.
These flies seem to track more truly in the water, yet show their profile when paused by deflecting left and right. This profile is a triggering mechanism much like an articulating fly, or a jigging fly, and is deadly in still or slow water for big predators lurking about.
Get 'er done.
My favorite location for jerk bait style flies occurs in deeper/slower water, and most certainly on lakes.
One of my best kept secrets while at the Slide Inn was fishing Quake Lake from shore. This lake, which receives virtually no fishing pressure, is overflowing with large brown trout likely averaging 20 inches. Near the end of my time at Kelly’s, I walked the shoreline every night, fishing a Galloup’s Golden Shower, which incorporated vertically stacked bucktail seated just behind a Baifish Head.
This fly, which acts erratically in the fast flows of the Madison (where it caught numerous fish by the way), now behaved as an elegant jerk bait with a slow roll to its side on every pause – needless to say, them hefty browns were all over it.
When retrieving, I attempt to get the largest movement possible on the strip, with a longer pause allowing the fly to dodge to the full extend. I usually perform a straight hard strip with my left hand, while pushing the rod forward straight in the direction of my fly, to increase the amount of line I can move. This will help move your fly, while still keeping you tight for a high quality hook set.
These jerk flies are simply another trigger point to add to the list, and come in handy in areas where you may be lacking the help of an erratic river current.
Whether I'm heading to a new river or my favorite local stream, I make sure to have these 3 styles of articulated streamers with me.
Each style alone has the necessary triggers to put you on fish, no matter the species. The combinations of these styles, employing multiple triggering mechanisms, is the next evolution in streamer fishing, and there are certainly many fly tyers out there who've done and are doing just that. It’s all about the trigger; trigger the fish to chase, and trigger the fish to eat.
So stop sitting on your butt reading this article. Get some flies, pull that trigger, and go strip some junk for your local toothies!
What's your favorite articulated streamer pattern?
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About Gunnar Brammer:
After being afflicted with the fly tying and fishing addiction at the impressionable age of 16, Gunnar spent the next few years honing his skills on the water and at the fly tying desk, including a memorable summer spent working for Kelly Galloup at Galloup’s Slide Inn. In 2015 he launched Brammer’s Custom Flies, a business specializing in musky, pike, and large trout streamers. He’s proud to say the streamers are all his own, but credits his inspiration to many great tyers. He’s actively building out his YouTube channel and Instagram in an effort to provide a wealth of information for others who share his passion for fly tying and fishing. Gunnar recently moved to Duluth, Minnesota with his wife where he’s looking forward to the challenges of new water and hopes they will inspire some tasty treats for others to enjoy.