Top 5 Streamer Patterns

Fly-Fishing Expert Marshall McDougal breaks down which go-to streamer patterns should be a staple in your fly box.

The author's fly rod set-up rests on a rock by the water with a streamer attached to the line.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Love throwing big, meaty patterns for even bigger predator fish? Tune in and see what my top five patterns are for streamer fishing, what they consist of, and how to fish them!

Streamer Fishing

Streamer fishing is one of my favorite styles of fishing for large predatory fish. The goal of fishing streamer patterns is to mimic baitfish — smaller, meaty creatures that are on every dream-worthy fish’s dinner menu. Streamer patterns come in all shapes and sizes, from small woolly buggers to large articulated flies, and they can be fished in a multitude of ways. The strikes you get from hungry fish will turn you into a streamer junkie!

1. Clouser Minnow

Two clouser minnows sit on a fly tying vise.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Pattern

If there is one streamer pattern every angler should carry in their box, it should be this one. Originally tied by Bob Clouser, the Clouser Minnow started as a dyed bucktail tied onto a streamer hook. The intent of this fly was to target smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River when it was invented in 1987. However, this pattern is effective for almost all species of fish. Lefty Kreh himself even claimed that it is the most effective underwater fly and that it landed him 63 different species of fish.

This baitfish pattern is most commonly tied using two colors of bucktail and a dumbbell eye. Although colors and material may vary from fly to fly, you will typically see the darker bucktail tied over the lighter color bucktail to mimic that of a baitfish. The dumbbell eye gives it the weight needed to get down in the water column where large fish feed.

Fishing the Clouser Minnow

The Clouser Minnow was designed to imitate a baitfish. In order to fish it effectively, drop your rod tip to the water and remove any slack in your line before retrieving the fly. The idea is to make your fly dart around in the water column. Using quick, long strips about an arm’s length with a short pause between strips will allow your fly to make a quick dart and then pause before darting again. Most of your strikes will come during the pause in action. Even if you do not hook up right away, continue to strip and try to mimic a fish desperately escaping a predator. More often than not, you will get multiple strikes on a retrieve.

2. Sculpin

Two sculpin flies sit on a branch.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Pattern

Sculpin are bottom-feeding fish that live in both freshwater and saltwater. These scavengers feed mostly on insect larva, eggs, crustaceans, and even smaller fish. Ranging in size from an inch to eight inches, these fish are an excellent nutrient source for trout and other predatory fish. The pattern is very simple to tie and consists of rabbit strips and partridge feathers with a weighted head.

Fishing the Sculpin

This pattern is best fished in rivers with a rocky bottom. Cast the fly upstream and let it sink in the water column. Once you feel the bottom, begin short, quick strips and let the current drift the fly through the river downstream. A good majority of your strikes will come at the end of the swing where your fly makes a darting motion as the line changes directions toward the bank. Continue stripping all the way back to you. You might be surprised at how many fish you’ll miss in the last couple of feet when retrieving. Remember that hungry fish usually target sculpin in faster-moving water where they struggle to swim. Drifting these patterns through eddies and back into the riffles is a great way to initiate monster strikes.

3. Woolly Bugger

A bunch of woolly bugger flies sit on a fly tying kit.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Pattern

This classic fly pattern dates back to the mid-1960s and was originally created by Russell Blessing to be an imitation of a woolly worm. The pattern is one that most beginning fly tiers start on. It has a marabou tail with chenille and hackle making up the body. This pattern has hundreds of variations imitating baitfish, woolly worms, muddlers, terrestrials, and leeches. It is most popular in olive or black and white colors with a bead or conehead.

If you want to learn how to tie a woolly bugger of your own, check out this video article!

Fishing the Woolly Bugger

Just like the hundreds of variations of this fly, there are just as many ways to fish it. Since this pattern can mimic so many different species of insects, fish, and terrestrials, there isn’t a recommended style of fishing. Go out, cast, and retrieve! You will be surprised by how many fish you can catch on this fly.

4. Crayfish

Two crayfish flies sit on a cork.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Pattern

The most common crayfish pattern is tied in a rust-orange color. Most patterns consist of rubber legs, bead eyes, and some sort of feather to make up the business end of the fly. Having all of this movement trailing behind the body makes it look like your fly has claws, antennas, antennules, and eyes.

The rest of the body will be some sort of dubbing or yarn with segmented areas to resemble the body and tail area. My favorite pattern has lead dumbbell eyes toward the front of the hook eye, which allows the fly to swim with the hook bend up as well as mimic the fluttering swim pattern that crawdads move in.

Fishing the Crayfish

If you have ever witnessed a crayfish swim in a river or lake before, you will notice that its movements are very smooth and slow. It uses its tail to propel the rest of its body. This can easily be mimicked with short, quick strips. Fish these around rock banks, brush piles, and overhanging trees. When these creatures feel pressured, they speed up their swimming speed, so if you feel a strike but do not hook up right away, increase the speed and timing on your strips to mimic a fleeing crawdad.

5. Bennett’s Lunch Money

Four Lunch Money flies lay on a desk next to each other.

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Pattern

The Lunch Money pattern was designed by Matt Bennett in the 2000s and was originally named the Llano Critter. The name switch came before it was submitted to Umpqua in 2014. This pattern was designed to mimic a bite-sized baitfish for smallmouth in the Texas Hill Country. Tied with a rabbit zonker strip as the tail and laser dubbing making up the body, this fly has great movement in the water and just the right amount of sheen to look like a tasty snack.

There are many variations to this pattern but it is commonly seen tied with a darker color over a lighter color. The darker color typically matches that of the rabbit zonker strip, the lighter color pairs with a similarly colored silly leg in the middle of the body, and it is finished with dumbbell-weighted eyes.

Fishing the Bennett’s Lunch Money

The Lunch Money is fished in the same way as the Clouser Minnow, with the rod tip down close to the water with long, quick strips. Again, you will see most of your strikes during the pause between strips.

For tips on how to organize your fly box with these awesome streamer patterns, check out my article on how to organize a fly box here. If you need a new streamer box and want to make your own, check out my article on making a DIY streamer fly box here. If you have questions about these patterns or where to buy them, reach out to me or another Fly-Fishing Expert here on Curated.

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Written By
I picked up a fly rod at the age of 10 and have never been able to put it down. Fly tying started shortly after and I have chased fish all over the US and Mexico. I now own a small fly tying company as well as run guided trips. My favorite area to fish is the Bitteroot River in Missoula, MT and my f...

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