May 25, 2018
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Fly fishing used to mean trolling a streamer

Tom Hennessey | BDN
Tom Hennessey | BDN
By Tom Hennessey

Chances are you can remember when the term “fly fishing” meant trolling streamers, particularly for landlocked salmon soon after ice-out. Mention fly fishing nowadays, though, and the erudite alumni of fly-fishing schools and clinics will assume you’re referring to fly casting. Considering the changing times that’s not surprising. However, I have to say it’s somewhat annoying when these modern fly fishers cast condescending lines such as, “Towing a streamer behind a boat can hardly be called fly fishing.”

Granted, trolling a streamer doesn’t require the finesse of fly casting. Nevertheless, fooling a salmon into smothering, say, a Black Ghost trolled on a lake takes as much skill as coaxing a trout into sipping a Green Drake from the surface of a stream. Suffice it to say that reading water and studying stream configurations doesn’t relate only to casting flies for trout and Atlantic salmon. For instance, streamer fishermen read a white-capped lake as perfect for trolling handy to structures — rocky points, gravel bars, shoals, granite-rimmed shorelines — that attract foraging landlocks.

Moreover, many of the techniques used for catching fish with flies, cast or trolled, are similar. Think about it: Fly casters strive for “just right” angles, speeds and drifts in presenting flies to fish. They also vary the presentations by mending casts, stripping line and perhaps tying a riffling hitch behind the head of a fly to make it skate across the surface. Conversely, sinking or sinking-tip lines take flies down to fish that are lethargic and lying deep.

Likewise, to make their bait-fish imitations more attractive, streamer fishermen work their rods and set their boats on serpentine courses that cover more water. Not to mention cranking a few more rpms from the outboard when coming out of turns and trolling a fly in the motor’s wake. Though streamers usually are trolled near the surface, fishing them deeper behind, say, a color or two of lead core or a Dodger can be productive. There’s more to it, of course. Not the least of which is trolling streamers so that they track the boat. A fly trailing too far astern is floundering, not fishing. But rather than let my reel overrun, I’ll set the drag and leave it that anyone who says trolling streamers can hardly be called fly fishing has my sympathy.

Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork may be viewed online at His email address is

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