Euro-nymphing tactics have become popular among fly fishers for a variety of reasons. The patterns are easy to tie, the rigging and casting is simple and, most importantly, the flies achieve depth faster than any with any other nymphing tactic. When it comes to fishing below the surface, depth is paramount—and often can make the difference between a mediocre day on the water and a great one. My mentor Joe Humphreys likes to say that the difference between an okay nympher and a great nympher is one split shot. In other words—one that gets his or her flies into the strike zone as quickly as possible and keeps them there during the presentation. When it comes to streamer fishing (another subsurface approach), getting your flies into the strike zone—getting them deep—is just as important. That’s why, these days, I fish jig streamers on my Euro rig more often than I use traditional streamer tactics like those that involve sinking lines and articulated streamers. While I still find use for traditional streamer designs, I’m sold on fishing jig streamers for the bulk of my streamer fishing.
Here are qualities I look for when buying or tying jig streamers.
My hook preference is for large, barbless, competition jig hooks, which allow an oversized tungsten bead to be placed. I currently use Fulling Mill FM5045 hooks in size 8 and 10, which allow me to tie 1-3” long jig streamers—the perfect size and length for my home waters. This hook point is needle thin, a necessity when jig fishing with most Euro nymph rods, which have soft tips. In traditional streamer fishing, most anglers are taught to strip set the fly with their line hand. But often, when fishing a Euro rig, the rod tip is used to set the hook, just as you would when setting the hook while Euro-nymphing. Longer rods with softer tips bend more during the hookset. The greater the bend in the rod, the less force created to set the hook, making thin, sharp hook points a prerequisite for success.
Remember, the thicker the hook point-the more energy needed to set the hook into a fish’s mouth. This is why I use hooks like Fulling Mill'ss FM5045 rather than preformed lead jig hooks, as many of these hook points are almost double in diameter, and require more force to secure the hook into the fish’s mouth. If you’re jigging with a shorter and stiffer fly rod, then the need for a thin hook point is not as relevant. If you’re fishing for trophy size trout then you will want to use not only a thicker hook point but also a heavier fly rod. However, I find my 11’ 3wt euro rod in combination with Fulling Mill’s FM5045 hooks (or similar) is more than adequate for the average size trout I encounter in central PA.
Oversized tungsten beads offer both depth and control. When Euro streamer fishing, my preference is fishing a heavy jig streamer which anchors itself near stream bottom while I use the rod tip to hold the streamer at the desired depth. One key feature to staying in touch with your streamer during the up and down jigging presentation is keeping the line/leader tight during the entire process. I want the streamer to weigh enough to maintain tension throughout the presentation. Throughout the presentation, I lift and lower the fly with the rod tip, with little to any slack present during the jigging movement. If you don’t feel that constant tension with your, you likely need a heavier fly. You can also add a small split shot close to the jig head for additional weight instead of switching to a heavier fly.
Use natural and synthetic materials that shed water. In the past I would use materials like wool and rabbit on my jig streamer, with the thought of these materials absorbing water to help sink the pattern. While these materials do aid in sinking the fly, they come at a high cost by introducing drag during the presentation. When Euro streamer fishing, the strikes are not always fierce, where the fish hits the fly with such force that it feels like the rod is being ripped from your hands. Instead, strikes are often soft, where you feel only the slightest amount of tension during the presentation.
When fishing with materials like wool and rabbit, it can feel like you’re dragging a wet sock through the water, robbing you of sensitivity during the presentation. Instead, I prefer to use materials that shed water, allowing the pattern to slide and glide through the water with little to no drag. I use mostly synthetic materials to accomplish this, but natural materials like bucktail and marabou are excellent choices to achieve a smooth, sliding presentation. Using such materials will allow you to feel the softest strikes.
Go sleeker and smaller to achieve depth. I look for or design jig streamers much like current popular Euro-nymph patterns—sleek and dense. These patterns are not designed to swim with lots of movement. Instead, their purpose is to quickly achieve depth. Movement is created by the angler moving the rod tip up and down. I like to use single hook point patterns with a longer tail and rubber legs. Smaller single hook point patterns (e.g. the 1-3” range I mentioned earlier) drop faster than larger, articulated patterns. The jig streamer body and head are slimmed down with no unnecessary bulk. There are countless options for achieving a slender profile, so use materials that create a jig streamer you have confidence fishing. Two of my favorite jig streamers include a modified Chuck Kraft Kreelex Euro jig and my Sculp Snack Jig. By adjusting the size, weight, and color of these two patterns, I feel I can cover just about any trout situation I encounter.
What I enjoy most about these patterns is their simplicity and ease of tying. Though we’ve focused on trout fishing patterns in this discussion, I’ve adopted the same concepts when tying jig streamers for other fish species including bass, pickerel, carp and even musky. I still cast and strip traditional streamer patterns, but when fish are not as willing to chase down their food, you need to bring the fight to the fish. Building and fishing these simple jig streamers is one method of achieving success during these periods. Flexibility is the key to success and if you haven’t tried fishing jig streamers on a Euro rig before, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.