Your Ultimate Guide to Matching Fly Fishing Streamers to Baitfish

Kevin Feenstra Matching Baitfish
Table of Contents

If you’re just starting out in fly fishing, learning to match your streamer with the local baitfish can be a real game-changer. Selecting the appropriate fly not only boosts your chances of a catch but also deepens your understanding of the aquatic ecosystem. In today’s article, we’re tapping into the expertise of Kevin Feenstra to bring you a guide that breaks down the different types of baitfish and shows you how to match your streamers effectively. Be sure to check out the video below!

Baby Trout

In areas with migratory fish, you’ll often need flies that look like juvenile salmon, steelhead, or baby trout. These young trout are typically born in the spring and have distinctive parr markings, with a big head that tapers to a square tail. 

  • Add a bit of sparkle to your fly to make it more attractive.
  • Get your fly close to the fish.
  • Use two flies at a time to increase visibility.
  • Fish for fry from March to early June, as they stay high in the water column during this period.


Shiners are common in many rivers, especially those with weeds or a lot of structure. Shiner flies are typically larger at the front and taper down. These flies become prime bait from the middle of summer through fall and winter. Shiners swim throughout the water column, with smaller ones staying higher and bigger ones lower.

  • Use flies with a silver or pearl color to mimic the flash of real shiners.
  • Common colors for shiner flies include gray, olive, or cinnamon.
  • Fish for shiners in rivers with plenty of weeds or structure.
  • Adjust your fly’s position in the water column based on the size of the shiners.


Sculpins are another key type of baitfish that live near the bottom of the river. They have big, broad heads and large pectoral fins. Without a swim bladder, sculpins stay on the bottom and move quickly for short bursts, making them an easy meal for predators. 

  • Match the color of your fly to the river bottom.
  • Fish close to the bottom since sculpins stay there.
  • Use flies that mimic the quick, short movements of sculpins.
  • These flies are effective year-round.


Gobies are another bottom-dwelling baitfish, similar to sculpins, but they usually sit on top of rocks, making them vulnerable to predators. They are an invasive species in the Great Lakes but have contributed to the growth of larger fish in those areas. 

  • Use lighter tan colors to mimic gobies.
  • Fish near rocks where gobies are likely to be found.
  • Take advantage of their high visibility to attract predators.
  • Goby flies can be particularly effective in the Great Lakes region.


Darters are smaller bottom-dwelling baitfish that are often very colorful. They are great to use during the winter months because they are found in the same parts of the river as migratory fish. 

  • Use colorful flies to mimic darters, which can range from tan to bright shades.
  • Fish in deep, cold waters where darters are likely to be found during winter.
  • Take advantage of their smaller size to attract fish in colder conditions.
  • These flies are particularly effective for migratory fish and trout in winter.

Attractor Minnows

Sometimes, you’ll use flies that don’t resemble any specific baitfish but are designed to attract fish with their bright colors and flashy appearance. 

  • Choose bright, flashy colors to catch the fish’s attention from a distance.
  • Use large flies to appeal to bigger predator fish.
  • Employ attractor minnows when visibility is low or when you need to draw fish in from far away.
  • Experiment with different color combinations to see what works best in your local waters.

Final Notes

Ultimately, when fishing with minnows, consider the fish’s perspective. If you’re fishing at eye level with the fish, use subtle and natural-colored flies. Alternatively, if you’re fishing higher in the water column, use lighter colors like yellow, pink, or white, as the fish will be looking up at the fly. This approach can significantly improve your chances of success.

For more tips, insights, and expert advice, be sure to check out Kevin’s Masterclass at Anchored Outdoors. Happy fishing!

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Anchored Outdoors

Anchored Outdoors is an ever-growing network of fly fishing experts who’ve been brought together by podcaster and fellow outdoorswoman, April Vokey.

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