I love fishing small streams, and I am not alone. The pay off from the whole experience of fly fishing on a small stream equates to a lot more than just catching fish. Usually you are alone, in beautiful places, and away from it all. Usually, you are only catching small fish. But, there is no reason why you can’t get a 12 or 14 inch mountain brookie or cutthroat into the rotation every now and again.
Larger fish will certainly eat dry flies and nymphs, seeing as they too are opportunistic feeders in these particular habitats. But how do you go about catching the largest fish in any other river? Big, meaty, streamers.
There are differences between chucking articulated flies against the bank of a roaring tailwater and fishing a streamer in a small creek. There are also differences between dapping tiny attractor patterns and fishing a streamer in a small creek. The rod, flies, and approach have to all be significantly altered from what you’re used to. Here are five things you ought to consider if you want to get into the pool bosses of your local, small stream – including my favorite presentation:
You are going to need a rod that is a little heavier than you are used to.
Step one: leave the three weight in the car. Bring a heavy four or a five. Although they aren’t common to everyone’s quiver, there are plenty of short five-weights. The “fiberglass revolution” we’ve seen has put a lot of five and even six-weights into the market that are shorter, softer, and perfect for being able to cast and maneuver streamers on small creeks. Plus, modern rods are lightweight and sensitive enough to still make fighting smaller fish fun.
You are going to need streamers that are a little bit smaller than you are used to.
Remember when a size 6 was a big woolly bugger? These days, six and eight-inch streamers aren’t unheard of for trout anglers. While you’ll eventually find a fish that will eat something like that if you fish small streams all the time, downsizing is going to make everything a whole lot easier. Size 6 or 8 is fine – and you can still make it meaty. Concentrate on movement, not flash. Marabou and stringy hackle will do your work for you as you fish these patterns. Weight should be enough so that you’re not fighting the fly wanting to float, but not so much that you can’t let it bob and hop down the river bottom.
You are going to need to cast in a direction totally opposite than you are used to, &
You are going to have a lot more slack in your line than you are used to.
Feel free to fish a streamer however you’d like in small streams. Here is a approach that has paid off immensely for me in high gradient mountain streams, spring creeks, and side channels of bigger rivers. This presentation can be used for vegetation lines, downed timber, or rock structures. In the example below, I’ll use an undercut bank.
Standing on the bank with downstream on your left, peel off twenty feet of line or so and keep it in loose coils in your free hand. With ten feet of line out of your rod tip, drop your fly along the bank and allow it to tumble along the bank. Without retrieving the fly, gently guide it into crevices or holes with the rod while you release enough line through the guides to keep the drift natural. This presents a dead or dying food source, but also lets your fly get down in the water column prior to your retrieve. That being said, plenty of opportunistic fish will take on the dead drift. Keeping your line hand engaged, even while feeding line, is vital for setting the hook.
If you hit the end of that 25-foot drift without a take, begin to retrieve the fly. Fast, slow, jerky, steady: they’re all worth a shot given different conditions. I’ve seen the most success near the bottom, probably because I’m imitating sculpins or crayfish. Work the fly back up to yourself, repeat once or twice, and then move on.
You are going to catch much bigger fish than you are used to.
There’s not much to say about this, except that you’re going to be surprised what lives in the small streams that you frequent. Again, it isn’t going to be 20-inch brookies in creeks that you can straddle. The trout that you get into will be broad, strong, and a little bigger than usual. If you’ve had that experience, you know what that looks and feels like.
More than that, taking a totally different approach to a type of fly fishing that is generally unilateral will unlock all sorts of secrets about these dynamic and exciting but small fisheries.