Trout season is upon us, and so are the crowds. For many anglers the goal of fly fishing is to get away from the rat race, so shoulder-to-shoulder fishing just is not very appealing. In a few weeks the newness of trout season will have worn off, and the crowds will die down. Personally I just don’t have the patience to wait out the crowds, and I have no intention to share the water with a bunch of strangers. That’s why I like to fish small streams. Small streams have active trout populations, beautiful scenery, and offer a fantastic reprieve from office life. There are many common misconceptions about small streams, and I would like to address some of them here. Hopefully this article will give you a better understanding of small streams, how to find them, and how to fish them.
Small Streams are Hard to Find
Every year I get dozens of emails and private messages asking me how to find small streams or where to start looking. The answer is quite simple actually, start looking where you normally fish. If the streams you fish hold wild trout, their feeder creeks probably do to. Just grab a map and start looking. Some states, such as Georgia, release a statewide map of trout streams. If you can find such a resource that is a wonderful place to start. Also check out your local trout unlimited chapter. They probably do numerous workdays every year cleaning up streams or improving small stream habitat. Not only can you fish the streams you helped manage, but your co-laborers will probably be willing to share some spots as well.
Small Streams Require a Long Hike
Some small streams are far away from the beaten path, but not all of them. A large percentage of them are less than a half mile from a road. Many small streams also have old logging roads or a forest service road nearby that allow easy foot access. Just find a good map and start looking. If you are the adventurous type there are tons of great hikes to good trout water, but there are also plenty of opportunities relatively close to the truck.
Small Streams have Small Fish
Sure, big fish on small streams are rare, but they do happen. In the Smokies it is not at all uncommon for fisheries biologists to shock up 24″ brown trout in very small streams. A friend of mine once found a 16″ brown electroshocking a stream no more than 3′ wide. Trout naturally run upstream to spawn, so it is not horribly uncommon to see large fish moving upstream in the spring and the fall. Small streams also offer cool water refuge during hot summers, which can drive large fish upstream. I will never forget a trip I took one spring in college after completing finals. The plan was to catch a few 6″ rainbows on our way up to a barrier falls and a small brook trout population. By the time we got to the barrier falls my partner and I had combined to catch 10 fish over 20″! I’ve included pictures of two of these nice rainbows. It turns out they had run upstream to spawn and were getting ready to head back downstream when we found them.
Wild Fish in Small Streams are hard to Catch
This could not be farther from the truth. Small streams usually are not as fertile as larger streams, so there is less insect life. That means the fish cannot be super selective. As long as the fly looks like some bug they have seen before, they will eat it. It is important however to match your fly to bugs in the stream. Check out our Match the Hatch subscription to make sure you have the flies in your box that will catch fish!