Even though it is different from “normal” fishing, there is something peaceful, simple and joyful about chasing those small fish in pure, spring fed-streams.
When chasing wild trout you will find yourself climbing over, under and around log jams; down trees; and low-hanging branches and attempting to cast in areas where you really can’t cast. The fish you are chasing can be anywhere from 1.5 inches and up. The gear you use slinging streamers or heavy nymphs will not work in the tight quarters of small streams. As I stated in Part 1, half the excitement of small stream fishing is the adventure and the exploration. Finding trout is only half of the adventure. In this article, I want to help make sure you’re ready when you do finally find those small gems of wild rainbow, brown, and brook trout.
When I am exploring new waters in search of small trout, I bring a shorter rod. A lot of the areas you are hiking through may be thick and steep. A misplaced foot could cause you to smack the butt of your rod on a rock causing you to break the tip. A shorter rod reduces the risk of shoving the rod tip into a tree, the ground, or shrubs. A 6 to 7.5-foot fly rod works very well for these tighter quarters since it is more-easily carried and will not get hung up as much.
Some of the small streams I have been to are only 3 to 4-feet wide at the widest spots. These streams typically have overhanging branches with mountain laurels walls lining the banks. Casting with a 9 foot rod just doesn’t work.
For small streams, I recommend a 2 or 3 weight rod. The fish you’re chasing are not huge and you’re typically making short casts where the heavy fly line is not needed to cut through the wind like on larger rivers. A fish on a 2 or 3 weight rod will still put a bend in the rod but is plenty strong to sling that dry fly as well.
If you’ve ever wondered about the people that say “a reel is not important and just something to put your line on,”, this is it. You do not need that $400 reel with the half click drag systems that’s completely enclosed. I have yet to get a fish to take out drag on my small stream rods. Heck, most of my reels for small streams do not even have drags on them. You can get by with a small, cheap reel paired with the same sized fly to match your fly rod. An added benefit to the smaller reel is reduced weight as you’re making that potentially-long trek to and from the stream.
Leaders do not need to be long when fishing small streams. Typically, a 6 to 7.5-foot long leader is more than adequate. I generally start out with a 6x leader. If I need to go smaller, I will add on 6-12 inches of the next smaller size tippet until I build out my leader to the desired size tippet.
Sometimes, I’ll buy a leader pack, but honestly you can save yourself the money. Get a leader wallet and keep all of your old, spent leaders. Take the leaders and cut them, leaving about 3 feet or so of the fat section of the leader with the loop. The fat section of an old spent leader is what will help turn over your fly when casting. You then can take the 6x tippet and attach it to the fat section of the leader with a double surgeons knot. Then BAM! You have a small stream leader.
Even though I downsize my gear when small stream fishing, I still carry many different sizes and types of tippet. I carry 6x to 8x monofillament and fluorocarbon tippet. I prefer monofilament with my dry flies because it floats better and sinks slower. A lot of these small streams will have long areas of slow water, so I want to get the best drift possible. I use the fluorocarbon tippet when nymphing and on dropper flies. The smaller the tippet, the quicker your nymph will sink.
One thing you have to remember is that wild trout spook much easier than a stocked trout. If you spook a wild trout, you’re not coming back 5 minutes later and getting it to feed. These wild trout will run and hide in holes you never knew were there. Because of this, I am very picky on what I use for an indicator. My favorite indicator is a dry. I almost always start off with a dry fly; so why not just attach a dropper and let the dry be the indicator? I will attach 2 feet of dropper tippet for every foot deep the hole is. At times, I will go all the way to 6 or 7-feet long on my dropper if the hole is slow and deep enough.
If this is just not working, then I will switch to a wool indicator. I have had fish rise to the wool indicator. These are soft on the water and come in a variety of colors. I will use white wool on waters where the fish spook easily. The easiest indicator system out there using wool is the New Zealand Strike Indicators. If you use a fresh leader, you can adjust the indicator from the head of your fly to the end of your leader. This makes transitioning from a shallow run to a deep run very easy and you will spend more time with your flies in the water.
As always we hope everyone the best of luck on the water.
Be Safe and catch some fish.
Joe with Monthly Fly