The sound of the breeze passing through the willows, the splash of a trout rising to a dry fly, the anticipation of what is waiting around the next bend. All of these things await the angler willing to seek out and explore small streams and their beautiful, wild trout. You won’t see them in fishing reports, websites or magazine articles, but the truth is that small streams offer some of the most pleasurable fly fishing experiences a person can have.
Small stream angling is a great way to leave the crowds behind, go deep into gorgeous natural settings and hone your fishing skills on aggressive, willing trout, many of which may have never seen a fly! Learn to fly fish small streams and unlock a world of angling with endless opportunities to explore.
Approaching Small Streams
The shallow water environment of small streams can make the trout very spooky and wary. To maximize your success, wear drab-coloured clothing and move slowly. It helps to stay out of the water as much as possible, using natural cover such as boulders, bushes, tall grasses, and trees to obscure your approach. Learning to cast from a kneeling or crouching position will be a huge help!
Reading Small Streams
Just like in larger rivers, trout in small streams need food, oxygen, and cover to survive. Because small streams are often shallow and narrow, the trout can be limited in their choices of prime areas to hold and feed. Learning to find and target a few key areas will help you catch more small stream trout.
In most small streams, depth is a limiting factor. Find the deeper holes and pockets and you will find the fish. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you have to find a hole 10 feet deep. In a stream where the average depth is 6 inches, a pocket 10 inches deep will hold a fish or two! Good places to look for a deep pocket are corners and bends, plunge pools, scour holes around rocks and boulders, and undercut banks.
In many small streams, trout will sit on the bottom or behind cover and watch the current for insects to be delivered to them. Targeting these “feeding lanes” is a surefire strategy that will bring more strikes. The key to locating the feeding lane in any stream is to watch where the water is funnelled as it flows downstream. Good tipoffs are bubble trails of debris floating in a line on the surface. In streams with low current flow, the thalweg, or main current stream, will often be the spot fish are keying on to find their food.
Thick bushes and trees along the bank are a common feature of many small streams. They do a great job of snagging our leaders and stealing our flies, but they also offer the trout great cover and a reliable food source. Overhanging trees give fish a place to hide from predators or get into the shade on a hot day. They also offer a steady source of food from ants, beetles and other insects that fall from the limbs to the waiting trout.
To avoid the aforementioned frustrations of snags and lost flies, and get the fly to the fish in the tight quarters of most small streams, an angler must adapt with a variety of unconventional casting techniques. Casts like the “bow and arrow,” “sidearm,” and “tower cast” are tailor-made for presenting the fly in tough situations.