Fly Fishing Small Streams

Photo Credit: Don Oliver | Special to the Drum

The Best of the Best

The most joy I receive from fly-fishing comes via small streams. I have had the good fortune to fly fish in lots of places for a big water and fish experience, and I have enjoyed every one of them. But, the small stream experience is the best. With that said, small stream fly-fishing is still a little ways off. This spring has been the craziest I can remember. It’s one thing to have all four seasons come and go in an hour, but to have that happen several times a day, for a two-week time frame really screws up the fly-fishing. However, this too shall pass, and the small steam experience will be great.

So, you might be asking, just what constitutes a small stream? I define a small stream as a body of flowing water that is: too shallow to put a drift boat on, narrow enough to be able to cast a two-weight rod across it, shallow enough that to avoid drowning one only needs to stand up, and a mecca to trout in search of dry flies. Not a bad stream if you can find one. In this area we are very lucky in having such a multitudinous number of such streams.

Once you have found the stream described above, what is the best equipment to use? For a rod and reel I am partial to a 7-foot, 2 or 3-weight, with a small reel. Since you won’t be casting great distances a 9-foot, 6-weight rod is just not needed. I also want a floating,weight-forward line. Attached to the end of the line I use a 4 or 5X leader and tippet. (When my eyes were younger, and my fingers had more dexterity, I used 5 and 6X leaders and tippets.) Now having the perfect rod, reel, and line, the next decision is what flies to use. My answer is anything that floats.

As you approach a small stream be looking to see what is flying around you. Pay attention to its size and color. Try and match those two items. If you don’t notice anything in the air, check the banks for ants, beetles, and hoppers. If you still aren’t seeing anything, either go to the eye doctor or tie on an attractor. An attractor is a fly that doesn’t look like anything in particular, but everything in general. My favorite attractors are a Royal Wulff, followed by an H and L Variant. I like these those two patterns because they work for me. I don’t know why, they just do. I also won’t tie on anything smaller than a size 18.

Now that you have the perfect equipment package, what is the best way to use it? Casting in and around small streams requires some extra skills. You will find small streams in big empty meadows; tree covered valley floors, and everything in between. A meadow with a small stream requires more stealth than usual. One of my favorite meadow small streams mandates that you sneak up on it, make very gentle presentations, and have a drag-free drift. When you put that all together you are rewarded with a 6-inch cutthroat. Add a 15-mile per hour cross wind and the casting experience gets even more testy.

Step into a small stream with lots of trees and big boulders and a roll cast will become your favorite cast. Trees located along the banks of small streams have a magnetic effect on flies and leaders. And, once a tree has drawn your fly and leader into its arms, it won’t let go. Using a roll cast will keep your fly away from the trees that snare your back cast. A roll cast will also drop your fly next to boulders with nary a splash. No splash, no wake on your drift, 8-inch brook trout smashing your dry fly, it’s my definition of heaven.

Once you venture into the small stream mind set, catching small trout on dry flies, in drop dead beautiful areas filled with solitude, you will experience the Best of the Best.

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