Tips for Fly Fishing in Small Streams and Creeks

Fly fishing in small streams

This small stream sees almost no fisherman and has produced some pretty big fish for me. These small creeks are often classified by most fly fisherman as “unfishable”, but they can all be fished with a little roll casting practice and patience.

Small Stream Fishing= Extra Challenge but Great Rewards

My dad started teaching me to flyfish for trout at a very young age, but soon after I took a liking to the sport he essentially stopped. That left the only feasible water to fish at the time some very small creeks and streams. At around 12-14 years old I had officially become addicted to the sport and fished as often as possible. The frustrations of teaching myself to catch big fish in really small rivers was immense, but I managed to learn many of the small tricks that make fishing small rivers fairly easy. Super small streams are a royal pain in the butt for most fly fisherman, but that doesn’t have to be a reason to leave all of that good fishing to someone else. Next time you drive past a small mountain creek or a tag alder choked brook trout stream you will know what to do. Fishing 6-12 foot wide rivers can often be like fishing virgin trout streams.

Tips To Catch Trout in Small Rivers with a Fly Rod

Choose the Proper Length Rod


If you only own a 9′ 6 weight you might want to do some rod shopping, because you will have a difficult time casting with dense trees. Another factor to consider is rod weight; using a stiff 6 weight you will not be able to load line on the short accurate casts needed for effective small stream fishing for trout. This is one occasion where your best weapon for easy casting will be a 6-7 foot long 2-4 weight rod. Most anglers don’t already own a rod this size, but everyone should. Try casting a 6 weight all day and suddenly picking up a 2 weight, it feels really good!

Fish your way Upstream Not Down

If you try to walk down stream and fish for trout you will stir up the water and greatly effect your catch rate. One step into a batch of mud or mucky sediment and you could all but ruin your chances of catching a fish for a while. Walking upstream to the trout you will not need to be concerned with stepping in the mud, because any trout that see it will have already been casted to.

Quite a few years ago I placed an underwater video camera in a small creek so I could come back an hour later and attempt to get the fish eating one of my flies on camera. As I walked my way down stream back to my camera to get the footage,  I apparently stirred up a lot of debris. What I found after watching the video was that the trout became a little more active and excited when a small amount of debris came down, but once I was within 20 yards of my camera and almost in casting distance, the fish started getting spooky. By the time I was actually casting to these fish many of them had already left the area from the muddied water and particles of debris.

Use a Short Leader

You can save your 12 foot leaders on small river trips, they will only cause you pain and anguish. I will usually tie up a small 6′ leader down to 4-5x tippet and call it good. The longer your leader is the more problems it can cause on backcasts, not to mention it will give you less control and accuracy when casting around objects and hitting a very tight little spot.

Learn to Roll-cast

Roll casting is pretty basic and you can get good at it with very little practice. Once you master this cast you will find that 90% of the time it will be your best option while fishing for trout in small creeks.

Fly Choices

The stimulator chewtoy side view image, this is a great all around fly.It’s impossible for me to predict what will be hatching or what will be the best flies for your small creek, but I have noticed that smaller stream trout like bigger flies. It could be that since most small creeks don’t get a lot of fishing pressure, the trout are only mildly educated, so bigger flies that get their attention work. These fish will likely appreciate your stimulator pattern much more than the bigger rivers that see a lot more traffic. It also happens that these little streams usually have brook trout, (which are not known for being picky) they are always happy to guzzle a big ugly pattern that most fish won’t touch.

Final Small stream tips:

Fly fishing in small streams can take a while to get used to, but you can easily get away from the crowds. Chances are there won’t be anyone in earshot to hear all of the profanity that comes out of your mouth every time you hook a tree on your backcast. Don’t forget to practice catch and release on these little rivers, because they can be over fished very easily. You should also keep your little streams that you do find close to your chest, because you just never know when someone will tell their brother in law, who will tell Jed who will tell etc.

Watch this Recent Troutster Video!

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2 Comments

  1. Steve H

    August 7, 2014 at 2:36 am

    Enjoyed your article on small stream fishing. Excellent advice on gear and tactics.Here in Australia, I mostly fly fish the local small streams, creeks and runs all of which hold good populations of wild rainbow and brown trout. I rarely see another angler on these waters and when I do they have a similar admiration for small streams. Our trout stream season opens in a few weeks. My first outing will be wading up a local small stream.
    Cheers,
    Steve.
    ,

    • Dub Paetz

      September 24, 2014 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks Steve! I hope you have good trout season. I appreciate you taking the time to comment, Dub

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