Small Stream Tactics

Small stream fishing is something that I do a lot, especially for brook trout or small wild rainbows. There are a lot of us out there who do it pretty regularly because its often the most prevalent type of water nearby. Most anglers manage some success while fishing these waters but the majority of people that I see simply don't fish these streams right. I think most people don't give trout enough credit. Ive often been quoted as saying that they are pretty dumb fish but I have a great deal of respect for their natural survival instincts and their ability to know when something isn't right. Still, with the right presentation which is a broad term encompassing several factors, there aren't many that would refuse a shiny dinner spoon or delicious bubble gum wad. There are a number of factors that can increase your success and in today's post I will go over what I feel are the major things you can do to increase your odds.

bright colored sleeves...makes me cringe
image from
1. Dress for the occasion
I can't even begin to tell you how many sports I've had show up over the years, or people I have run into on the water that are wearing something ridiculous for the conditions. When you are fishing small water especially when talking about brookies, these fish spend the majority of their time looking up to find food or predators and by wearing bright colors you're just making it easy for them. Trout can and do see color especially in low clear water at short distances. There is some debate on this but in my understanding its science. Not only do they see color but certain colors such as red, which many people wear on their hats will appear even brighter to them. Some people truly do not care because they do not buy into it that much. I have been doing my own research on it over the years by paying attention to catch rates of my clients of similar abilities under like conditions and the results are very noticeable. You can find a great article about it at Trout University here.

This youngster took my advice on stealth to the extreme..and he slayed them
one of my favorite days with clients ever, him and his dad were a blast

2. Stealth is the key
Your approach to likely holding areas and even when blind casting is of the uppermost importance. I preach this to my clients to no end in these places. Just do a search on small stream fishing and the majority of the photos you see will have people crouching or staying back from the waters edge when possible to cast. Keeping a low profile gives the fish less to look at and keeps the shadows you throw around to a minimum. It also lets you get closer to put the fly in those hard to reach spots.
You also need to be careful on your approach, on small streams the slightest ripple or vibration from moving across rocks can spook fish easily. Be cautious when approaching a likely holding areas and you will certainly be rewarded

3. Equipment and Flies
Its understandable that the average weekend angler has limited choices but if you can make sure you bring the appropriate rod. Shorter slower action rods are generally best for small water and they can accurately throw small amounts of line on the first try. Lately I've been promoting bamboo rods and high quality fiberglass for these applications. For fly selection it depends on the stream. For shallow infertile streams I almost always stick with a high floating bushy dry preferably with foam that I can toss all day without changing. Personally I like black flies with touches of red. When fishing deeper water I go to a single attractor nymph hopper dropper setup preferring a weighted nymph over a splitshot rig. I keep my leaders at 7.5 feet just because they are more manageable in tight quarters and usually are all thats neccesary.

Let me introduce you to "Herbie" This pattern was developed by Vince Wilcox, a Idylwilde contracted fly tier and owner of Wiley Flies. Normally I don't promote patterns that are not mine but this little guy is far and away my favorite small stream dry fly. Some of you have seen a similar pattern from me but this guy is its inspiration and is admittingly better. Contact Wiley Flies for a copy of his book or to get the materials for this great pattern.

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  1. Great post! As a lumbering fat guy who dresses flamboyantly, I will do my best to take your suggestions to heart!

  2. Haha, I hear you buddy, sometimes we don't think about the small things when we leave the house