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Fly Fishing Small Streams

Picture this; you've spent some time hiking into a small stream in the back country. It's early morning, mist is rising and the midges that have been swarming around you are breakfast for the small browns you have come to catch. You quietly walk up to the stream, watching the swirls of rising fish. You tie a nymph onto your leader and step into the water.

A trout skids away from under your feet, its flight sending out warning signals as bright as any neon light. The feeding fish flee in response and you are left with a section of river devoid of all but the midges. Welcome to fly fishing the small stream.

Stop and look before fly fishing the small stream

Before you get into the water stop and look at what is in front of you. This is especially true when approaching the small stream. Trout are well camouflaged, especially when you are looking down into the water. (A good pair of Polaroid glasses helps here.)

I like to make my first cast well back from the waters edge. If there is little cover then I tend to use a long leader and lay the line on the riverbank, allowing only the leader to enter the water, as close to the near bank as possible. That way, if there are any fish lying close under the bank, I will have given them first look at my fly.

Reading the water of the small stream

The waters of the small stream are like those of any river, just on a smaller scale. The fish will be in the same types of water that they would be in if you were fishing any trout stream. When you are fly fishing the small stream, look for those areas that provide the fish with their need for protection from predators, relief from fast flowing currents, and access to food.

Fishing the pocket water

I like to use dry flies when fly fishing pocket water in a small stream. The fish will usually be holding out of the main current but close enough to grab any food that comes floating by, and a drifting fly is often too tempting to resist.

Often it is not necessary to match the fly closely to whatever is hatching. Instead I like to fish a fly that is visible enough for me to see in fast moving water. Something like a light elk hair caddis works well. When the strike comes I can see it and I catch more fish this way than missing the strike by using a less visible, hatch matching fly.

Fly fishing the small stream usually requires a more sensitive approach and a finesse that is not necessary in larger rivers. Experience and practice are the great tellers here. Ability to read the water is more critical as the fish are often more easily spooked than their big water cousins. But when you make your way home at the end of a successful fishing day in the back country you know that the time spent learning to fly fish the small stream has been worthwhile.

About the Author
Dale East is a long time outdoorsman and fly fisher and publisher of Fly Fishing Wyoming

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