Tips For Fly Fishing Small Streams

 Tips For Fly Fishing Small Streams:

Tips for fly fishing small streams. Fly fishing small streams presents many challenges that can be very different from its larger stream counterparts. But heading to these waters with the right approach will help you reap the unique rewards they offer.

The small streams and creeks do offer a great angling experience.

Along the small streams, anglers will find a different world. Instead of crowds, they can find solitude, instead of fellow anglers, they find wildlife, instead of cottages, they find woods. The streams and creeks offer a paradise that river fishermen seldom find.

Creeks are tremendous fisheries, too. Cubic foot for cubic foot, most small streams hold a much higher number of trout than rivers do.

It makes sense that the creeks teem with fish. Headwater streams are a lot cooler than larger rivers are. A high percentage of a creek’s water is freshly-emerged groundwater. Trout is basically a cold-water fish and trout are well suited for life in a small stream.

Here Are A Few Tips:

Fish The Foam:

I used to only fish the tail of a pool typically, the tail yields a big fish or two. But I struggled when the water levels dropped and water temperatures increased. Why because I remembered fish need oxygen, and faster water creates oxygen.

And even in cooler weather, fish still hold in the faster water, if there’s quality subsurface structure. The good thing about fishing the riffles is the fish have to make a decision whether to eat very quickly. They don’t have the time to be picky

Stream Thermometer:

When I started fishing, I used to attribute my success to sheer luck. Although there are many factors that determine whether you catch fish, a primary component of success is the water temperature. There are no guarantees in fishing, but once the water temperature hits 70 degrees in a mountain stream. Especially during the heat of summer, trout become lethargic and the chances of catching fish drop dramatically

Fly Rod Length:

Choosing the Proper Length Rod is extremely important. If you only own a 9′ 6 fly rod you might want to do some shopping. Because you will have a very difficult time casting in the typical small stream environment.

Which is most often characterized by dense trees, a prevalence of bushes and tight spaces. Another factor for you to consider is the rod weight if you are using a stiff 6 weight.

You’re not be going to be able to load the line on the short accurate casts needed for effective small stream fishing. This is the only occasion where your best choice for good casting will be a 6-7 foot long, 2-4 weight rod. Most fishermen don’t own a rod this size, but everyone should.

Try casting a 6 weight all day and suddenly picking up a 2 weight, you’ll thank me that you did.

Fish Your Way Upstream Not Down:

If you try to walk downstream and fish for trout, you will stir up the water and greatly affect your success. One step into a muddy bank or mucky sediment and you could ruin your chances of catching a fish for a while.

I recently watched a video where this angler placed an underwater camera in a small creek. He came back an hour later, downstream, to attempt to catch a fish on camera. The angler’s approach was announced on the footage by extremely muddy water. Interestingly, the trout became more active and excited when a small amount of debris came down, but the fish became spooky and fled.

Also, approaching a fish upstream means that you are approaching it from behind. This way it is less likely for it to spot you.

Use A Short Leader:

You can forget your 12-foot leaders on small river trips, they will only cause you unnecessary anguish. I usually tie up a small 6′ leader with 4-5x tippet and leave it at that. The longer your leader is the more ‘tree-fish’ it can catch on back casts, not to mention it will give you less control and accuracy when casting around tight obstacles.

Sometimes, even smaller leaders don’t help. You need to learn how to roll cast. Roll casting is pretty basic, and you can get good with very little practice. Once you master this cast you will find that 90% of the time it will be your go-to option while fishing in small creeks.

Fly Choices:

Obviously, it’s impossible for me to predict what will be hatching or what will be the best fly for your small creek. But I have noticed that smaller stream trout-like the bigger flies just as much as the small flies.

Even the ones that more accurately imitate the bugs on the water. The common explanation for this is that most small creeks don’t offer a lot of food.

So the trout are more aggressive to the options that do appear. Thus, bigger flies get gobbled just as well as smaller ones. Matching the hatch is less important since food is scarce in small streams, fish will be happy to eat food whenever it appears.

Small Streams may offer smaller fish, but they also present an angler with many tougher conditions. So regardless of how big it is, a fish always feels like a great achievement. These small streams, once they are mastered, truly do create satisfaction.

You’ll notice so far I’ve talked only about dry flies. I find them to be most effective in small streams and creeks. Because trout here are used to seeing their food falling into the water from above.

However, small streams do host aquatic insect larvae, plus terrestrials get pulled under the surface, so nymphs are effective as well. Sometimes when a trout in a deep pool that won’t come to the surface for your dry fly. Maybe it is just because they don’t see it and can be fooled on a nymph.

Types Of Fish You Typically Find In Small Streams:

Common Shiner:

Common Shiner (Notropis cornutus): These fish are one of the most common types of baitfish and are almost exclusively stream dwellers.

 Brook Trout:

The brook trout is also called the speckled trout. It is a beautifully colored fish with yellow spots over an olive-green back. The spots along the trout’s back are stretched and almost wormlike in shape. Along with its sides, the brook trout’s color transitions from olive to orange or red, with scattered red spots bordered by pale blue. Its lower fins are orange or red, each has a white streak and a black streak. Its underside is a milky white and brook trout usually reaches 9 to 10 inches

Brown Trout:

The Brown Trout was first imported into the United States in 1883 from Germany. It was stocked in the Pere Marquette River, Michigan, by the U.S. Fish Commission in late 1889. Since then, the species have been stocked in virtually every state. MacCrimmon gave dates of first stocking in each state. In most regions, the species were stocked in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Texas and Alabama introduced them after 1970.

The brown trout (Salmo trutta) has a reputation as the wiliest opponent a river angler can face. Whereas a brookie or a cutthroat will often attack flies with gullible abandon, browns are usually more discriminating.

Creek Chub:

Creek chubs have a thick body and a broad head. Their mouth is large and the back end of the upper jaw extends beyond the front edge of the eye. They also have a small flap-like barbel that is often hidden in the groove between the upper jaw and the rest of the head, slightly in front of the back of the upper jaw.


The fallfish has a very similar body shape as the creek chub. But is more laterally compressed and has a more pointed head.  Its back is dark olive, brown to black in color and its sides are silvery to a white belly.  The scales are large with 43 – 50 along the lateral line.  Young fallfish generally have a distinct mid-lateral band.  They also have a dark pigmentation (crescent-shaped) on the anterior edge of its scales. The average length is usually around 5 inches, but the fallfish can grow between 10 and 15 inches

Eastern Blacknose:

The Eastern Blacknose dace is found across the southeast portion of Canada. Then it goes down along the United States’ east coast. It is a dark brown to olive on its dorsal surface and a silvery white below. The two shades are separated by the darkly pigmented lateral line. In the breeding season, males develop darker pigmentation and an orange lateral line. Blacknose dace live in rocky streams and rivers where they feed upon small invertebrates and microscopic biological matter and provide forage for larger fish.

Dace Bluntnose:

The bluntnose minnow has a stout half-ray that is in front of the usual 8 rays on the dorsal fin. The scales that are on the back between the head and dorsal fins are small and squished together. There is a dark spot of pigment on the first two or three dorsal rays about midway up the fin. Bluntnose minnows tend to have a rounded head with a slightly sub-terminal mouth (ending below the tip of the snout).


The common shiner is silvery colored (sometimes bronze) and has an “olive back with a dark dorsal stripe.”  The common shiner is a freshwater fish that can be found in North America. Adults inhabit rocky pools in small to medium rivers. They can usually live to be around 6 years old.                                    They are considered to be sexually mature by 7.4 cm. Breeding males will have a pinkish tint over most of their body and small bumps or tubercles on their head. In comparison with other Notropis, the common shiner’s head, eyes, and mouth are large

Golden Shiner:

Golden shiners are a deep-bodied minnow species with a distinctive golden olive-silver color. Their fins might appear from a golden brown to an orange-reddish in color. Older fish often tend to have a more golden color while younger fish appear more silvery. This species has a distinctive scaleless strip on the underside between the pelvic fin and the anus

Fathead Minnow:

The fathead minnow is a stubby, and heavy-bodied fish. They are usually olive to gray above which shades to straw color or white on the belly. However, there is also a red version, that is sometimes called “rosy reds.” Adult fathead minnows generally average only to get 2-3 inches in length. It is a very popular baitfish and its distribution has without a doubt increased.

Largemouth Bass:

They are found in lots of rivers, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and steams. Adult largemouth bass prefers to feed on small fish like perch, sunfish, and minnows. However, they are also known to eat crayfish, insects, frogs, and small aquatic birds. They are also known to take larger flys, streamers, and nymphs

Tessellated Darter:

Tessellated darters eat crustaceans and small insects when they are small, gradually shifting to larger insects as the fish get bigger. Male tessellated darters guard nests of fertilized eggs until the fry are free-swimming. They have been observed to engage in alloparental care of the previous nest inhabitants’ eggs. Alloparental care is also associated with increased male reproductive success in this species. Males frequently engage in filial cannibalism (consumption of their own offspring).

 White Sucker:

The white sucker is a long, and round-bodied fish. It has a dark green, grey, copper, brown, or black back and sides and a light underbelly. The fish also has the typical features of primitive Cypriniformes fishes. Things such as a homocercal tail, cycloid scales, as well as dorsal, pectoral, and some pelvic fin rays. 

When fully grown, it can reach lengths between 12 and 20 inches long and weigh anywhere from 2 to 6 pounds. The fish’s suckermouth with its fleshy lips is located in the inferior position at the bottom of its head. Because the fish obtains its food from bottom surfaces. These fish are commonly mistaken for different types of suckers and redhorse. But they can be distinguished by the complete lateral line system that contains 55-85 small scales.

 Longnose Sucker:

This species has an elongate, torpedo-shaped body that is almost round in cross-section. Its head is moderately long, broad, and is rounded on top, while its long snout ends in a rounded point. Its mouth is ventral, positioned well behind the tip of the snout, and its lips are large.

 Slimy Sculpin:

Mouth and snout: Terminal and very wide, with bands of fine teeth in bands on upper and lower jaws. Snout rounded to blunt and dorsal-ventrally flattened. Body patterning, color, and scales: Mottled with irregular blotches, dark brown or black on a brown background with a cream or whitish belly. No scales, but a few fine prickles anteriorly just below the lateral line.

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Dean Jensen

I started fly fishing in 1972 and I have learned quite a bit about this wonderful sport called fly fishing and I want to share some of the things that I have learned.

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