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Fly Fishing Small Streams – Tips and Tricks

Fly fishing small streams is always a great time. Trout are often eating dry flies all day long, and it’s one of the best ways to spend a day on the water in the warmer months.

Although fly fishing small streams can be very rewarding, there are some methods which will allow you to be more successful. In terms of rigging and the approach to the stream, tactics are a bit different than on a larger river. You’ll have to size everything down – from your fly rod, to flies and even tippet.

This article will cover my favorite methods for approaching small streams with a fly rod. If you’re curious about fishing these smaller pieces of water, hopefully this article will help you out.

Many fly anglers are often surprised at how close they live to a small stream. They are overlooked pieces of water that can offer some very productive fishing. Get on Google Earth and do some research. You may be surprised at the small streams that are close by.

Be Stealthy In Small Streams

Small streams are often shallow and narrow, and the trout can see you pretty easily. By using a stealthy approach, you can have more success and get more bites.

I like to work my way upstream when fishing small creeks and streams. Since trout usually face upstream, approaching from behind allows the angler to remain unseen by the trout. I am usually making casts directly upstream, so all the trout see is my fly.

Another good way is to keep a low profile. This often means crouching down and staying low to the water. Being a tall guy myself, I have to stay aware of my height and my presence when i’m fishing. I will often crouch down near the bank to make a cast, which helps me stay invisible to the trout.

Being stealthy also means having good fishing tactics. You don’t want to “line the fish”. This is when your fly line floats over the trout and they can see it. Make sure that the only thing you’re putting in front of the fish is your fly and tippet. Trout on small streams will usually spook if they see a fly line floating by.

I also like to fish lighter tippet. 5x or 6x will get you more bites than using heavier tippet. Since the fish are often smaller, you don’t have to worry about them breaking your tippet.

Use Shorter and Lighter Fly Rods In Small Streams

With small stream fly fishing, you’ll encounter lots of brush and trees. A 9 foot rod can get caught pretty easily in the brush, which can make for a tough fishing experience. For this reason, I like to fish 7 or 8 foot long fly rods. They make it much easier to navigate the thick terrain.

Since the trout are normally smaller on these streams, I will use lighter weight rods as well. A 2, 3 or 4 weight will get the job done. These rods also bend more easily, which means even a small trout will be fun to fight.

By having a light weight fly rod outfit, your small stream fishing experience will be much more enjoyable.

Fish Shorter Leaders In Small Streams

Using long leaders on small streams can be troublesome. They are harder to cast and they often get tangled in the brush. I really prefer to fish shorter leaders, often 7.5 feet or even 6 feet. They make casting much easier and they are a lot easier to manage in tight spaces.

These shorter leaders also pair well with the shorter rods I mentioned above. The entire system is very compact, which makes fishing small streams much easier.

For your next small stream outing, I highly recommend picking up some short leaders at your local fly shop. It makes a world of difference.

Fish Dry Flies In Small Streams

One of the best things about small streams is that the trout are looking up! They will often smash a dry fly if it gets anywhere near them. They usually aren’t very picky, either. Any small Adams, Stimulator or Chubby that drifts over them will get eaten.

Small stream fishing is some of the easiest dry fly fishing ever. You don’t have to think too much about fly selection, just keep it small. I like to fish sizes #14, #16 and #18 for my dry flies. Often a single Parachute Adams is all it takes to catch fish.

Leaving the nymph rig at home is highly recommended. If you can catch a bunch of trout on dries, then why nymph?

Keep Your Head On A Swivel

Here in Colorado, small streams often mean remote wilderness with lots of wildlife. This is often where anglers encounter bears, or even the occasional mountain lion. I am always keeping an eye out for wildlife, especially when fishing alone. A lot of the small streams I fish are perfect territory for these larger animals.

If you live near a more urban area, this shouldn’t be much of a concern. However, for western anglers – being mindful of your surroundings is always a good idea.

If i’m going way up in the wilderness to fish a small stream, I will often carry bear spray just to be safe.

Let friends know where you’re going before you head out fishing. They’ll know where to look if something goes wrong.

Put On A Nymph Dropper

Even though the dry fly fishing can be insane, having a dry dropper setup will get you more fish. If the trout don’t commit to eating your dry fly, they will often eat the nymph underneath.

For small stream nymphs, I keep it really simple. A small Copper John or Pheasant Tail gets the job done most of the time. For these droppers, I often fish a size #16 or #18.

If the trout are constantly eating your dry fly, then feel free to get rid of the dropper. However, I like to start off with a dry dropper just to see what the fish want.