They may be in the shadow of their larger, more powerful and bigger brothers, but small tributaries offer some superb trout (and maybe grayling) fishing to the adventurous fly fisher.
Small Stream Success - Ten Top Tips
They may be in the shadow of their larger, more powerful and bigger brothers, but small tributaries offer some superb trout (and maybe grayling) fishing to the adventurous fly fisher. What they lack in size is more than made up for in their challenge and satisfaction of success. But don't be fooled into thinking small streams are only home to small trout; there are some substantial fish to test your skills and tackle. Whilst palm-sized fish may be most common and a 12" specimen is a fish to be proud of from many of these tiny brooks, even larger and more mystical leviathans are a possibility. With the right approach and the correct equipment, unlocking the potential of these streams is a enjoyable but straight forward journey. Hopefully my ten top tips will help you find success.
1) A stealthy approach
All consistently successful anglers approach their fishing with care and stealth and recognise that their quarry is easily spooked. However, this has never been more important than when fishing small streams. With often narrow stretches and shallow water, there is no place for a heavy footed approach. Wading is often essential when faced with steep banks, but do not be in a hurry to enter the water. The art of observing is very important - scanning the water for likely lies and signs of fish must start long before you wet you boots. Where possible, avoiding wading is obviously the key. However, at times it is unavoidable so ensuring you take slow, gentle steps, avoiding the movement of stones, silt and water as much as possible will reduce your chances of upsetting the fish.
Keeping off the sky line is also essential and although it may look a little strange to passers by, getting on your hands and knees can make a lot of sense. When you strike gold and connect with a decent fish, your humiliation will be all forgotten! Be aware of the position of the sun too as you approach the river. A shadow cast over the water can be as damaging to your chances as jumping in.
2) Rod Choice
Often very personal, choosing the right rod can be a tricky pathway. I use a variety of rods, depending on the size of the stream, the size of the fish expected and the time of year. Plus, I take a lot of enjoyment in trying out different rods and lines! However, you can keep it very simple: Choosing a 7 foot rod designed for a 3 or 4 weight line will give you the opportunity to cover all the options: Nymphing, dry-fly, spiders and even heavier bugs can all be fished with this sort of rod.
3) Reel Choice
Your choice of reel really one of simplicity. You're unlikely to rely upon a drag and most of the time your reel will just be a line holder. Having said that, tackle envy may take grip and there are really beautiful, small line reels on the market. All I am saying is, there is certainly no need!
4) Line Choice
If reel choice was immaterial, line choice is the polar opposite. There are so many decent lines available at some very decent prices. Don't be tempted to buy cheap lines - this is false economy, especially when you consider that your fly line can be the difference between making a successful and well presented cast to the fish and not. I like to use a line with a longish front taper to ensure the most delicate of presentations. Also remember, most of you casts will be in the 4 or 5 metre range and often closer. Therefore, I often choose a line one AFTM rating higher than the rod I am using. This just allows the rod to load with less line outside of the tip. Of course, if you get the chance, try a few lines out and see which one best suits you.
Colour of fly line is a much debated subject. Whilst I believe it matters very little, my preference is for a lighter coloured line so I can easily see it on the water.
5) Fly choice
Whilst I am the first to agree that there are days where fly choice is the difference between success and a dry net, do not allow yourself to get swallowed up by the need to exactly match the hatch. More important is to use a fly that suggests the correct size and shape. You cannot go far wrong with a bead-head Pheasant Tail Nymph for subsurface action. A parachute emerger and small F-flies work a treat when the fish are nailing flies from the surface. Also, don't ignore the use of a spider pattern. Just remember that small flies often pay dividends and that it is the presentation of your offering that counts far more than the correct colour! No matter how accurate your casting, you will find the trees and bank side vegetation from time to time; so choosing a simple to tie pattern seems the most sensible.
For more on fly choice, take a look at some of my preferred patterns: www.riverflybox.co.uk
6) Leaders and tippets
Keep leaders as simple as possible. For dry fly and spider fishing, my preference is for a 9 foot tapered section of nylon with another 2 or three feet of tippet. Twelve feet of leader may sound excessive on a small stream, but this allows you to cover fish with less chance of spooking them, even when allowing plenty of slack in the cast to avoid drag.
For nymphing, my first choice is a three foot furled leader with a high-vis section at the tip. From this is a usually 5 feet of nylon with no more than one dropper (where allowed). I like to fish a short line with the nymph and search the pools and pockets as thoroughly as possible.
Casting in confined conditions can be really challenging. The roll cast allows you to make consistently accurate casts even with bankside vegetation hindering any attempt at a back cast. Presentation is key and getting your fly to fish naturally is vital for success. Being able to mend your line and throw some slack into you line can be really important. For a start, the 'pile' and 'wiggle' casts are useful to have in your aresenal. Practice makes perfect under these conditions, but if you are new to fishing in such confined environments, a visit to a casting instructor can be invaluable.
8) Essential tackle
I like to travel as lightly as possible, so in the vest are just the essentials. Other than the fly boxes, I wouldn't be without some gel floatant for hackled flies and a pot of Fullers Earth to sink my tippet. For CDC flies, I find an amadou pad and powder floatant gets my flies back to their former glory, even after being slimed by a fish. The addition of some snips and a couple of spools of tippet material means I'm pretty much ready to go. I like to carry a scoop net for those larger than average fish. Don't forget you polaroid glasses too so that you do some fish spotting too. Even on small streams, sight fishing is possible and is great entertainment.
I prefer short, focused sessions when possible, targeting the fish when I think they are most likely to be feeding. I am fortunate to live close to some very productive streams and brooks, so I can return home if things are slow with the likely prospect of getting back on the river the same day when things may liven up.
However, I follow a simple rule. Early and late season my focus is mid morning through to mid afternoon. Mid season I tend to aim to be on the river early and late. Simple: the higher the temperatures and the brighter the weather, the more likely I am to miss out the middle of the day. In addition, if you fish into the evening, be prepared to fish into the darkness. Fish will still happily feed when you're struggling to see your hand in front your face. There's the chance of a good fish breaking cover too.
10) Be flexible, imaginative and experimental
Expect the unexpected. You'll sometime find fish feeding in the most difficult of lies and pays to think 'outside the box'. Work slowly, think about the different ways you may need to present your fly - remembering presentation is the key. Take your time, but never give up. The worst that can happen is you lose a fly - it's worth making that seamingly impossible cast. Even shallow runs can hold fish so cover water methodically and get your fly working through even seam, run, hole or pool.
Small stream fishing can be challenging, rewarding and great fun. Get out there and give these diminutive water ways a go - good luck!