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 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.

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