Small creeks are where I learned how to consistently catch trout with a fly as a kid back in Pennsylvania.
Living in Payson, has again put me in the heart of great small trout streams that I try to fish as often as I can.
Lakes, big rivers, and even large creeks generally allow fly fishers ample room to make a long cast with little fear of hooking a tree or bush on your back cast. That is not the case in many small streams. Fishing in tight quarters requires a different approach for success.
Some would say that what I do on small streams is not what they consider fly fishing. I will use many of the same flies that they use on bigger water, but I rarely, if ever make an overhand cast. Many times, I find my casts are less than 30 feet from rod tip to fly, and often half that or less.
My preferred cast on a small stream is the roll cast. It is a cast that keeps your fly even with, or in front of your body at all times. If you are going to catch a tree, it is one that you should have seen and been able to avoid. When done correctly, the roll cast is quite accurate and can be delivered again and again with consistency.
If things get even tighter, like when I want to cast to a spot under or between branches, I will use a cast known as either the bow and arrow or slingshot cast. Again, the cast keeps the fly in front of me the entire time. It is accomplished with usually less than 15 feet of line and an exaggerated bend in the tip of the fly rod. New anglers to this technique will want to hold the fly by the bend of the hook, but those familiar with the cast can hold the line several feet above the fly to gain a bit more distance.
The exaggerated bend of the rod tip allows me to target the preferred trajectory of my fly through the branches. Once I release the fly, I follow through as if I am ending a roll cast to the targeted spot. Even if I don’t get a fish out of a tight spot with that cast, I love the challenge and feel good about my effort!
Casting on a small stream is only part of the equation for success. You have to be able to read the stream to know where the trout are most likely to be, then figure out from where to cast in order to present the fly to the fish without them seeing you first.
Trout require clean, well oxygenated water, a good food source, and cover. In their perfect world, they would like to have a conveyor belt (current) bring them a constant flow of well oxygenated water that is rich with aquatic insects drifting down to them in a location that protects them from being seem by predators, yet minimizes the energy output required to constantly fight a strong current.
They accomplish this in several ways. The current near the bottom is slower than in the middle of the flow as the water drags on the rocks. The fish can move from this position quickly to grab a bug then drop down for the next feeding opportunity.
Rocks or logs in the middle of the stream deflect the brunt of the current and provide great holding water for trout. Look for fish in the eddy behind the rock, just behind either flank of the rock, or even directly in front of the obstruction.
These fish in front of rocks are often overlooked because it seems that they would have to work especially hard. In fact, the flow of water hitting the rock creates a cushion that actually pushes several inches of water back upstream. The trout sitting here do not have to work very hard and have the best view of food drifting downstream. The front edges of these rocks are often undercut and provide an additional attractive feature for trout.
Getting the fly to trout in all of these locations is really why I love to fish small streams. Before I approach a likely spot, I make a plan while surveying the creek. Sometimes I approach from upstream, and sometimes from downstream. Often I am not in the water, and instead could be casting from 10 feet up the bank if I think a closer approach will spook the fish.
I think my attention to these details on a small stream also translates well to when I get to fish a bigger creek or river. I look for the same kinds of water in the bigger stream knowing that all of the needs of the trout will be met there.
If you have not given small stream fishing a try, it really is a lot of fun.