Small Stream 101: Fishing the outgoing tide.

The brook was dozens of miles from the sea. Yet there I was, fishing the outgoing tide. At least that’s what I started calling it several years ago. Let me explain.

What I mean is, I’m fishing a small stream in the day or days after a heavy rain. As with an ebbing tide, the water level is dropping. It’s a great time to fish. Here’s why. The waters have gone from raging and murky to some semblance of normal. They may still have a light tea stain to them, which makes it a little harder for the fish to see you, but not your fly. Most of all, the trout have transitioned from hunker-down survival mode to dinner bell-ready. That was certainly the case today.

I would crawl on my hands and knees through a skunk cabbage-filled boggy mess to catch a wild brookie like this. Oh, wait. I did.


The lovely woodland stream I visited today is one I haven’t fished in many months. I usually make a pilgrimage in April, but the time-space fishing continuum conspired against me. The woods are only starting to display a vague suggestion of green in April, but on May 31st they were  lush. It was already too hot and humid to be bushwhacking in waders at 8am, and non-biting midges swarmed me. Such was the price of admission for the wild troutstavaganza.

There were fish everywhere, with plenty of young-of-year brookies in the mix. This is always a good sign, as 2012’s new recruits will be 2015’s lunkers. It’s especially gratifying to see nature finding a way after last year’s terrible late summer drought and heat wave.

This blindingly beautiful wild brown hit the dry like a ton of bricks. Excuse me for a minute. I’ve got to wipe away the drool I got while gazing longingly at those parr marks.


The fish were particularly active today. I witnessed three good-sized (for this stream — it’s small enought to jump across in more than one spot) trout feeding on the surface. Two were noisily slashing at emergers; the third was clearing the surface as he chased caddis. All of them were camera shy. Every time I tried to shoot some video, they suddenly stopped feeding. Little bastards.

Fished a new dry today, the (Improved) Sofa Pillow in a size 16, along with a bead head Grey Hackle Peacock. The dry got the lion’s share of the action, fished mostly upstream. Pricked a good couple dozen trout, and lost many of them when the hookee ran into the omnipresent underwater stick pile. These twig and branch masses were everywhere. One of the pitfalls of fishing right after a big storm.

Today’s implements of destruction: A bead head version of the classic wet, the Grey Hackle Peacock, and the (Improved) Sofa Pillow.


I held out on the cigar for as long as possible, but eventually the midges tipped the scales. Nonetheless, I declared victory as they scattered. Thank you, Romeo & Julieta Havoc Magnum. Besides, I managed to ignore work for the entire morning while catching wild trout. Clearly, that makes me the winner.

How does a stream stay cool in piss-stinking hot weather like today’s? Canopy. This photo was taken at high noon, yet virtually the entire stream is covered in shade. Nature finds a way.


8 comments on “Small Stream 101: Fishing the outgoing tide.

  1. Phil says:

    Thanks for the post Steve. Those are beautiful brookies and that is a great looking stream. I too love visiting the native brookies and their homes. Really like that “improved sofa pillow” looks like a great fly.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Thanks for reading, Phil. It’s very Stimulator-like, but one of the things I like about the ISP is that the tail is softer Fox Squirrel, not stiff deer hair. I will do a post on this fly in the future.

  2. Steve, I’ve already had 4 imbedded deer ticks (as well as a few dog ticks), not to mention at least 2 dozen ticks on my clothing, in my pursuit of wild trout in CT. Seeing a beautiful wild brookie makes it all worthwhile though.

  3. Steve Culton says:

    Ticks are a sad reality of the wooded stream game.

  4. Alan says:

    You have style.
    Great report.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Thanks, Alan. I appreciate it. You would have enjoyed the day and seeing all those YOY brookies.

      One thing I forgot to mention: lots of inchworms dangling from trees that day. Yum!

  5. metiefly says:

    Steve the more I read your blog, the more I appreciate what you are doing… I would love your opinion of my updates on the Thames ecosystem in London… Not many people realise how vibrant it is, or how fragile. Keep on your wonderful message – best regards, metiefly

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