From the article archives: Everything You Need to Know About Fly Fishing in Small Streams

Everything You Need to Know About Fly Fishing in Small Streams first appeared in Field & Stream Online in August 2021. It covers basics like rods, flies, finding water, tactics, and C&R best practices.

And that’s a wrap for Wild Trout/Small Stream Week! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And as always, thanks for reading.

This is my default setting for exploring new small stream water. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

Small Stream Report 10/6/22: Nature finds a way (and then some!)

I hit a hidden gem last week that takes about 2 1/2 hours to get to. That may seem like a lot of effort — you’ll get no argument from me — but it’s usually worth it. And on this day, it was.

Over the years, this brook has seen its ups and downs. I’ve been moderately disappointed by it my last few outings, especially by the size and number of the fish. But you get what you get, and the fact that it still has native char, like it has for thousands of years, is a true blessing. So: I won the weather lottery. A warm, sunny, gorgeous, Indian summer day. After the rains, the water level was spot-on perfect, running cold and clear. In terms of numbers, the fishing was off the charts. I landed dozens (despite my best attempts not to, in order to reduce stress) and pricked dozens more. No beasties in the mix — you like to get a couple in the 9″+ class — but I did dredge up a few 7-8-inchers in the deeper pools. The brookies were everywhere. I started with a dry/dropper, which was moderately successful, but when I switched to subsurface (a tungsten bead head nymph/worm thingy) I couldn’t keep the char off the fly. What a wonderful day to be out in the woods.

This was typical of the size of fish I was landing. I also had dozens of smaller char attack the fly, the vast majority of which did not result in a hookup. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll repeat: please try to limit the number of fish you photograph. The less time they spend out of the water, the better their chances for survival. It goes without saying that you’re wetting your hands and using barbless hooks, right? What precious gems, our beloved Fontinalis.
Life is mighty good when you’re taking a shot like this one. Another word of caution: we’re getting close to the spawn, so be on the lookout for redds. They’re fairly easy to spot, usually a lighter patch of gravel beside darker surroundings. If you notice a redd, make it your policy to stay out of the water, period. And of course, be a good sport and leave any fish on or near a redd alone to do their thing. Remember, the stocking truck isn’t coming back to replace what gets wiped out. Thank you for your consideration. ūüôā

Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom 3/16, 8pm: “Almost Anything Goes: Fly Fishing Q&A”

We’re back! This Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom is all about you — specifically, your questions. Trout, small streams, smallmouth, steelhead, stripers — flies, rigging, gear, tactics, presentation, how-to — ask away and I’ll do my best to answer. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. If you’re sending a request to get on the list, please don’t wait until 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night…I won’t be checking my email that late. Thanks!

If you love fishing small streams, now’s the time to prove it.

Mid-to-late September is traditionally the time I like to revisit my favorite thin blue lines to reacquaint myself with the wild things that live there. But not this year. Connecticut is in drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme. Many brooks have been reduced to a trickle; in some cases, entire sections have gone dry.

While I’m fond of the expression, “nature finds a way” — and it always does — now is not the time to be fishing small streams. Hopefully the fish have survived the heat and dry of summer by hunkering down under a cut bank or in a deep slot or a spring house. It’s been harsh conditions for months now, and the last thing they need is to have the life sucked out of them by doing battle with us. (And the spawn is coming, as if that weren’t stressful enough.) Don’t be fooled by cooler air and water temperatures or one rainstorm — these fish are in survival mode.

So please — if you really love small streams and the trout and char that live in them — put the small stream rods and the bushy flies away until flows get back to normal. Thank you.

It’s all bad news. This is already a week old. And the statewide streamflow table is even worse.

Class 1 Quickie

I made my annual early spring pilgrimage to some old favorite Class 1 WTMA waters. Just a quick look-see with some obligatory line wetting. Water was medium height, 42 degrees, and clear. I swung and stripped an articulated white mini bugger, but had no takers, nor did I see or spook any wary wild things. On the plus side, the rest of the world was working and I was fishing. There were signs of a healthy invertebrate population, namely midges and early grey stones. In fact, I saw a couple couples of the stones doing their mating dance, and one depositing her eggs. No photos because I left the camera at home.

Please remember, no small stream fishing this time of year unless it’s a Class 1 (or in one of the allowed tidal zones). All thin blue lines re-open 6am the second Saturday in April (instead of the old third Saturday).

Hang in there, folks. Spring is here.

I could so go for some Hawaiian shorts and t-shirt weather right now. You know?

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Thanks TU Naugatuck/Pomperaug

Last night I presented “The Eastern Brook Trout — Connecticut’s Wild Native” to the¬†TU Naugatuck/Pomperaug Chapter. It was my second time speaking before the group, and a splendid time was had (I think) by all. Great to re-meet and re-greet, many thanks for the all the questions and, of course, the pizza.

Wishing I was chasing him instead of being chained to my laptop.

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Conversations on a small stream with Gordon

Gordon: How much farther is the river?

Me: Not too far. It’s¬†not really a river. It’s small, so we call it a stream or a brook.

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Me: Stop for a minute. What do you hear?

Gordon: The brook?

Me: The brook.

Gordon: It’s coming from down there.

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Gordon: The water is cold.

Me: Yes. Do you know why?

Gordon: I don’t know.

Me: Well, is the brook in the open sun?

Gordon: No, it’s in the dark woods.

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Gordon: I don’t think I can jump over to that rock.

Me: I think you can. It’s OK if you get your feet a little wet.

Gordon: It was shallow. I only got a little wet.

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Me: Look how flat and glassy that water is in that pool up there.

Gordon: Can we go up there?

Me: Absolutely.

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Me: Do you remember what “the cafeteria line” is?

Gordon: Where that white stuff is on top of the water.

Me: The foam.

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Me: Where did we hook all our fish today? In fast water or in the slow water?

Gordon: In the fast water.

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Me:¬†Are you hungry”

Gordon: Yes.

Me: I think we should get a burger at Five Guys. What do you think?

Gordon: I think that’s a good idea, daddy.

~

Gordon (no relation to Theodore) patiently presenting his dry fly over a pool. We didn’t bring any brookies to net today, but we pricked five. Not bad for one hour in the middle of a sunny day in July.

Gordo Small Stream

 

 

 

Hiking through the hills carrying a stick

I picked a cool, grey day last week to visit a stream in another state nearly three hours from my house. The water appeared to be on the low side of medium, and the brookies were looking up. While the subsurface downstream wet was effective — particularly in deeper pools and runs — the dry was eagerly and wantonly attacked by the local natives. I started off with a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow, then switched over to a size 14 Ginger Elk Hair Caddis. On the way down, I used a black mini bugger and an ICU Sculpin. The cigar of the day was a Sancho Panza Belicoso. Delicious! Here are a few mementos from my adventure.

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes it is easy being green.

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This was a highly productive set of pools. I am always intrigued by the number of fish that can occupy any given area. Population density here was impressive.

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I often get to the point where I wonder,”how many photos of wild brook trout do I really need to take?” So I’ll try to ruthlessly edit my potential subject material. It needs to be a fish that stands out from the crowd in some way, whether its size, color, spirit, etc. What caught my eye on this particular fish was the clarity of its lateral line.

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More of those “nature finds a way” plants that insist on proving that a boulder is a fine place to work and live.

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The point of release. Playing around here with a slower shutter speed. I like the static distortion of the water near head and tail. Big pectoral fins for a char that size.

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The White Mini-Bugger

This time of year I redouble my efforts to visit small streams. The canopy is in full, providing cover and shade for bashful trout. Water temperatures remain moderate (especially after a cool, rainy spring like this year’s). Food sources are plentiful.

I don’t always manage to get out as much as I’d like, but small stream dreaming has me thinking about one of my favorite flies for wild trout, the White Mini-Bugger. Oh, it’s a Woolly Bugger alright. But I‚Äôve made several strategic changes to the classic template. For starters, it’s just smaller, the easier to be eaten by trout measured in inches. The tail is shorter and sparser, which cuts down on nips away from the hook point. The hackle and collar is soft hen, which flows and breathes. With a tungsten head and wire underbody, this fly sinks like a stone, causing it to rise and fall like a jig when you strip it. If the light is right, you can clearly see this fly even in a deep plunge pool. Try not to laugh when you watch the shadowy marauders surround and pummel the fly as you work it through the depths.

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White Mini-Bugger
Hook: TMC 5262 10-12
Thread: White 6/0
Bead: Copper tungsten, seated with weighted wire
Tail: Short marabou wisps over pearl Krystal flash
Body: Small fluorescent white chenille, ribbed with pearl flash, palmered with soft white hen
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Tying notes: Of course, you can tie the Mini Bugger in any color your heart desires. I tend to be boring, so I mostly stick to white and black/grizzly. Same deal with beads: I have a thang for copper. (Thinking of tying some of these up in black with a copper bead for Salmon River steelhead? You should. It works. And with a chartreuse bead. And orange. And…) The shorter, sparser tail has absolutely increased my hookup percentage. To form the tail, I use a single piece of Krystal Flash, and double it/cut it multiple times to get a 16-strand tail. The body hackle is Whiting hen neck, the same I use for standard-issue wet flies. Tie the feather in by the tip, and if you have enough hackle after winding the body, try to form a collar.
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The White Mini-Bugger Rogues’ Gallery:
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January thaw on a small stream

I broke one of my cardinal rules today: never go into the woods if you’ve recently watched Deliverance. ¬†There were no mountain men bent on buggery — and sadly, precious few bugs. I was hoping a near 50-degree day and some sunshine would trigger a hatch, but all I saw was one lonely grey big midge/small stonefly thingy flitting over the water. Although the creek was up due to yesterday’s rains, the water had cleared nicely by the time I threw my first cast, around 1pm.

I did the upstream dry thing, then the downstream subsurface thing. No takers on the dry. I wasn’t surprised, given the height of the water and its temperature. (I forgot my thermometer, but I experienced the sting when I had to go up to my elbow to liberate a fly from the bottom.)

A satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay’s frozen tributaries. Well, it could be.

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More fun with photography. See if you can find the duck’s head and the hawk’s head.

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My only strike of the day came on a downstream presentation with a weighted wet/streamer. A fine brown hen, long and lean, a good size for a brook this small. She was hiding in a deep pool that courses between two boulders. One touch was all I needed, and releasing her was almost as gratifying as catching her.

Your first trout of the year should be a memorable one. What a staggering array of colors on her gill plate. Also note the blemish on her nose. I couldn’t tell if it was an old wound or just a cosmetic oddity. I had not caught her before today.

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The winning fly. I like to fish small hybrid wet/streamers with tungsten heads on small streams. It’s a simple fly, easy to tie, and it uses a mix of natural and synthetic materials: A copper tungsten head, some weighted wire on the hook shank, black Krystal Flash tail, black Ice Dub body, palmered then hackled with grizzly hen. This fly is unnamed. (For you detail-oriented folks, that’s not ice. It’s a big chunk of¬†stream side quartz.)

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