Fly Fishing Small Streams for Trout

When you are fly fishing small streams you may find you are all by yourself. It is a great place to fine-tune your fly fishing skills and can be a lot of fun.

When you are thinking of where to fish, don’t overlook the small stream. You will find mostly small trout not much larger than 8 inches. As a result you will not see many other fishermen.

One of my most memorable fishing trips was to a small stream that I could almost jump over. Most of my casts involved flips of my line over some bushes into the riffles. It turned out to be a very successful day.

Characteristics of a Small Stream

Most small streams are the headwaters and tributaries of major streams or spring creeks. These streams have spots where you can wade across in hip waders, and are not navigable unless you are in an inner tube.

When fishing small streams you can see the underwater structure, which makes reading the water much easier.

Casting can also be simple with just a flip of your line or an easy roll cast.


Learn to Be Sneaky

Learn to stalk your prey. When you are fly fishing small streams this becomes very important.

  • Stay low; you may need to spend time on your knees. We can all use some of that anyway.
  • Fish upstream. Remember that trout are facing upstream so they can see their food drifting down stream. Stalk up behind them.
  • Keep your rod tip behind you till you are ready to cast.
  • Walk softly; trout can hear vibrations from your steps or from your wading staff.
  • If you can see them, they can see you. A frightened trout will not be caught.
  • Pick up your fly from the water slowly. A quick pickup will create a splash that will scare the trout. A sloppy cast will do the same thing.
  • Remember that other scared fish will scare those around them.

Equipment Needed When Fly Fishing Small Streams

All of your equipment needs to be delicate when fly fishing small streams. A three-weight fly rod is the heaviest rod you will need. You want to be able to feel the little guys. The rod needs to be at least eight feet long.

Your reel can be very basic; all you really need is a reel that will store the line (and not come apart). You also don’t need a heavy drag for an eight-inch trout.

I would go with at least one line heavier than what the rod calls for. Most of your casts will be less than thirty feet, which is what the rods are designed for. See best fly rods. Your tippet needs to be light. A two-pound-test line may not be too small. Click here to learn about tying your own leaders

Please Don’t Forget!

Be careful to read the regulations, this is common sense when you begin your search of where to fish. Some tributaries may be off limits!

Catch and release is a must, these little guys have a rather small homestead. Besides, are you really going to go back to camp with half a dozen 8-inch trout hanging from your stringer? I would not call this a Kodak moment. Enjoy the day, fine-tune your skills, have fun, but release them!

If you would like to read more on small stream fly fishing take a look at this book by Tom Rosenbauer. Most small stream fly fishers will not share their spots at the risk of overcrowding but Tom will tell you how to find and fish them. This book is a must-read for any fly fisher thinking of smaller streams. 

The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing


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