Fly Fishing Tiny Streams
- 09 Sep, 2021
Fly fishing small and tiny streams in thick cover can be a serious challenge, especially to the beginner fly fisherman. But these creeks and streams can offer some great fishing opportunities, and if you trek deep into in the the cedar swamps and forests you can fish water that is seldom if ever touched by other anglers.
Learning the Hard Way
Fly fishing is fairly new to me. While I have fished my entire life with conventional tackle, having been a fishing guide and fishing 3-4 days a week minimum for musky in my 20s, I never really picked up a fly rod.
This season I dove head first into the sport of fly fishing and began chasing trout throughout my home state of Northern Wisconsin. I decided to explore unknown streams and creeks that I have never fished with conventional tackle and in doing so I began to question if fly fishing in the incredibly dense and thick forests of northern Wisconsin was practical. I learned it can indeed be done, but your approach on how to present flies needs to change drastically.
Fly Fishing Ninja
Any angler who fishes small streams will know that maintaining a high level of stealth is imperative. Trout in small streams are always on the alert from predators on the banks, and this includes you.
When you find a spot you want to present a fly, you need to approach it as quietly as you can. You need to treat it like stalking a deer with a bow, no feet stomping, and no large or quick movements.
Wearing neutral colors or camouflage also goes a long way, so leave you safety yellow T-shirts at home.
Fishing in the heavy, thick undergrowth also means you have to squeeze your way through to get into position, and this is where things can get really tricky. Bumping into small pine trees or bushes will shake the whole thing, and spook fish, so try to avoid branches, ferns, and saplings as best as you can.
The Bow Shot
After tying on a fly for what seemed like the 100th time on a outing in one of these creeks this spring, I started getting incredibly frustrated. I was getting snag after snag, up in the branches of trees, going through leaders and tippets like it was going out of style.
There had to be a better way. And there was: I discovered the bow shot. It wasn't until weeks later that I saw a video of someone using this technique, but I had figured it out on my own luckily before going insane.
The bow shot is when you shoot a fly like well, a bow. Holding the bend of the hook between your pointer finger and thumb. With a small amount of line out, typically just enough to get to your desired presentation spot, or the length of your rod, you can pull back to use your rod tip like a bow, aim, and shoot your fly with a very high level of precision into all sorts of nooks and crannies where trout might be.
Figuring this out was game changing for me, and went from an "I give up fishing these impenetrable streams," to " I can easily shoot a fly in the pocket."
Small Water, Small Fish
Many of these streams have a ton of fish in them, but depending on the stream most of the fish you are going to encounter will be of a smaller size caliber.
This isn't always the case; small tributaries that connect to rivers can host some very large trout, and small streams will always burp out a giant from time to time.
In my case, most of the creeks I fish are miles from a road, and require quite a bit of effort and physical exertion to reach, including sinking into muck above your knees to reach them. This scares off the vast majority of anglers.
These areas are chock full of brook trout, and you might catch a ton of them in a day, but almost all of them will be little guys. But if you return to a tiny stream regularly you will start to catch glimpses of giant trout. Most of the time you spook them, but once you figure out where they live, you can start the hunt.
In my personal case, I found while I tended to keep my flies small, in the early learning experiences I lost many of the smallest flies to the trees or as I call it "squirrel fishing."
After running out of small flies, I tied on some larger flies, like the size of dry fly you would use for larger trout in rivers, and in doing so I found that the larger flies, that I assumed would be to large for the small brook trout, actually worked better.
These tiny stream trout have zero issues gobbling up larger dry flies, and it makes sense, they take any meal they can get in the early spring.
While I have much to learn in the fly fishing realms, the trial by fire method of fishing these tiny streams in what seem to be impenetrable northern forests have allowed me to learn quickly, if for no other reason but necessity, and the cost of flies, tippet, and leaders. If you're new to fly fishing and want to fish creeks and streams like the ones I fish, stay calm, don't get frustrated, and try some of these tips.
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