4 Reasons Small Streams Make You a Better Angler
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Listen. I don’t care what your buddy told you the last time you grabbed beers — small stream fishing isn’t overly simplistic, and it will test your skills just as much as a tailwater, but in different ways. Get out there, and I almost guarantee that there will be challenges you’ll face that you weren’t anticipating. Because, like any section of river, certain techniques will help you to fish small streams more successfully. And sure, it’s true that it’s easier to catch fish in small streams at higher elevations. But even so, with these four key skills under your wading belt, your success rate is sure to increase no matter the location.
Here are a couple techniques that you’ll learn when fishing small streams that’ll not only help you catch more fish, but will make you a better angler overall:
Channel Your Inner Chameleon
Learning to adapt to a river as it changes is an essential skill for any good angler. And when it comes to small streams, you should note that the water speed and depth changes pretty rapidly — much more than large tailwaters. Every 25 feet you walk, you’re going to approach different water types, speeds, and depths all at once — that, sorry to break it to you, often requires a change in your rig to fish. So, when your inner Lazy Larry inevitably tells you to skip a section in order to avoid having to reset your rig, know that in doing so, you’ll be missing out on a lot of fish. So just do it — change your set up and get back out there.
Anglers who catch 50 fish in a day on a small creek learn how to create an adaptive rig that allows for consistent and frequent change. For instance, they might fish with a strike indicator that’s adjustable so they can alter their depth regularly. Or, maybe they use a putty split shot, or an adjustable split shot so they can easily adjust the weight on the rig with just a few pinches of their forceps. When you’re fishing small streams…Be. More. Like. Them.
Beyond technique, the water types in small creeks change from runs, to riffles, to pocket waters, to holes, and to back eddies in a matter of feet. Not miles. That said, you need to know how to fish all of these kinds of waters in order to fish a small stream. And in each, a change in presentation is necessary — from your cast to your drift. As a result, you’ll get a ton of practice on different water types, which will better prepare you to fish those sections on any river size in the future.
In short, a good angler adapts to their surroundings. Small stream fishing gives anglers, like you, 10x more opportunity to adapt in order to catch fish. You + Small Stream = More Adaptive Angler = Better Angler.
Plenty of Chances to Set the Hook
Train with the small ones, so you’re ready for the big fish
Don’t get me wrong — this is easily the best part of fly fishing small streams! While not all fish are big, they are plentiful. Fish counts are typically substantial for the creek size, and because you should be able to fish the entirety of the creek, you have the potential to pull out several fish per hole. In small streams you could very well put your fish numbers in the double digits without too much effort. Seriously.
And of course, with more fish caught, comes more practice setting the hook. Unless you’re fishing monster brown trout in New Zealand, I’ve found that it’s always easier to hook 14-20’’ fish because their mouths are of ample size, and they move just a bit slower than the 6-10’’ lightning fish that live in small creeks. These little fish will easily miss your fly half of the time, and the other half of the time they’ll probably spit your hook out so fast you won’t even know they took it. This presents a good challenge — the time you’ve got to set the hook is minimal. So, when fishing a small stream, you have to concentrate, watch your fly, strike indicator, or euro nymphing line, and set the hook as SOON as a take occurs. Get your practice in on the dinks of small streams and you’ll be ready for the trophies at the next river you fish.
Ninja Stealth Skills
Pirate or Ninja?
In life, you’re either a ninja or a pirate. Just, hear me out.
You, like the rest of us, probably either get your way by smooth talking, or you avoid confrontation all together and sneak your way to success. I’m a pirate by nature, but even still, I’ve learned the ways of the ninja from my wife, and from fishing small streams. If you’re going to successfully catch trout in these streets, I mean…creeks, you’re going to need to sneak up on them. It’s critical to your success.
When you spook fish in small streams, you get what I call “the spook wave.” Don’t be mistaken, it’s NOT fun like the “wave” you typically encounter at sporting events. Imagine you’re walking up like a dumb ogre to the back of a hole that you know is loaded with fish. Because of your incessant Shrek-like stomping, you accidentally spook all of the fish sitting at the back of the hole in shallow water. Then they shoot up into the hole, spooking the deeper fish you originally hoped to catch. If the water is low and clear enough, you’ll literally see the chain reaction of lost opportunities occur for at least 10-50 yards. This is a problem. A real problem. Especially if you want to catch something.
At the end of day, it takes ninja skills to sneak up on trout in a small stream. You can’t always cast from 30 ft back, because more often than not, the foliage won’t allow you to. Instead, you have to learn how to walk up on fish, without setting them off — small streams are the best opportunity to master this. If you can bush whack your way through 30 ft of brush, and bow and arrow cast your way to the hole without spooking the fish, you’re ready for anything a larger river has to throw your way.
Overall, small stream fishing teaches you how to approach the river, cast without spooking fish, and perfect all those ninja skills for any approach on any river.
It’s Harder Than You Think
You’ve been out on the creek for an hour, and you’re not catching fish. What’s the problem? Usually, it’s gotta be either your 1) fly selection, 2) presentation, or 3) location or 4) a combination of any of the above.
In small streams, 9/10 times it’s your presentation that’s the problem. Fish in these streams don’t see much insect life and food options, especially at higher elevations. That’s why royal coachman’s and other attractor patterns seem to produce better results in small creeks, than on pressured tailwaters with ample insect life.
Perfect presentation is an extremely important skill for any successful angler to harness. If you’re getting tons of refusals on your dry fly, you can ultimately conclude that your presentation is wrong. On a small stream, you can cast towards a rise three or four times, and if any one of those casts is presented correctly, you’ll get the strike. Practice makes perfect, and you’ll get WAY more practice on small streams in comparison to fickle tailwaters.
When it comes down to it, there are tons of reasons to fish small streams — even beyond becoming a better angler. For starters, at least in my experience, I’ve found that small streams are beautiful, and they’re more often than not home to some seriously gorgeous trout. Work on these four skills the next time you fish a small stream or creek, and you’ll find the time well spent when you head back out to more popular, larger rivers.
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Over and tr-out!
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