Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Small Streams

Down here in the Southwest, I can fish a couple of different mountain streams for trout after a drive of less than two hours, which counts as close. Most of our streams are quite small, whether designated as a "river", "rito", or "rio", you can jump across most and, picking your spot, wade across almost any without getting your hip pockets wet. Except for right now. At the moment, all are high and turbid. We'll just have to see if the run off finished in time for the giant stonefly hatch, which is usually good fun around the end of May or beginning of June.

Fly fishing these small streams calls for a different set of skills than you find in most instructional books, or, now, videos. (Two exceptions to this are William Black's "Creekcraft" and John Gierach's "Fly Fishing Small Streams"). Apart from fishing the occasional meadow stretch, like this one where my buddy Scott is seen releasing a small Rio Grande Cutthroat:

you have to watch more back cast as much as anything else. Try not to false case more than you absolutely have to, every false cast is an invitation for a hung fly. You can go most of the day without getting more than the first fifteen feet of fly line wet, too. I prefer a short leader, about seven and a half feet, which makes it easier to tuck casts under branches and brush. That meadow stretch up above is a couple of miles from any road and, while it gets pressure, used to be good for the occasional 11 or even 12 incher. When I walked up there year-before-last, drought had cut the flow down to the point that the fish population had crashed. I only saw a couple of fish all day. I hope the last two wet winters have allowed the survivors to start replenishing the population.

Here is Scott again, fishing another creek the best way- wet wading and stalking upstream.

The little wild trout are unbelievably fast; they'll hit a fly and reject it in no time at all. After fishing for them a bit, I get to where I'm a little too quick on the gun with lake fish, yanking the fly out of their mouths in anticipation of the lightning fast take and rejection I see on the creeks. Generally speaking, the hardscrabble life imposed by a small stream keeps the trout from being too picky, so long as the fly is a size 16 or smaller. Being trout, of course there are some days when they just won't eat. The little wild guys seem particularly prone to slap a rejected fly with their tail after a false rise. One of the most consistent flies I've found in recent years is a foam or deer hair beetle, which is terribly hard to pick out on the surface of the water, even with a bright dot tied on the back. More easy to keep track of and also good are the Royal Coachman dry (especially hairwing) and the western House and Lot. 6x tippet gives the best drift.

Just for any Eastern readers- we even have a very few brookies in beaver ponds:

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