Small Stream Fly Fishing

Techniques and Tactics for small stream Fly Fishing

cold water tributary

Typical small trout stream in southern Ontario.

Looking to hit some small streams or creeks this season? The effort you put into understanding how to fish creeks and small streams will pay off directly in your success with fishing these areas.

Most of the small streams we have in Ontario see far less pressure than the larger, open rivers we have. Casting,  accessibility and frustration probably play a large role in why these streams see so little action from fly fishers. Generally, these streams will be about 15 feet wide at their widest, will have terribly overgrown banks and plenty of log jams to hang up on. It takes several trips and many, many lost flies to perfect your ability to fish these streams successfully.

Backroads Map Books Tell Secrets:

In fishing these streams, you’ll find that casting is virtually impossible…so DON’T do it!! I can’t stress that enough! Do Not Cast like you would fishing larger rivers. Instead, there are a couple of tricks you can master to make fishing these streams a success.

A chunky small stream brown trout from a southern Ontario stream

Initially, I like to place myself upstream of potential lies, rather than downstream of them. Use extra caution when maneuvering through the stream to prevent muddying up the areas downstream of where you are. Move slowly and deliberately. Next, strip out some line, and gradually send your fly downstream, peeling more line out as the fly drifts downstream with the current. Twitching the fly, as well as raising and lowering your rod tip will give the fly some extra motion as it drifts. Guide the fly down current seams, through pocket water, along undercut banks, and most importantly..straight into log jams! That’s right, with a little practice and patience, you’ll be able to drift your offering straight into a log jam without hanging up every time. Sure, you’ll go through your fair share of flies in practicing this technique, but you will develop the necessary skills to perform the maneuvering without losing a fly and spooking the hole every time.

Nymphing a high gradient trout stream in southern Ontario

Another simple method is dappling. Dappling is similar to High Stick Nymphing, except you have the option of tossing a dry fly around using this method. To begin, position yourself in the stream facing either upstream or down, depending on where you’d like to place your fly. The trick is to have just enough line out to deal with the
pocket or riffle you want to tackle. Gently raise your rod, and place the fly ever so gently where you’d like the drift to begin. If using a nymph, twitch the fly  around a little as you allow it to settle in a pocket where you think a trout is waiting for a meal. Gently raise and lower your rod while adding the  switching action to mimic a struggling nymph. If using a dry, allow the fly to settle on the surface, and gently twitch and bounce the fly in an attempt to tantalize what lies below the waters surface.

Small Stream Trout Fishing Education:

Small Stream Fly Fishing Gear

The equipment you want to use on these tiny streams is far different from what you?d likely use in larger rivers. Sure, you could take your 10 foot 7 wt in there, but you?ll likely find more frustration than fish! I like to take along my 8 foot 4wt for these missions. Partly because of the unique situation that these streams present, where light tackle is far better, and partly because a “trophy” fish in these areas will likely be no larger than 16 inches and rarely over a pound or so. Light tackle makes fighting these tiny gems more  enjoyable, as opposed to using a heavier 6 or 7 wt and simply lifting the fish straight out of the water once hooked. I tend to stick with 4x or 5xas my  tippet, coupled with a heavier leader in the 6 to 8 pound range. Leaders do not need to be overly long at all. A 5 or 6 foot leader with 1 or 2 feet of tippet material added on should be sufficient for these types of streams.

Small Stream Fly Fishing Gear Recommendations:

Small Stream Fly Selection

Productive flies for small stream fishing are plentiful, and you will likely find a couple that suit you just fine after you’ve had a chance to play around out there a little bit. Some of my flies of choice, and some that you should consider starting out with are listed below:

Small Stream Nymphs

  • Bead Head Hares Ear
  • Phesant Tail
  • March Brown
  • Small Stonefly

Small Stream Dry Flies

  • Wulff Patterns
  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • Any high floating, high visibility hair wing dry fly patterns

Micro Streamers (try to ‘match the hatch’ so to speak – mimic resident species)

  • Wooley Buggers
  • Clouser Minnows
  • Zonkers

Recommended Small Stream Flies:

So, there you have it. Small Stream fly fishing techniques simplified. Get out, and get practicing . One last note, fish every inch of any particular lie before moving on. Be sure you have covered every single inch of water!



Fly Fishing Starter Kit, Fly Tying Starter Kit, Recommended Back Road Map Book

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