The fishing of small streams has, for some time now, seen a growing interest in the UK, with anglers wanting to ‘get away from it all' and to see a little more of our beautiful countryside. Those trying to experience a slightly wilder fishing experience have found that even though these secluded arenas offer smaller Trout, they can be high in abundance, totally fin perfect and miniature images of what a wild Brown Trout should look like. Generally, the fish can measure around 6-8inches, with anything hitting 12 inches being classed as a fish to remember. More importantly, this form of fishing truly relaxes the soul and invigorates the mind, but don’t be fooled, catching small, small but lightning fast wild brown trout is far from easy…and this is where our challenge lies.
These enclosed environments, although tough, push our fishing and casting skills as the challenges that come with targeting these small stream trout can be a little different to those presented on the lower main-stem waters. Casting can feel a little claustrophobic at times, but the locations in which these small streams are situated can sometimes feel like your own personal slice of paradise.
The terrain which we encounter can also be a little harsh; from steep and steady inclines to tougher casting conditions due to low ceilings of thick canopy, however, pocket water is in abundance; a perfect alternative to our main-stem rivers during the low water conditions experienced during our drier months.
I'm somewhat of a small stream addict and regularly return home from trips with a few knocks, bruises and scrapes from the long hikes down into the dark valleys, always in search of a new mountain stream. Exploring such small streams and catching small but perfectly formed wild Brown Trout (which have perhaps never been caught before) is a true passion. The hikes in and out may be a little tough, but they can mean you have miles of totally wild water, all to yourself.
The micro-environs of a small stream can quite often see the angler moving fairly quickly as, generally speaking, every riffle or run will potentially hold a fish. If a trout/grayling happens to see your fly (and hasn't been spooked), it's likely you'll see some form of interest.
The inhabitants of these smaller waters will be highly opportunistic feeders (this can’t be understated), and this is generally due to the lower numbers of invertebrates (and anglers) which are seen throughout the year, especially when compared to the volumes experienced on their lower-laying cousins. As a consequence, the fish are violently competitive in nature and, generally speaking, if you can creep your way into position without silhouetting yourself or spooking the fish, you'll find that they will take a wide selection of flies.
Casting-wise, you'll find that side and roll-casts push their way to the fore as overhead casting quickly becomes redundant thanks to the wild surroundings and close proximity to trees, steep sided banks, and other such obstructions. Learning to cast really tight loops will help in the myriad of situations where you are required to present your fly, for example, to a trout stationed under an overhanging branch. Likewise, learning the dynamic/jump-roll (and even the snake roll) will also help when back-casts are nigh on impossible.
When it comes to wading, go slowly and, if you think you’re going too slow, go slower still. Once you've got that down... go even slower! Gentle and quiet is the name of this game; stumble on a stone or cause a disturbance in the flatter waters and you'll soon see dark shapes darting away in every direction bar the one you're standing in. When that happens, you best move on and find another section of water to fish.
In fact, if you can stay out of the water all together, do so. If you can, learn to cast from your knees, as a lot of successful small stream anglers rarely target fish from a fully standing or crouched position. It's amazing how close you can get with just a little patience and care.
Of course, flies do come into the equation at some point, but I'd like to stress just how important stealth is when fishing small streams. Keeping a low profile, wading quietly (if at all…you’re starting to get the picture), and being able to present your fly without spooking the fish are THE most important aspects when it comes to this style of fishing.
As per my previous article noting my top five dry flies (which if you haven't already you can read by clicking here) I treat fly selection as somewhat of a secondary concern when I'm out on a small stream, as the Trout are sometimes so opportunistic that I've actually witnessed them taking small twigs and other such debris! Because of this, I regularly fall to a handful of trusted patterns which work well for me. This selection might be totally different to yours of course, and that's fine. The main point of this article is to point out two key things - stealth and being able to present your fly without spooking the fish. When it comes to flies, we’re looking for general facsimiles of the naturals, and patterns which offer high buoyancy capabilities and levels of robustness.
Should you be fishing one of the UK's countless freestone streams, pick up one or two rocks located near a riffley run and you'll soon be amazed by the number of invertebrates which are present. Depending on the health of your stream and how much light the overhanging canopy allows in, the four main families are usually present. This is made up of Trichoptera (sedges/caddis), Ephemeroptera (olive/upwings), Diptera (midge), and Plecoptera (stoneflies). Here in South Wales, Trichoptera are simply everywhere, and the reason why three of my favourite five flies are patterns designed to imitate that order.
As mentioned earlier, my personal fly choice is made up of a small selection of patterns. I like to keep things simple when fishing small streams and so this selection can be counted on just one hand (plus one finger!):
Klinkhamer, CDC & Elk, Paraduns, Chironomid Emerger, Deer Hair Emerger and Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear / Pheasant Tail Nymph
Tied on the Partridge Klinkhamer X-treme (15BNX) in sizes #16-#18, I utilise the Klinkhamer as a searching pattern for faster, more broken water and, should surface activity cease or the runs get a little faster, I might decide to add 2' of tippet directly to the hook-shank where I'll then tie on a bead-head Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear or Pheasant Tail Nymph (both tied on the Partridge Grub/Shrimp Downeye (K4A)). Fished as a Duo/New Zealand Style, this can be a deadly method when fishing the faster riffles, pocket water, or when the fishing goes sub-surface, and can account for a few larger fish too.
The paraduns (Partridge Patriot Fine Dry (SLD) or Dry Fly Supreme (L5A)) and DHE’s (Partridge Grub/Shrimp Downeye (K4A)) are fished when trout or grayling are targeting a specific hatch of upwings (as is the CDC & Elk when sedge/caddis are on the wing), but are also great searching patterns and hold their own in more broken water too.
Should water levels be a little on the low side and/or the fish a little extra spooky, I’ll opt to fish the a size #20 Chironomid emerger (Partridge Grub/Shrimp Downeye (K4A)) on a lighter, heavily degreased tippet.
Regarding tackle or, more specifically, rod selection, remember that we'll be creeping into position and fishing at fairly close quarters, so a softer actioned rod is very important. For example, you'll find it a lot easier to turn-over a leader at short range using a rod with a softer ‘through' action than you will trying to cast the same amount of line and leader using a rod with a stiffer ‘tip' action. A softer rod will also lend itself much better to making roll-casts at such close ranges (casts which you'll soon find help stop you catching-up on so many of those fly-hungry trees!)
Both rod length and line rating are purely personal preference and will be dictated by both the size of trout you aim to target, and the size of the water in question. I know a variety of anglers who enjoy flicking tiny 5' split-cane wands and others who love dropping nymphs into pocket water using longer rods. This is totally up to you and is purely a personal choice but, as you'll generally be targeting small wild fish around the 8" mark (with a few ‘monster' 12" fish), a rod with a line rating of AFTM #3 will usually cover all the bases. Personally, my go-to rod is a 7’ 3wt.
"Why can't I just use my stiffer rod and over-line it?"
You can of course, and this additional weight will help stiffer rods to bend/load more easily at closer quarters, but why buy a lovely 3wt in the first place and then stick a 4wt line on it? That said, it comes back to personal preference, and there are no hard and fast rules here. If you feel you're struggling to turn over your line at these closer ranges, have a play around by upping your line weight by one AFTM rating and see how you go. The fun is in the exploring, and this is what
this type of fishing is all about.
Leader-wise, my preference is for a 6X 7½' tapered leader which can cover me for nearly all situations. When this gets a little short, I'll simply add a new section of 6X tippet. Should low water conditions make fish a little spooky, I'll then opt for a longer leader of around 9' and I'll drop to slightly smaller flies (such as the Micro Chironomid Emerger mentioned earlier).
Lastly, remember that it is quite easy to cover a fair distance during a day on a small stream. Excluding your rod and waders, a chest/backpack will help carry everything you need for the day; just remember to take a bottle of water. When the fishing turns into hiking, you'll soon need it! For those of you who like to take the odd treat along, I love to take my camping stove to really make the day my own. Life doesn’t get much better than watching the water gurgle by with a freshly brewed coffee poured river-side.
As you've probably guessed by now, being successful on these smaller waters is more dependent on having a stealthy approach than on anything else, but this isn't as difficult as it sounds. If you take a little extra care when wading, try to keep a low profile and place your casts gently, you'll catch more fish. Guaranteed!
Fly choice is nowhere near as important as being a little stealthier but, of course, it does matter. Match the invertebrates in your streams with a rough comparison and/or a pattern which you have confidence in, and you'll find that you can sometimes catch fish over a fair distance by using just the one fly.
At the end of the day, this style of fishing allows you to get away from the bright lights and the hustle and bustle of more public waters. Walk that extra 500 yards off the beaten track and you'll soon find that you're on your own in what small stream enthusiasts will know as their own, secret paradise.
Catching small, never-been-caught-before wild trout and grayling…well, isn’t that why we do it?
Long live small streams.
Watch Gareth in action by clicking on the video below:
For a guided fly fishing trip, to check out Gareth's Fly tying or to simply get in touch you can visit his website by clicking here...