Fly fishing small water for wild trout is my most favorite pursuit within the realm of fly fishing. I have been fortunate in my short span as a fly angler to be able to fish all over the world, and catch many species. Even with that, the allure of solitude and aggressive wild rainbows in the canyons holds my attention.
So what is small water, and why is it more fun? Small water is not only defined by the size of the river system its self, but also by the size of fish, the ecological productivity of the water, as well as the biodiversity. I have focused my fishing time on the water of the Upper American, primarily the Middle and South Fork, and their tributaries. One of the reasons small water is so much fun, is that it allows you to work with the utmost efficiency. You can dissect the water with your fly as a surgeon does with a scalpel, leaving no seam unfished. You can cast nearly anywhere you want to, and generally a roll cast will reach the distance. Another reason I love fishing small water, is the pure simplicity it lends itself to. So often in fly fishing we get way too complicated with our fishing. Keep it simple and it is so much more fun!
This is not a “where to how to” type of thing. A large amount of the fun to fishing small water, is the adventure that goes along with finding your new fishing hole. Most of my days on the water are spent with one question in my mind, and that is “whats around the next bend?” I crave the sense of adventure and the satisfaction of discovery that fishing small waters provides. If you want to find some small water, just go out with some hiking boots and a fly rod, and adventure. Just in the area that I grew up fishing, there are more small waters than you could fish in a lifetime.
Equipment related questions are something I hear very often, and the best advice I could lend again, would be to keep your fishing simple. I carry two rods when creekin, and a small double sided Umpqua Feather Merchants fly box with dries on one side, and various wets on the other side. I like a chest pack, mainly for the convenience of a camelback, and the room to store a light jacket, lunch, my first aid kit, and my Spot Emergency Beacon.
1. Sage TXL-F 1wt, paired with any small reel, and a 1wt Rio DT line. This rod is the “workhorse” of my quiver while fishing small water. Even being a 1wt, this rod has enough pop to even turn over a small indicator and a few split shot. For the most part this rod acts as a dry dropper tool where I generally run a large foam fly, generally in the style of a chubby or something like that. Under this fly I will run two smaller tungsten bead head nymphs, simple flies like a flashback pheasant tail, birds nest or hairs ear. This setup is what is used for the “cleanup” after thoroughly fishing a run with a single dry fly and the best presentation possible. This rig will often pull another handful of fish out of a run you may have considered fished out. As for the terminal tackle, any 7′ tapered leader to 4 or 5x will do. Under my foam fly I prefer fluorocarbon.
2. Echo Glass 2wt, with any small reel, and a 3wt Rio DT line. This is my single dry fly rod. Even though a weight heavier than the sage, the rod is quite a bit softer, and really lends its self well to casting single dries. It does not enjoy the dry dropper nor and indicator. Same as the other stick, I generally use a 7′ leader down to no smaller than 6x.
In many of these places, you are a long ways from an easy rescue. These are the type of places that could make you pay for a broken ankle or bumped head with your life. I never recommend others fish alone, though i often do. Since I fish alone often, the Spot Emergency Beacon, and a solid first aid kid always come with me. To prevent incidents, ensure your ankles have support, wear long pants, and bring lots of snacks and water.
Get out there and look, because you just might find something.