fly fishing small streams

Fishing The Kinda Remote, Largely Unfished,Home to Small Fish... Stream.

By Tom Chandler 9/25/2011

When you bushwhack your way up a steep-sided stream canyon, you don't expect to uncover the small stream equivalent of the Henry's Fork (and if I did, I wouldn't mention it here). The real point of the exercise is the discovery; it's a peek into a trout-stream-cut canyon that -- until this moment -- might as well have been on the dark side of the moon.

Small stream rainbow trout

Humanity's pretty good at filling in the blank spaces (though we're not all that good at doing so accurately), and I've heard people suggest the world was explored out decades ago (and that was before Google Earth).

From a great distance, it might seem that way, but on a personal level -- and given a less-than-geologic time frame -- big chunks of the world are still practically new.

wildflowers

Last Sunday, when I finally fought my way past the cliffs and scree slopes and willow thickets that defined the upper bounds of my fishing experience on a little-fished small stream, I thought I'd find a smaller version of the parts I knew; smaller stream, smaller pools, smaller fish, smaller human footprint...

I was wrong about the fish, though I was right about the lack of humanity; outside of the jet contrails in the sky, I didn't see any sign of a person during the four hours I fished my way upstream.

No boot prints. No garbage. No fire rings. No anything.

And really, there's little reason I would.

The trout I caught were beautiful and wild and perhaps even pure-strain rainbows untouched by hatchery genes, but the one or two small trout I'd get at each plunge pool don't justify the grind.

Small stream rainbow trout

Unless you award extra credit for trout that may not have seen a fly their entire lives.

Turns out I do.

The Discovery


Past the end of the known universe, the narrow gorge widened and the water flowed over a series of surprising bedrock benches, and the deeper pools glowed that emerald green that makes it difficult to look away.

The trout were pretty and unmarked and skittish as hell, so dicey stalking or casting left you fishless.

The Arizona mini-hopper

I kept waiting for the good-looking stuff to peter out, and it simply didn't.

The bigger trout (one from each pool) were in the 6"-8" range (one may have gone 10"), and they persisted right up until I reached a five-foot high waterfall.

I couldn't see what was above the falls, remembered I was a half hour past my turnaround time, and that after an hour's hike and four hours of fishing -- most of it spent scrambling over refrigerator-sized rocks, up cliffs and through damned-near-impenetrable thickets -- I was bushed.

When it comes to solo hikes through rough terrain, I've learned you don't wear yourself out to the point your quads start making bad decisions for your head.

Besides, I couldn't see around the falls, so I have no idea what lies there.

Small stream falls

Offering me the perfect excuse to go back.

See you someplace unusual, Tom Chandler.

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

26 comments
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[...] added bonus; the 4-pc design makes it very easy to cram it into a daypack or slither through brush, and after falling on it twice, I’d have to say Orvis made it tough enough (they claim their [...]
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Bravo Tom Thanks.... headed out Friday for 10 days of vacation chasing small wild fish..... stunning photography lovely story My favorite kind of fishing....I've got a couple friends I can share small water with but it takes a special kind.....it is fun at times to be the peanut gallery and call missed strikes..... and point out the rhodo just as it reaches out to snag your buddies fly... strict rules ... more of fishing MY TURN
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Score!
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Got my daughter to catch a small wild rainbow or two on a small stream in the Sierra foothills. Think I was more excited than she was. Picked the fly, and told her where to cast it. She's a pretty good caster, and put it right where I said she should. Lotsa fun!
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Tom Chandler: I can split small water with someone, but they have to be a good friend — someone immune to that whole “I'll casually snake all the good pools and leave the ankle-deep runs for my ‘buddy'” thing… For me, they include, my father, my brother and anyone I am teaching to fish... Watching some catch a fish, after you told them where to cast is a great thing, greater if you ... more don't guide, which I don't...
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I can split small water with someone, but they have to be a good friend -- someone immune to that whole "I'll casually snake all the good pools and leave the ankle-deep runs for my 'buddy'" thing...
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Jim Rosenau: Tom,You obviously hit a sweet spot with your readership. Many of us fish to forget the world and seeing other rods on the water kills the buzz. When I fish small water with a buddy it's fun to alternate pools and watch him fish, too. You can't leapfrog each other at every bend. Tom and I agree; This is one of the great stages of flyfishing... At this point in my life, I am just happy ... more to be on the water and know that sharing pocket water and plunge pools is a fine thing, regardless of who catches fish, if any!!!
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Tom, You obviously hit a sweet spot with your readership. Many of us fish to forget the world and seeing other rods on the water kills the buzz. When I fish small water with a buddy it's fun to alternate pools and watch him fish, too. You can't leapfrog each other at every bend.
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Look forward to it!!! Tom Chandler: Sorry so absent from the comments; I've got a bazillion words to churn out the next two days. I'll try to whip together a short review of the Osprey pack; it's astonishingly comfortable, but has its downsides.
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Sorry so absent from the comments; I've got a bazillion words to churn out the next two days. I'll try to whip together a short review of the Osprey pack; it's astonishingly comfortable, but has its downsides.
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I love little streams like that. Always worth the hike. ps: What is the blue pack you carry? I am in the market for something along those lines.
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Looks like one of the falls on Hatchet Creek
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Nice. Very nice. Substitute wild brook trout for wild rainbows and it could be any one of a number of small streams I fish. Good read.
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Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia palustris. Nice! And the fish and stream are awesome, too.
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Extra credit indeed...wonderfully written. A fitting tribute to a place that is normally reserved for a daydream. Cheers!
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Bloody marvelous. Every year I get the call to hike up a brookie stream. It seems to coincide with fall, for some reason.
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Thanks, Tom. Now I'm daydreaming about what's above that waterfall.....
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That's what it's all about, believe it or not there are still a few places in NJ like that with stream-bred fish, WHAT A JOY!!!
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Beautiful, beautiful post. You got at the soul of it all.
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Tom, are you liking the Osprey pack? Also, what gear do you usually take with you on a trip like this? Thanks for focusing on what matters most about this sport.
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Glad to know I am not the only guy who would prefer to bushwack for hours to fish for little fish rather than subject myself to a spot where everyone & their brother can fish. Great post Tom!
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Tom—It's days like those that hang deep in our fly-fishing memories. Just seeing the place and reading your descriptions brings me back to my own time spent in the "angling backcountries" of the world. I really appreciate the post on rainy, cool day here in the PNW.
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Beautiful! My favorite kind of trouting. And, the only kind I have here. However, an empty beach, and the right tide can constitute "someplace unusual" as well.
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Tom, Sounds like the perfect day. That is hands down my favorite kind of fishing. I spent some time on a small stream yesterday (in the pouring rain) and it was glorious. Exploration is half the fun of fly fishing if you ask me. Great pictures BTW.
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Beautiful little creek. I'm headed to the GSMNP in the morning for the same therapy.
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Wow-I feel like I just got transported there and back again. Great post!
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