Small Stream Fishing


DSC_0004When most people talk about bass fishing they are referring to one of the many great big lakes available to fisherman today. Although big waters do offer some fine fishing they do not hold the patent on good bass fishing. They do hold many fisherman, water skiers, jet ski’s and pleasure boaters. If you’re fishing on the weekend you can find it more akin to a dirt track race than a peaceful fishing trip.

Here in the volunteer state we are blessed to be within an hour’s drive of some really fine bass fishing, via the network of small streams and rivers, from just about anywhere. In fact some of these streams run through major metro areas and receive very little fishing pressure. Don’t be fooled that since the streams don’t get a lot of fishing pressure that they are easy pickings. Although there are lots of fish they are far from easy to catch, so to fish them you better play you’re “A game.”

The first thing you must learn is since most of these streams tend to be low and gin clear you must learn to cast not only on target but also with minimal false casting.

Rod selection is up for debate here. There are some who preach the shorter the rod the better. Now use a Sage Motive 7wt myself.  It’s nearly ten feet long but really doesn’t hinder my casting too much. A shorter rod would be handy in some spots but I find that accurate casting is much easier with a longer rod. I choose a 7wt over a 6wt because it enables me to cast some of the larger flies with ease.

Lines are pretty much your standard weight forward floater, but I do keep a sink tip in my vest in case I run into a deep stretch of river that calls for my fly to get down deep. Leaders are ultra important in a small stream. Long tends to be better due to the combination of clear water and spooky fish. Try to use the smallest diameter you can get away with. I have recently started using the fluorocarbon leaders because they are tough as nails and literally disappear in the water.

Reels are pretty much up to the angler. After all, the reel is just a device to hold the line. That said if you happen to hook into a really big river smallmouth you will wish you had a drag system, so its up to you. I used an inexpensive Cortland reel with great success for years. I ended up losing some good fish and upgraded to the Tibor “Tailwater”  series of reels that have a drag system and have not looked back once. Waders are optional unless you choose to fish all year rather than just during the summer.


Fly selection is directly related to the type of food sources in a given stream. Since most river dwelling fish like Bass, pickerel, musky and the smallmouth are predators and eat basically anything that won’t eat them first, you have to choose your fly based in what’s living in the stream. The one thing you can almost always count on is that the river/stream fish eat lots of crawdads, so a menu that’s a bit Cajun will nearly always catch you fish. That means stream and river fish have a diet that primarily consists of crayfish. Now they still eat minnows and shad but they eat a lot, and I mean a lot of crayfish. It would be prudent, if you intend to use crayfish patterns, to catch some crayfish and look at them as they molt several times a year and the hot color can change in a matter of days.

Some other good selections include minnow imitating flies such as a Deceiver, Clouser Minnow, and light colored Woolly Buggers. If you find a stream with a good population of shad the Whitlock’s Waker Shad is really hard to beat and I have also used the Seaducer with good results. Shad patterns generally consist of lots of silver and grey colors. If you find some streams with really slow moving water it will most likely hold plenty of frogs. When I stumble on a high frog population I love to fish a frog colored popper close to the shore. Any self-respecting bass will hammer a frog that has ventured too far from the safety of shore. Once the dog days of summer get here a hopper  is a must. Grasshoppers are another staple in a fish’s diet.

Fish in a stream still relate to structure in the same manner of their lake dwelling kin but they also relate to different structure. A stream fisherman must pay attention to the water more so than when fishing a large impoundment. The sheer fact the water is moving creates a new kind of, not only structure, but hiding places as well. Look for places where the river or streams have eaten out the shoreline below the water level also, instead of looking for riprap, find the gravel shoals.

When you’re approaching pools of slower water your better fish will be in what’s called the tail of the pool, where the water runs out of the pool. Don’t overlook the head of the pool, just be aware that bigger fish will lie at the tail out and feed on the plankton as it drifts by. In the faster stretches of water pay close attention to large structure like trees or boulders. They create an eddy or piece of slack water where fish will rest to avoid the current.

Stealth is of utmost importance when fishing small streams and rivers. These places are small and generally very quiet so to be successful you must move slow and be very quiet yourself. A good way to judge how fast your fishing is when you think you’re fishing and moving slow enough you’re probably going too fast. If you’re wading be especially stealthy and don’t make excessive waves in the water.

Pay close attention to your clothing as well. Those bright colored fishing shirts you can get in town are not what you need to be using. Earth tones or dull clothing is best. Give the streams and rivers a shot and you won’t be disappointed. They are not crowded, have no bass tournaments, no jet skis or houseboats. They do have beautiful scenery, lots of wildlife, and offer peace which is hard to come by in our fast paced lives.

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