By Ryan McSparran
As we’re barreling toward the end of summer, fly fishing in high alpine creeks is at its best. The hoppers are abundant and dry flies are hatching. There may be no better time to take a hike to your favorite small stream. Many of these gems lie within wilderness areas or other hike-in access locations. These waters produce beautiful fish and offer some outstanding dry fly fishing opportunities.
Fish in these locations often see very little pressure. They can be aggressive feeders and eager to take a fly. But that doesn’t mean the fishing comes easy. These waters come with their own set of challenges. Here are a few tips to avoid the most common mistakes.
1. Minimize Your Profile
One of the most easily avoidable mistakes is walking right up to a creek with crystal clear water and watching shadows go darting across the stream. On these waters, it’s important to remember that if the water is clear enough to easily see fish, they can easily see you. These trout are spooky and will bolt at the first sign of trouble.
In most cases, there’s no need to go to extremes – crawling on your hands and knees is might be overkill. But think about the profile that you’re presenting to the fish. Always approach from downstream. Get as close as you need to make a comfortable and accurate cast, but no closer. That might mean laying several feet of fly line in the grass in front of you.
2. Make Upstream Casts
Approaching from downstream and staying downstream from your intended target means having to make upstream casts. Sure, you’ll catch fish making downstream or quartering casts. But wherever possible, cast directly upstream to maximize your effectiveness.
Start at the bottom of a run, cast upstream and allow your fly to drift back toward you. Carefully strip your line through the drift to keep slack off the water. Then continue working upstream, moving a few feet at a time.
3. Stay Out of the Water
On small streams there is rarely any need to be in the water. So stay out. Fish each run up through the bend from the inside. When you reach the top, cross and fish up through the next bend on the inside. Rinse and repeat. Unless you’re crossing, there should be few times when it’s necessary to be in the water.
Again, this will minimize your presence and maximize your opportunity at fish. On these little waters, you might be surprised at the places that hold fish even in very clear water. Shallow riffles only a few inches deep sometimes hold the biggest fish. So watch where you step.
Get out there, find blue lines on a map and go fishing!
Recommended Fly Rods
For your next small stream adventure, we’d recommend our new JXP 4-weight fly rod as an awesome light line option. Or, take a look at our 8’ 3” Au Sable 4-weight, a perfect rod for small stream fishing.
Ryan McSparran is an outdoor writer, and a fly fishing and hunting professional based in Colorado.