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The Small Stream Report (or, Fly Fishing The Little Stuff While It's Still Little)

By Tom Chandler 5/11/2010

Driving past rivers with hefty reputations - names that drop loudly in California's fly fishing circles - to fly fish a small stream is clearly a "powered by faith" moment.

Fortunately, fly fishers enjoy an abundance of the fluffy faithy stuff, so when I pitched Steve Bertrand on the idea of driving to a potentially blown small stream instead of a known-to-be-fishable big river (fully equipped with big trout), he didn't really hesitate.

That the stream - known to fish well in the spring - was entirely clear and only a little high was what we'll call "icing" on a springtime cake that's offered precious little in the way of sweets to us in the mountains.

Last night, it snowed yet again at Trout Underground/Man Cave World Headquarters, and a thin layer of snow dusted the surrounding hills this morning.

While the immediate mental health implications are the subject of much discussion here at TU/Man Cave Headquarters, the larger runoff implications affect every fly fisherman with an itch to fish northern California.

In essence, the runoff event - which by this time last year was already peaking - hasn't really begun yet.

In other words, the whitewater folks are going to be far happier this spring than the Upper Sac's fly fishermen.

This Particular Small Stream
Even though the Upper Sacramento's immediate future looks a bit grim, this particular stream is (happily) entirely fishable.

More importantly, fishing it was entirely enjoyable - especially to an overworked, under-slept marketing consultant who'd been jonesing for a small stream experience.

Fly fishing a meadow stream

I'd suggest the fishing on Stream Z is about two weeks short of its peak (Editor's note: that number is pure guesswork - the kind of thing fly fishermen say when we want to appear more knowledgeable than we are).

Even though the fishing wasn't wide open, the following is true: When a handful of brown trout hurl themselves on your dry fly with the zeal of a small-but-doesn't-know-it predator, the fishing's plenty good enough.

That you get to fish a freestone portion of the stream and a gorgeous meadow stretch on the same day is a simply a bonus - a benefit of a little time invested in exploration.

The Numbers
In four hours of fly fishing (and eating) sandwiched between a couple hours of driving, I managed to hook better than a dozen trout, though I landed less than half of them.

While my 8' 5wt Phillipson Peerless bamboo fly rod was an ideal tool for dealing with some wind and the odd big fly, it was a bit strong for the 5"-9" trout we caught.

In fact, I launched a couple on the hookset.

It's not the rod's fault of course. The guy on the fat end of the rod might have been a little rusty - and a little anticipatory.

Later, when we fished a meadow stretch of the stream which demanded longer casts, offered faster wind and held bigger trout, the Phillipson seemed perfect - maybe even a little soft for the longer hooksets.

Which probably means the Phillipson was the perfect rod for the trip.

I think Bertrand - whose numbers were similar - fished an old Redington 8.5' 3wt, a fly rod he suggests has earned a place among the best small-stream rods ever made.

It turns out these distinctions are important to fly fishermen.

The real key, of course, is to fish a rod capable (in your hands at least) of making all sorts of odd slack line casts. Puddling the leader remains the best way to get a drag-free

The Future
Stream Z fishes best in the spring, and in fact, I only fished it once in the summer, and never went back.

Given that I'm a slow learner - and find adapting to new situations difficult - it's likely I'll head back to Stream Z a couple times over the coming month, if only to see if my "two weeks" estimate is accurate (Ed's Note: he's totally winging it at this point).

See you on a small stream, Tom Chandler.


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.

I believe this is known as a WAG (wild ass guess) You say that like it's a bad thing.
When it comes to being weeks behind, my fear is that the hatches simply won't come off at all in any meaningful way. Color me pessimistic...
I'm going with 4 weeks out. Been pounding some gorges in the central sierra, Getting those wading muscles in shape, Getting the old T&T dryfly rod ready for action. In my not so profesional opinion this year is 4 weeks behind the last few years. Let the runoff rage, its going to be a long May/June. The anticipation is friggin killing me !!!!!
I'd suggest the fishing on Stream Z is about two weeks short of its peak (Editor's note: that number is pure guesswork – the kind of thing fly fishermen say when we want to appear more knowledgeable than we are). I believe this is known as a WAG (wild ass guess)

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