Dedicated To The Outdoors

Small Streams For Big Brookies


I fish a lot of different ecosystems and each offers a uniquely cathartic skill level of throwing out a bait of some sort and waiting for a strike. It’s great fun but not always a viable option. Especially when it comes to small streams and creeks and even smaller waterways that aren’t classified because they’re seasonal. When I speak of small creeks or streams I’m inferring that you can typically walk or hop across this hidden gem of trout happiness and forget about ever getting your feet wet. If you think trout can’t survive in this type of situation it tells me you’ve missed a ton of great fishing. Give the brook trout some clean, cool, slow moving water, and he will likely do alright as this environment sets-up the attractive ecosystem needed for the brookies to thrive.

I talk about this type of fishing and refer to it quite often when writing. Today I took a step back and realized a lot of new fishermen out there may not even recognize the fishing potential these small bodies of water hold. It’s not uncommon to completely miss the signs that water is present much less a voracious population of trout. It requires a lot of footwork and probably just as much disappointment but, when you find a healthy water source trickling it’s way through the forest or alongside the road, it’s time to investigate. Here’s a couple things to look for.

Get out in early spring to see where the water is flowing. As so often happens large portions of these small creeks disappear in mid-summer. Easily spotted after the snowfall melts or heavy spring rains saturate the ground these are also the streams that should be fished the earliest in the year once water levels stabilize. Mid summer will once again find you high and dry of any water for long stretches of these small creeks. If you’re too late in the year you could check for deeper holes further downstream for any land-locked trout. If it’s legal in your state you will likely be doing yourself an injustice not to fish these trout out of the creek as they will often die from oxygen depletion long before the water rises again. If you don’t eat them the raccoons probably will.

Obvious signs like short segments of guard-rails along the road are signals that water could be underfoot. It’s not rocket science it’s simply taking a closer look at your options. Like I said it requires footwork and time both of which most people have little to spare. I wouldn’t stop at every single guard rail along a road but those that look more promising are worth a gander.

Small creeks in early spring will also be the first to show the appearance of green grasses and weeds. A green line of meandering vegetation through a dead and dried field tells you there’s water present. It shows you the exact path. The wider the creek the wider the vegetative path. It’s a no-brainer to a seasoned fisherman but to a novice trout fisherman who often looks for large bodies of water this is easily missed. Or, passed off as nothing worth investigating. This same method holds true for mid-summer. When most vegetation dies from searing summer heat you will still find the green color hanging close to the edges of the creek. Another dead giveaway.

Also look for an abundance of green grasses and weeds that appear to create a path that’s obviously different from the rest. The grass and even brush grows much quicker with the constant supply of water and that reflects in the vegetative landscape. I know of several creeks that are four feet wide and just as deep but you cannot see them for the better part of the entire year. Beneath that sea of grass and tangle of brush lie some of the most colorful native brookies I have ever fished all the while watching cars pass on a state highway. This creek literally travels right under the highway where thousands of fishermen cross every week. I have never seen anyone else fish there despite the decent brook trout population.

Not every source of water will hold trout. Water quality goes hand in hand with the overall anatomy of a small stream or creek. Consider the water quality the last test on a grading paper.

Regarding water quality for the trout they are considered picky. Water temperatures in the mid 30’s to low 70’s point to both extreme ends of the spectrum. That doesn’t sound too picky to me. Keep in mind that a constant cool water source such as a natural spring will attract more fish. The presence of a spring also introduces extra oxygen and minerals into the water which benefits the surrounding ecosystem of the creek. This oxygen becomes extremely important in mid summer when oxygen levels begin to deplete. Any natural spring area or headwaters is a great source of interest for trout that can provide great fishing all year long. Late summer during an extremely dry season can find trout huddling right up to a natural spring.

The water clarity is also a consideration when seeking these little brook trout hotspots. If the creek is runoff that is in constant flux then this entire portion of the creek will likely not be attractive to the trout. Trout need water stability to a certain degree. Visible signs of cloudy water are telling you to look elsewhere. This somewhere may be just a hundred yards upstream or another creek altogether. Typically if you find all the elements needed for trout you will also find a portion of the creek or stream where they congregate in greater numbers.

crayfish sitting on sandy river bottom

Crayfish are included in the diet of the trout

Trout will eat most anything that mostly fits in their mouths and frequents the bank of the creek or surface of the water. With that door wide open to possibilities insects of all sorts including crickets, moths, and grasshoppers, and, even aquatic reliant species such as crayfish, frogs, and baitfish become a large part of the natural diet of a wild brook trout. Each to varying degrees. The entomology of the creek along it’s borders tell of the trout’s immediate diet or lack thereof and likely the population of trout. If you think of a creek as a miniature river you’ll begin to realize that the same type of structural benefits apply only in a much smaller scale. Sticks take the place of logs and a large rock can become a dam. The requirements to sustain both small and large populations of trout in a tiny ecosystem will be reliant on the food source which typically takes care of itself in such a setting.

A small creek that comes to mind is one where you couldn’t ask for a nicer setting to fish. It’s so small that most people walk right past it unless they have to fish out a golf ball. Yes, portions of this little gem meander through a public golf course. The widest part of the creek is about 6 feet in width before it drops into a decent river that cuts through much of the course. It’s a sandy void-of-fish portion of the creek but if you follow the bank into the woods it begins to get smaller until it is no more than 2 feet in width. The magic is the creek still holds the width but it’s all undercut. From the surface it’s deceiving but underneath holds everything from a fading population of brookies to some small rainbows and even steelhead in the early spring. I know. It all sounds just postcard-perfect but how does one go about fishing these small bodies of moving water? Here are few tips.

The word of the day is stealth. If you incorporate that single word into all your trout fishing you will always catch more fish. This same scenario pulls an even higher percentage when fishing these miniscule waterways. Your approach and time fishing means everything at this point. Slowly walking while keeping your silhouette from sky-lining is a big deal. Trout don’t tolerate cloudy water in these small systems. They prefer a crystal clear view of everything around them including the shape of your body towering over their sanctuary. Your footsteps can be like someone pounding on your door as they vibrate through the ground and carry through the water. Some trout fishermen would say to try and match your clothes to the background you will be fishing. That’s a good tip for larger waters of human-wary trout and other fish species. In this style of fishing you simply want to stay away from the edge to again, avoid getting sky-lined.

As for the fishing gear let’s put you in this scenario.

You’ve approached the edge of the creek very slowly and quietly. You’re crouched down nearly to the ground in some strange Spiderman pose. A bit dramatic for the thought of visual affects but bear with me. Now you need to present a bait or fly to the trout. There’s no such thing as casting in these situations. It’s a simple method to drop your line in the creek and let the current, as slow or fast as it may be, move your offering to the fish. You can also create some movement of your bait or fly within the current itself to entice the trout out from under the banks. Fly fishing gear, which is excellent for keeping a safe distance from the edge of the creek, works perfectly or you could use a simple bait casting or spinning reel. The beauty is you need nothing fancy but it does require the gear to be light and match the water system you’re fishing. Small wet flies and tiny barb-less hooks tipped with leaf worms or similar local offering will often trigger the trout to strike.

You will find that it’s normal to catch a larger percentage of smaller trout in these situations. Typically you will also witness native trout with much more vivid coloring and patterns. It’s definitely not a game of numbers when fishing these tiny creeks and streams. That’s why, word of the day, stealth, has become so important. It’s like micro-managing the day of fishing which for some is the opposite of what fishing stands for. That’s understandable to every degree. In truth it really sets the standards for all trout fishing of this nature where attention to details means the difference between finding a place to fish and actually catching fish. It’s not flashy and doesn’t require anything other than a fishing pole and some bait when you get right down to it. Throw in some patience and determination to explore some new fishing this season and you might find the small streams to be a big hit.