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> > Smallest stream you've ever caught trout on

MotroutDecember 1st, 2010, 6:35 pm
Posts: 319
I never cease to be amazed how versatile trout are. After a day spent on a very small trout stream here in Missouri, I got to thinking of all the tiny little creeks that I've caught trout on across America-little creeks that probably wouldn't be capable of holding any other species of game fish besides trout.

As to the smallest stream I've ever caught trout (I will not name names for obvious reasons)-there are actually two that I can think of, about the same size-that form what I think of as the lower flow limit of where trout can live. One is in the mountains of Northern Wyoming. I fished a little mountain rill at about 9500 feet that was maybe two or three feet wide at its largest. But it was just full of cutthroats, (and nice ones too) and they loved any old dry fly. I don't think I found a single hole on the entire stretch of creek I fished more than two feet deep.

The other is on the opposite end of the country, in the Northern part of Adirondack Park in New York. I was on a wilderness paddle, and a portage trail between two lakes led alongside a very small, non-navigable stream, about two feet wide, and flowing shallow through a cascade. The weather had been real hot lately, and the trout had gone off in the lakes, big rivers, and most mountain streams, but when I stuck my hand in this little brook, it still felt nice and cold-spring-fed probably. Being a fisherman, I set down the canoe and all the gear, put my fly rod together, and started fishing it with a Royal Wulff. Every little pocket that was 10" deep or more held a little native brook trout, and the 5" brookies from that tiny stream actually ended up being the highlight of a wilderness trip where the trout fishing was for the most part close to non-existant. I've always loved searching up the tiny brooks and seeing what can be found.

Anybody else like hunting up these little creeks? Or am I just crazy for getting so excited over a few 5" rainbows or brookies?
"I don't know what fly fishing teaches us, but I think it's something we need to know."-John Gierach
CaseyPDecember 1st, 2010, 6:51 pm
Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

Posts: 653
every summer we go to Montana. there are a lot of large streams in that state. middle-sized ones, too.

my hands-down favorite day is when we go to the very top of one of those middle-sized streams, up to where we can step across most of it, where the little cutthroats live. silvery little fish with little black specks and just a faint blush under the jaw.

it's amazing they can live up there at all, but there are a very few pools that might get your hips wet (i'm not that tall), and that's enough to winter over in, I guess.
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Jmd123December 1st, 2010, 6:58 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2611
MO, I'm with ya on the small creek thing. I love little hidden creeks and the fish they contain. There's a sweet little spring-fed stream in northern lower MI owned (entirely!) by the U of Mich Biological Station (affectionately known as "Bug Camp" to alumni such as myself) that contains native brookies and wild browns, and lots of nice beaver ponds. I've only fly fished it a few times because back in my school days I was using an 8 or 8 1/2 foot rod, much too long for such tight quarters, so I used to use bait and then spinners. Now that I have shorter fly rods I have been dying to get back in there, hopefully in the coming year I will get a chance to do so.

The fish from this creek are exquisitely colored, like living jewels. Even the brownies, which by the way can get up to at least 15-16" from what I have seen personally, have bright crimson red edgings on all of their fins, even the adipose fins, and the red spots on their flanks are just luminescent. The brookies, of course, just defy description...

I plan on jumping in to some of those beaver ponds, and also starting at the lower end where it empties into a lake and working my way upstream. There are lots of amphipods (scuds) in there, along with watercress beds, and I suspect it might even see a bit of Hexagenia activity. Only one way to find out...


P.S. When I was in Oregon, I did a bunch of fish sampling in tiny little coastal streams. It's amazing how far upstream we found fry of coho salmon and searun cutthroat trout - channels not more than a foot wide and 2" deep! That's not even to mention invertebrates which I also collected - the diversity in even these dinky little creeks was staggering!
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
PaulRobertsDecember 1st, 2010, 8:11 pm

Posts: 1776
The most unique little rill I found trout in was a tiny spring seep that fed the backside of a small warmwater lake in upstate NY. The seep came out of the ground at the base of a small hill (possibly a drumlin) and ran for all of 100yrds before exiting into the lake. The rill was no more than a foot wide in places but had a bit of depth due to intact banks supported by heavy grass roots. There were little brookies in it! I was shocked. Where it dumped into the lake several nice brookies held amongst the cattail roots while carp swam past! I caught one that was 10"long.

I also broke a fly rod there along that tiny rill. It was one of the first graphite blanks, made by Exxon. It was a 6ft 2wt I threw a 4 on bc there was no such thing as a 2wt then! I'd spotted a drift feeding brookie and went to pull line off the reel and the little wand folded. "Well, there goes a whole lotta fun." I remember commenting. Those blanks had a surprisingly high MOE but were very weak. I broke two out of the 3 I owned (and I don't tend to break rods). The third I still have and actually caught a 9lb 'bow on with a 2kg line! Now, my grandfather's tiny brass Pfleuger birdcage reel from the turn of the last century is on it. Gee, maybe I'll take it out again this summer.
Jmd123December 1st, 2010, 10:26 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2611
PR, and MO, it's getting hard to find a fly rod (at least that I can afford) small enough to fish those little creeks these days! Everyone is going to these 9-foot and longer rods, when I prefer them much shorter. My favorite rod right now is the Cabelas Three Forks 7 1/2-foot 3-weight - costs all of $50! I caught three of the nicest bass, both smallies and largemouth, of my life this summer on it so one can handle big fish on these little rods - if you know what you're doing!

I'm in the market right now for a 6 1/2-foot 2-weight. Any suggestions, gentlemen? I gotta whole buncha beaver ponds in mind...

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
PaulRobertsDecember 2nd, 2010, 8:30 am

Posts: 1776
Lotsa rods out there in the short light range. Line weight ratings mean little actually. You really need to cast them. But you can also go up or down a line weight on rods. I can't give you specific recommendations as I'm not in the business, but will say this -you don't need to pay as much for short rods a long where high MOE becomes critical with length.

Oh, i do have a possible recommendation -I just bought a 7ft 3wt (I throw a 4 on it) -the Cortland Brook series. They make 6.5ft 3wt too. I like it very much in the short lengths.
Jmd123December 2nd, 2010, 12:18 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2611
I have looked at the Cortland Brook series online and they are just about what I am looking for. But who carries them and for what price? I would love to try one out...

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
PaulRobertsDecember 2nd, 2010, 3:23 pm

Posts: 1776
I dunno off the top of my head. You are close to "Cortland country" aren't you? Some shops gotta have some. They retail at about $170, but I got mine on a close-out for $90 -which is more like the price for a short rod in my book.

I'd expect many short wands would do the job. Cabela's offers a number of short light rods. A "2wt" will probably cost more bc it's more of a specialty item. But 3wts are more common and action and power varies enough that one man's 3 is another's 2.
RleePDecember 2nd, 2010, 4:04 pm
NW PA - Pennsylvania's Glacial Pothole Wonderland

Posts: 398
The Midwest Spring Creeks (WI, IA, MN) are a good place to pull off this way dinky creek stuff. I once fished a trib to a "name" WI Spring Creek, It was dinky, really dinky. But it had a fishing easement, complete with fence ladders and reg signs, so I gave it a whirl. The first couple hundred feet was about 20" wide and maybe averaged a foot deep, running quick over a mixed tiny gravel/clay substrate. Just above this section, the stream narrowed down into a "pool", I suppose you'd call it. Might have been two feet deep and about 10 feet long. High grass from both banks curved out over the water to leave about a 2" slot to drop a fly through. I was lucky enough to make the one cast in a thousand (for me anyway..) that dropped the big deerhair ant through the slot into the water. Up comes a brown and sucks it in. He ran straight for me, going between my legs and propelling himself out on to the bank. I untangled myself to go attend to him. He was a pretty nice fish. I held him against the Far & Fine, so I could measure it later. Then, just for kicks, I went up to where he took and measured the width of the stream in the same way.

When I got back to the car, I got the tape out to see what I had. The fish was 14.5" The point in the creek where he took was 11.5" wide.

That never happened to me in 35 years of tromping Pennsylvania flat, that's for sure..
PaulRobertsDecember 2nd, 2010, 4:17 pm

Posts: 1776
RleeP, that is a cool story. There's a "pinnacle" there, tiny streams and good trout. I've had dreams like that. I don't know why it's the little waters that hit me aesthetically. I think I'd rather catch a 14" trout from a tiny crick than a "big one" from a river.
Jmd123December 2nd, 2010, 6:14 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2611
With you on that last comment, PR...

I'll have to look around for the Cortland Brooks. I do know of a Cortland Pro Shop up in Gaylord - which is about three hours away! Next time I go by on my way further north I will have to enquire as to their availability. The price range sounds about right - under $200. I just won't spend more than that on a fly rod, especially considering my favorite rod right now cost only $50...

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
EricdDecember 2nd, 2010, 7:29 pm
Mpls, MN

Posts: 113

I thought this topic had come up before. It's great reading everyone's stories especially about the $50 Cabela's three fork rod you mentioned.

I learned to fish for trout when I was about 12 in Northern Wisconsin, driving nuts with my godfather or extremely slow and cautious with my grandfather, but always in a 1978 Jeep that my grandpa owned and kept at his humble place up there. The doors and top of the jeep were never around. He may have sold them because the place was a warm weather spot only with no insulation, a hand pump in the kitchen for water and an outhouse. He became a brick and stone mason after WWII, so there was and is still a great fireplace in the main room. That's that.

The stream we fished, and I still do, has a romantic name in my opinion and is hardly accessible with a sedan (I've done it though). The largest pool is immediately downstream of the road and the first place I caught a trout. We fished using fly rods and reels and line, but we'd tie on a regular hook and use a wax worm, sometimes with a small piece of cork and toothpick as a bobber, or indicator or whatever you want to call it. Back then we'd catch close to our limit of brookies with only a few chubs. But of course these days it's mostly chubs and a few brookies in the 6-9" range.

Far upstream is where I've found the trout to be since then. At it's widest, it becomes maybe ten feet and in those spots it's wide open to predators, about 2" deep and only 20-30' in length. Those spots far upstream though are 3' at the widest and impossible to cast to because of the bank growth. It's hands and knees and sometimes stomach only access. I'm still learning how to get my line out with enough slack to make it to the spot I need without spooking everything in the water. The cool thing about fishing this stream is that it's hard to miss a strike probably because of it's width and it seems you can feel the fish move about when you're that close to them and the ground...without being in the water.

I've tried fishing a few streams in the Driftless Area (someone mentioned them in the post) that are this size, but flowing in pasture land and very easy to cast to with no worry at all of your back cast. Maybe it's nostalgia, but it's not quite as fun. Maybe it's the farm house windows in the background instead of the dense forest.

The season is over for Wisconsin, but this stream has been my first trip of the year since I gave up on wax worms and my grandpa passed.

DitchDecember 3rd, 2010, 8:04 am
Fuquay-Varina NC

Posts: 36
Don't forget to check Cabelas clearence section i picked up a Cabelas clear creek 1 wt for 20 bucks and love it

There are no bad fishing days.
PaulRobertsDecember 3rd, 2010, 9:14 am

Posts: 1776
Yes, Cabela's clearance sales, and Bass Pro Shops too, are really worth watching.
PaulRobertsDecember 3rd, 2010, 10:40 am

Posts: 1776
Here are some pics of tiny "rills" I've perused that contained trout, from my print album:

These were headwater feeds to the upper reaches of trout streams in NY. My Dad and I loved to get in the car and drive until we found a crick that crossed the road. Out we’d jump and spend the day catching stuff. What fun. My Dad was a wonderful partner in the important stuff.

The tiniest X that contained trout were invariably spring seeps that didn't go dry or heat up. Nursery water they were mostly, but could hold decent fish in the right conditions, usually including high water. In most trout streams (surface water dominated), trout move a lot, and will follow flows up some pretty small feeds when conditions call. This is especially so of browns. In marginal waters they will move into headwaters where temps are efficient, where they hunt for small fishes and other stuff. More than one intrepid angler, who loves to explore and is willing to get his belly muddy, has been surprised by how little water good browns, or brookies, can live.

Lessee...a few stories:

Crazy Horse Fork
There was a stream that ran through my town that was not known as a trout stream. I spent many hours on that crick catching smallies, rock bass and chain pickeral in the mid reaches and chubs and other cyprinids further up. One summer, while fishing for pickeral and rock bass in the mid reaches, I had a huge spotted beast follow up my jig!

I hiked upstream and knocked on the door of an elderly woman who gave me permission to fish through. She also told me in the spring large trout would appear and chase minnows. I was armed with my glass fly-rod and some very crude home-ties and really little clue as to what to do with them. The creek there was 10 to maybe 20 feet wide, but with shale substrate it was very shallow. I didn't see any trout chasing minnows. But at one shallow cut where a sapling had fallen lying with the current,I spotted a white edged anal fin of a "large fish". I eventually poked it with my rod tip and out bolted a snaky brown of maybe 12 or 13 inches! With no place to go it wound up where it had started under the limb again. Wow!

I hoofed up to the next "deep" spot, a cut beneath a small tree all of knee deep, and teaming with chubs and minnows. I threw a rock against the roots and a big brown bolted out, spun around the little washtub sized pocket, and then back under the cut. My heart was in my throat! That brown looked to go 17inches! I moved another one of probably 15 or 16 inches from another tiny cut before hiking out.

Scud Brook
I rented a house that sat above a small warmwater stream that fed the mid reaches of a local trout stream. At that location though the main creek was a bit warm to hold many trout, which meant no one fished there. I found good numbers of carp and pike, which were great fun too. I was just getting hip to stream entomology and had found that little trib was FULL of scuds. I whipped up a weighted scud using gray squirrel hair, walked down to the trib to test it, and caught a 17inch brown on the first cast! I later caught others from 13 to 15inches. They remained in the little crick, feeding on scuds, until the flows diminished further and temps hit 70F. Then they disappeared. But the scuds proliferated.

You Found my SECRET SPOT!
I was exploring a local stream down into the warmer reaches, looking for spots that might hold bigger browns. In a copse of large mature willows I spotted line flash -an angler! "What is an angler doing here? Doesn't he know this is chub water?" (lol). He was on a hidden side channel that turned out to be a valley floor spring seep that was about 10feet wide and it turned out, 57F, whereas the main stem it fed on the other side of the copse was 67F.

As I watched from a respectful distance the angler (holding a spinning rod) turned and spotted me. "Oooohhhhh! You found my SECRET Spot!!", he blurted. He went on to spill his guts about being the only one to know and that he'd caught a 16" and a 23" brown there that summer. I assured him I'd not share his spot with anyone, and haven't. I'm no fool.

Lost Brookies:
I found a trib to a good brookie stream that ran through a lost “holler” in upstate NY. I had two of my apprentice FF kids with me, getting them used to knocking on doors. It was a little brook, about 8-12ft wide, running through woodlots, pastures and very rough looking homesteads complete with rusted tractors and cars dating back to the 40s. I was quite sure we were the only anglers to ask permission by the surprised and even confused looks on the homesteaders faces. One angry old woman wouldn’t let us on. But her neighbors above and below did. Wow! Were we glad we asked. We caught brookies up to 11inches, with 9s in every pool. They were uniquely colored with bright creamy yellow bellies that reminded me of indigenous char from the NE. On a later trip, one of my kids caught a 14” brookie (!), and later still had one wrap him up that he said was bigger! Holy SHT!

I've done some fisheries work too, and have shocked 17" to 20" browns from some pretty small feeds. These fish are not caught bc they are either inaccessible to most anglers and/or they eat big stuff. Who would fish a #4 streamer or bugger on .010 in a crick only a few feet wide? Sometimes it’s bc no one actually looks, or bothers to knock on a door.

X = Insert your own word here.
MotroutDecember 3rd, 2010, 7:42 pm
Posts: 319
I know what you mean about little creeks sometimes holding big trout. It's certainly true.

There's a little creek a half hour from my place that fits that description. It's on public land and is a designated wild trout stream, and a fair number of people even know about it. You know how it is in a state like Missouri-every public trout stream is known, even if it's really small and difficult to fish.

But this creek has such a reputation for being somewhere between difficult and impossible to fish that it's pretty much left alone. It is anywhere between 5 and 20 feet wide (although in the one or two places where it's near twenty feet wide, it's shallow, featureless, and fishless). The good water is all in the thick brush, where casting is just about impossible. And there is a little bit of angler pressure, mixed with the constant threat of natural predators. The trout are just extremely spooky.

This summer, I drove over there sans rod just to observe the thing. I've fished this creek on and off for several years now, and I've caught plenty of fingerlings up to 8", and a couple real beauties in the 10-12 inch range, all of them stream-born rainbows. But when I went to watch the creek that day, I saw how much more there is than meets the eye. By being very sneaky and doing lots of brush busting and belly-crawling, I got to see some really large trout, from 12 and 14 inches on up to 19 and 20 inchers. These are fish that most trout fisherman never see. I certainly had never seen them in several years of fishing it. But they were there, inevitably holding right on the edge of a thick rootwad or rock that they could hide under, picking off scuds, nymphs, and the occasional sculpin. If I moved suddenly at all, they were out of sight before I knew what happened.

The lesson for me is that there are almost always larger trout in these little streams than anyone suspects, and often there are a pretty good number of them. But they don't get big by being stupid, and I still have yet to catch any of the hog wild rainbows from that little creek, even though I know now where some of them live. In the final analysis, a fish like that may just not be catchable. But that doesn't stop me from trying.
"I don't know what fly fishing teaches us, but I think it's something we need to know."-John Gierach
AdirmanDecember 5th, 2010, 5:44 am
Monticello, NY

Posts: 504

Indeed and well done on your ability to observe thoselarge trout!! Since it is deer season currently in NY, I liken what you described to the deer hunter's ability to get a largebuck. Trust me:they don't get big w/o learning a thing or two about outwittng the average hunter!! You haveto be EXCEEDINGLY stealthy, patient, and be willing to go deeper into the harder areas to get to, quite often, to even be able to see one, then maybe you have a shot. Same thing!!
PaulRobertsDecember 5th, 2010, 7:23 am

Posts: 1776
Sounds like Benoit style hunting. Do you remember the Benoit's?

I'm not sure that big trout, or other fish, get big bc of smarts, as much as habits that keep them out of the limelight. Either way, they are not an easy catch -you earn them.
JesseDecember 7th, 2010, 4:44 pm
Posts: 378
Theres nothing better than working your way through the woods, the only thing drawing you nearer to your target of interest is the slight sound of running water. Theres nothing better than fishing dry flies on pools no larger than a bathtub. Then walking a along a small stream and marveling at its clarity. I love fishing small creeks of every kind that hold some of the most beautiful trout populations. And thats exactly why we have to always protect them to! No one ever hesitate to pick up that extra piece of trash, or transform the stream bed rocks to increase flow where its needed, or even poke holes in some peoples "man made dams!"
Most of us fish our whole lives..not knowing its not the fish that we are after.
Flytier37December 14th, 2010, 2:58 pm
Harrisburg, PA

Posts: 3
I know of a very small stream, of a limestone spring origin, which holds marvelous salmonids. The pristine water is paralleled by a fairly busy highway, and I can't believe nobody else took the hint like I did. I'm glad I found my new favorite stream, and I hope to protect it. The headwaters contain a dolomitic limestone aquifer, and a crystal clear, stony brook that flows less than 5 feet wide, through a forested area. There is a large limestone quarry, which makes the water slightly aqua blue, and the days of operation make easier fishing. The small, crystal clear stream is nearly impossible to fish on the days when the limestone dust doesnt add some turbidity. In this upper section, many wise 18-22 inch browns lurk, and my friend has caught one giant 24 inch wild male. These trout are very smart, beautiful, and create a challenging fight. The best areas to fish are the largest pools with undercut banks, root wads, or sunken timber. The whole section holds many wild browns of smaller size also, and the occasional hatchery escapie. Forgot to mention, the large limestone spring has a small, private trout hatchery, which mostly raises rainbows and golden rainbows, and the occasional football shaped rainbow may be the result. The calcium and magnesium rich spring produces about 500 gallons a minute of 54 degree water.
Slightly downstream, another limestone stream enters, nearly doubling the stream size. This tributary is about 3 feet wide, but is warm and has lower water quality. It flows through open cow pasture, and contains poor substrate and shading. This tributary still, amazingly, holds a decent population of wild browns. At the confluence, I measured 62 degree water on a hot August afternoon, with the tributary being in the low 70's. Below this point, the stream is mostly flats and riffles with only the occasional small wild brown. It's channelized though a small town, winds out, crosses the highway again, and confludes with another small spring tributary in the meadow section. This section has some trees, tall grass, and grazing cattle, with deep, woody pools and nice undercuts. This area extends for about a half mile, with a good population of wild browns, which get fairly large, and many "chubs." Eventually the stream spilts, and becomes to small and shallow for good fishing. Where it joins again, theres a one hundred yard riffle, then the best pool in the creek. This pool is about 10 yards of the side of the highway, so i stay low when i fish it. The pool has a strong riffle at its head, is about 4 feet deep, has a very deep undercut, daffodils growing on the bank, and is about 10 feet wide and 15 feet long. Ive caught one 21 inch rainbow here on a size 2 clouser, an 18 inch spawning male brown on a sucker spawn, and many smaller browns and rainbows this fall. The huge skool of shiners provides good food, and annoyance. :) There are many nice pools and runs below, with trout up to 18 inches. In the lower reaches, the stream is about 10 feet wide and resembles a mountain stream, and stays around 65 in the summer. The only hint I will give you is that it's a Susquehanna river tributary in central PA. If you find it by luck, enjoy, and help me in my goal of protecting, and sampling :D this amazing resource.
Flies and fins, they're all I have, and some folks think that it's so sad, I could've been a politician, or a scientist

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