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GONZOMarch 31st, 2007, 12:53 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
You'll forgive me (I hope) for engaging in a little name-dropping, but yesterday I had the extreme pleasure of having lunch with Greg Hoover and Joe Humphreys. Greg is a well-known Penn State entomologist who did a major survey of PA mayflies and collaborated on a number of fly-fishing books/articles with Charlie Meck. Joe (for anyone who doesn't already know) is the second in succession of the legendary Penn State angling professors. (George Harvey, his mentor, was the first.)

I've known Greg for a while, but this was my first opportunity to meet Joe--what a thrill! Between Greg's entomological knowledge and Joe's incredible angling experience, I was enthralled.

Later that evening, I watched as Joe presented a program that he called "Romancing the Trout." This was about fly fishing for trout (mostly brookies, but also browns and rainbows) in the beautiful, boulder-strewn headwaters of Appalachian streams. I consider myself to be fairly accomplished at angling in tiny tribs and headwaters, but, after watching Joe, I realized what an artist he truly is. His mastery of the "bow-and-arrow" cast alone was a wonder to behold!

I'm wondering how many of you love these "thin blue lines" as much as I do and what experiences you might care to share. (PLEASE--no stream names!) Do you ever find matching the hatch to be important on such streams? (I rarely do.) Do you fish exclusively upstream, or are there some instances when downstream approaches have been effective? Do you find that pressure is increasing on these small waters? (I do.) While most headwater/trib fish are pretty small, have you ever been surprised by a real monster? (I have.) And finally, what equipment (rods, lines, flies, etc.) do you favor for these tiny waters?

Thanks,
Gonzo
RleePApril 1st, 2007, 10:24 am
NW PA - Pennsylvania's Glacial Pothole Wonderland

Posts: 398
Well, that's pretty cool! I knew Greg in a sort of "trading axhandles" way back when I was active with the PA Council of TU. He used to do a number of presentations for the assembled at annual meetings, etc. I used to assist Joe back when he would make an annual trek to a western PA Orvis shop to run beginners's FF classes. Joe is an excellent fisherman, probably the best nymph fisherman I've ever met. Probably also the most competitive angler I've ever met. Any of us could learn a lot from him.


>>I'm wondering how many of you love these "thin blue lines" as much as I do and what experiences you might care to share. (PLEASE--no stream names!) Do you ever find matching the hatch to be important on such streams? (I rarely do.) Do you fish exclusively upstream, or are there some instances when downstream approaches have been effective? Do you find that pressure is increasing on these small waters? (I do.) While most headwater/trib fish are pretty small, have you ever been surprised by a real monster? (I have.) And finally, what equipment (rods, lines, flies, etc.) do you favor for these tiny waters?>>

I have always loved them and in point of fact, they are my preferred setting for fly fishing for trout. I love the wild fish and I don't really care that much about their usual diminutive size. "Trophies" are a relative thing and I've got just as shaky and breathless from nailing a 10" brookie out of one of these dinky drinks as I ever have from catch am 18" fish from bigger water. I love the solitude and I love the constant sense of possibility about what is waiting for me up around the next bend and just out of sight. This is the only time I understand the lure of golf for some. The feeling is not dissimilar.

No, hatch matching doesn't matter on most of this water. And that too is fine with me. There are other places for that and the little water brings tests of it's own that are often more than compensatory. The approach and the ability to hit a softball size circle at 25 feet with a fly. There is a learning curve that unfolds at its own pace and where progress brings its own special sort of satisfaction. I remember a lot of small PA freestones that when I first began to fish them, I was sure only held brook trout because that was all I was catching. Until... Until I learned the value of staying low and moving slow. And then the browns began to come.

One of my favorite times to fish these streams was in the (usually) single day period they were in full spate, but semi-clear in the aftermath of a summer t-boomer. When I say full spate, I mean tie yourself to the bank, only a nutcase would stick a boot in the creek high...:) I've had fantastic humpy and stimulator fishing at these times. Once, on a little Elk County creek that was running in the trees, I took a 17" brown on a humpy flipped up next to a grass hummock that was at least 12 feet out of the creekbed. When I brought him to hand, he burped up 2 brookies, both about 5 inches.

While I often miss PA with a homesickness that is near feverish, one of the best things about hanging my fishing hat in the driftless region of WI these days are the wealth of little creeks. A few years back, on a whim, I fished up a dinky trib to one of Wisconsin's name creeks. Up around the 3rd or 4th bend from the mouth, I threw a big deerhair ant into a pool that was about the size of a platter you might use for the T-giving turkey. A nice brown zipped out from under the overhanging grass and sucked it in. When I unhooked him, I measured him against the rod. About 14". Then I took the rod and measured the width of the stream where he took the fly. It was maybe an inch less. Pretty cool...

I really love these places and certainly, for as long as I'm able to lift one foot high enough to let me pass over a streamside log, that's where I'll be found.

To answer some of the other questions Gonzo poses, yes I almost always fish upstream. But, this is dependent upon what I need to do to get a fly into the cover and to the fish. This sort of fishing calls, IMO, for us to make our own rules as we go. It brings out the approx. 1/12 of me that is Seneca Indian...:)

I suppose pressure is increasing on these streams. They are in some ways, the last frontier for the inquisitive, searching angler. At least without having to get on an airplane.. In any event, increasing pressure wouldn't surprise me. The entire world is going to hell from an overabundance of people. I learn this lesson every time I go to the mall and try to park...:)

In terms of equipment, I'm probably a throwback of sorts. I only own 1 rod lighter than a 5 wgt. I generally fish these creeks with one of 2 short 5's I have, an old Orvis 7' Small Stream and an even older Fenwick 605, a 6' rod for a 5 wgt. I like the ability of the slightly heavier rod and line to punch a cast under overhanging brush and the like. I think, if you talk to Humphries, you'll find that he favors a heavier outfit for this work as well for the same reasons. At least he did when I last talked with him. He was bemoaning the dearth of short 6 wgt. rods on the market at the time (mid-90's this was)

So far as flies, it depends a lot on water conditions. In high or moderate flows, I fish a lot of parachute Adams, dark deer hair caddis and small stimulators. All these in sizes 12-16 for the most part. My go to fly in lower flows is a big-a** deerhair ant, usually in a size 10. I seldom fish nymphs on these creeks, but I occasionally fish a bugger or a small clouser minnow if I am after a particular large fish.
But, I'm on top 90% of the time

Almost all this dry fly work on small PA freestones was done with 4X. Only in high summer when the creeks were sucking dust would I go down to 5X. I can't see where fishing 4X ever cost me a single fish, although it may have. Generally, I'm a house afire on the creek and don't have a lot of time to go back and pick a light tippet out of the trees. 4X was good for that. It has a higher yank tolerance threshold...:)

In Wisconsin though, this doesn't work. I fish mostly 5X and 6X.

Thanks for bringing up a topic very dear to my angling heart. I've been a small creek guy since forever and probably always will be.
GONZOApril 1st, 2007, 12:23 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Lee,

Thanks for your response. Your experiences with these little gems seem to parallel mine in most every way, especially in the affection we share for these waters. (And we also share a fraction of Amerindian heritage, though mine is Chippewa.)

It's interesting that you mentioned short rods with heavier line weights. While a 2- or 3-weight can be a lot of fun on many of these waters, when you are casting very little line or are trying to emulate one of Humphreys' bow-and-arrow casts, the heavier line is more effective. (Not to mention throwing an air-resistant dry into the teeth of a downslope wind on a short line.)

Thanks again,
Lloyd
Shawnny3April 1st, 2007, 12:46 pm
Moderator
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Nice thread. I started my flyfishing days on small creeks, and I still love to fish them when I can. What I used to love most was taking an entire day to walk as far up an unknown stream as I could. I'm at a stage now, though, at which I have 2 boys under the age of 4, so I never have the time to do that anymore - it's all I can do anymore to sneak out for an hour once a week in the summer on the big stream 5 minutes from my house. I really look forward to the days when my boys are older and I can go fishing and GET brownie points with the wife instead of SPEND them.

My brothers also share an affinity for small streams, but it's hard to fish them when we get together because small streams are, well, small. Too many people fishing is one of the greatest problems with our sport, but it really is a great problem. When we lament all the crowds fishing streams we used to have to ourselves, we have to remember that that's a consequence of how great our sport is. I love getting people interested in this pastime, but each person who falls for it is just one more person in my way when I want to go fishing, and the crowds irritate me as much as the next guy. Let's all remember, though, that each one of us was once that "one more person" fouling up some old codger's fishing - and we shouldn't let ourselves become that old codger. It's hard not to get annoyed when you find some ignoramus beating the water you wanted to fish, but sometimes you just have to force a smile and move on. It also might help to imagine what Joe Humphries would be thinking if he found you flailing around in one of HIS spots...

I don't use any special tackle on small streams, mainly because I'm too cheap to buy any more rods. I usually just choke up on the rod handle in tight places and try to get as close as possible to the fish before casting. Also, I'm in total agreement with RleeP about the heavier tippet - why cause any more aggravation than a small stream already affords by snapping off a fly on every bad cast? "Yank tolerance" is a key for me as well. As much as I love tying, I HATE to lose flies. In fact, my 6-wt is 4 inches shorter than it used to be, the price of recovering a fly after a bad cast long ago. Irrational to snap a rod trying to recover a fly? Sure. But nobody ever said flyfishing small streams was rational.

I love the points RleeP makes about the size of a fish being much less important than the pursuit. When you make that one perfect cast, probably of 10 feet or less, guiding your fly between three limbs and tucking it with a well-timed hesitation of your rod tip right behind that single medium-sized rock, by the Grace of God drawing up that 7-inch brookie to your badly tied and chewed-up Royal Wulff - there's not much in fishing that takes your breath away quite like that.

-Shawn

P.S. John Gierach has written a really nice book called 'Fly Fishing Small Streams'. Far from a technical work, it's more of a romantic comedy, something anyone who loves small streams would identify with. I recommend it.
Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
www.davisflydesigns.com
GONZOApril 1st, 2007, 2:48 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Thanks, Shawn. I sympathize about the fishing restrictions currently imposed by your family situation, but I also know that sharing the joys of small-stream trouting with your sons (when they are ready) is something that you'll cherish forever. And so will they.

Let's all remember, though, that each one of us was once that "one more person" fouling up some old codger's fishing....

Well put, and exactly right.

My brothers also share an affinity for small streams, but it's hard to fish them when we get together because small streams are, well, small.

It is hard to fish tiny waters with several people, but I often do it with a partner. Some work out a system where they separate, and the upstream partner ties a bright marker to a tree over the stream when he starts for the other partner to remove when he arrives at that spot. I just like to take turns. Sometimes we play "baseball"--three strikes and you're out. It's a nice discipline just to chill for a while and watch the other person fish while soaking in my surroundings. Often this allows me to discover things that I otherwise would have missed--an interesting mayfly, the shed skin of a watersnake, a distressed mink pacing angrily at the sight of intruders on his stream.

But small streams are also a matchless solitary experience. The sense of adventure and exploration are wonderful, and every step up the stream seems to draw me closer to the source of the things I love and crave about fly fishing.
StanislavApril 2nd, 2007, 5:05 am
Bulgaria

Posts: 22
That`s cool. I really like big rivers, but I fish more on small streams because the good rivers are not very close to my home and I can`t , go more than 2 times a week on a big river. That`s why really often I visit the small streams - that are close to my home, and I can go to the closest one for not more than 15 min.
So my impression are that matching the hatch is important not only about the drys but also about the nymphs. Me and a friend of mine was on such a stream that the main insect is caddis flies. So I tie a caddis pupae imitation on my tippet and for not more than 30 minutes caught 4 not bigger than 25 sm brownies. He did not catch anything. He was using a PT ,than he try with other nymphs but without any success. Than I gave him a fly as mine and on the first nice spot he caught his first fish for the day. That makes me thing that match the hatch is important but deffinetly not always. About the dry flies I thing they must be atractors and better a bigger ones. Because on my streams the water is very fast and there are no big hatches the fish just looking for smth delicious to eat. The fish doesn`t have any time to look the fly precisely so it must take a dessision very fast or otherwise the food will gone. That`s why I think bigger atractors such as stimulator,red tag, humphy,any grasshooper or other terestrial are good dry flies for small streams.
Most times I fish upstream, if we fish on streamers its better to fish downstream... but I don`t find fishing streamers on small streams very pleasant. The most important actually is the position from which you`ll make your cast. On some spots I can not cast upstream because of whatever reason so I round carefully and cast from the place where this is possible. You know some creeks are very brushy.
About the bow-and-arrow cast... I love it. I use small wt rods 5, 4 or smaller. Depend from the stream but if it`s brushy and difficult for ordinary casting I thin rods between 8` and 9` ft are better than shorter ones. It` just easier to put the fly wherever you want amd to controll it. For these brooks and spring creeks that are not brushy I use shorter rods 7`-8`ft. Because the lenght is not necessery. Again it depends very much. About the fly line - the most important for me is to be DT- because WF lines are heavier and they just slip out and your fly is going to the top guide. That`s happen when we fish on dry fly or small nymphes and I hate it.
Finally about the headwater monsters... Yes i have one 50 sm brown trout. It was great experience. I have the feeling that the fish will splash all the water from the pool.
That`s my experience and I really love these tiny headwaters and spring creeks.
The life is too short to fish a bad fly
TroutnutApril 2nd, 2007, 8:59 am
Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2727
You'll forgive me (I hope) for engaging in a little name-dropping


Of course! Nothing wrong with a little name dropping. Speaking of which, I got together with Lloyd Gonzales last weekend... ;)

It would be really interesting to meet Joe Humphreys. I've read parts of his Trout Tactics many times over.

Do you ever find matching the hatch to be important on such streams? (I rarely do.)


I've found that it's important in some places where the stream takes on the character of a larger river: big slow pools or slow deep runs.

Do you fish exclusively upstream, or are there some instances when downstream approaches have been effective?


Usually half and half: I will fish upstream through a stretch and then work my way down through the same water, letting a wet or small streamer swing down into the pools ahead of me. It feels especially clever to do that around a corner, although it doesn't usually work out as nicely as one would hope.

Do you find that pressure is increasing on these small waters? (I do.)


I haven't, but I only started fly fishing a few years ago so I don't have much of a history to compare the pressure against.

While most headwater/trib fish are pretty small, have you ever been surprised by a real monster? (I have.)


I guess it depends on your definition of monster, but I have been taken by surprise by a couple of 17-inch browns on water that seemed to skinny for them. I've read stories in books about guys pulling 23-inch fish from creeks you could jump across, and I know that's not uncommon in some places (especially spring creeks like Wisconsin's Driftless Area) but it's never happened for me.

And finally, what equipment (rods, lines, flies, etc.) do you favor for these tiny waters?


I got a nice Orvis Superfine 7' 4-weight last fall, and it's great for these little streams. As for flies, you already know I've got a thing for the Royal Wulff. Ants are probably my #2 choice.

Once, on a little Elk County creek that was running in the trees, I took a 17" brown on a humpy flipped up next to a grass hummock that was at least 12 feet out of the creekbed.


Interesting! And crazy. You're on the right website!

I've never tried fishing a trout stream out of its banks; I would have guessed the fish would either be hunkered down in the channel waiting for the water to calm down, or be spread out so much that fishing blind to them would be fruitless. Sounds like I guessed wrong.

(And we also share a fraction of Amerindian heritage, though mine is Chippewa.)


Me too! But I bet I've got the smallest fraction. I think I'm 1/512th Cherokee or something. I'm not sure exactly.

Too many people fishing is one of the greatest problems with our sport, but it really is a great problem.


That's a good point. The crowds are a nuisance when you're trying to find a spot to yourself to fish, but they're welcome allies when you're trying to convince the government not to allow a mining company to bulldoze a hilltop into your favorite river.

I usually don't mind meeting other fishermen on a small stream, especially if they're there for the same reasons I'm there, but certain types of people do get on my nerves. Yesterday, for example, a couple of guys jumped into the stream one pool ahead of me and started "fly fishing" a slow, shallow pool with a fly rod and reel spooled with nothing but mono and enough weight for a halibut rig. That reminded me why I steer clear of the lake run tribs sometimes.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
GONZOApril 2nd, 2007, 9:30 am
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Hi Stan,

I always enjoy getting the Bulgarian perspective from you. It reminds me how much fly fishers around the world have in common. It also makes me think about all of the American English idiom you have to wade through in order to communicate with us--I really appreciate your efforts.

On the significance of matching the hatch in small streams, I suppose it depends on the character of the stream and also how one defines a "small" stream. The tribs and headwaters that flow along the spine of the Appalachians are typically food-poor hard-rock streams. The fish are happy to eat whatever they can find and generally aren't very picky, but I can remember a few exceptions. Usually, hatches become more significant as one moves down the mainstem toward mouth and less significant as one moves toward the source.

Limestone spring creeks are different, and some little limestoners have strong hatches and fussy fish well up into their headwaters. Big fish are also found in surprisingly small places on these streams, and I never dismiss a limestone creek, no matter how small.

Of course, Lee and Shawn are right about size being a relative (or irrelevant) issue for a lover of small waters. A "dink" on one stream can be a "monster" on another. I've encountered a few 14"-18" trout on the tiny hard-rock streams, but big fish merely gild the lily there, and I never expect to find them. Mostly they are temporary visitors or cagey old cannibals that prey on the hapless little residents.

-Lloyd
StanislavApril 2nd, 2007, 10:08 am
Bulgaria

Posts: 22
I`m just coming from the nearest stream to my home. I fish wet flies today and caught two brownies at about 8`. The second one was relly intersting to catch. I sow the fish standing at the end of the pool. The water was extremely clear so I must hide myself very well. I squat and slowly pull up to the fish. The rod was Orvis superfine 4 wt 7` like Jason`s one. I was so close to the fish that I can count how many red spots it has. Than I do that bow and arrow cast gently... and the fish attack the fly... I lift the rod and it was there... perfect feeling from so close that you can not imagine, not more than 2 meters I saw the wite mouth of the fish in the moment when it take the fly.
Next time I`ll bring a foto with me and will make some pics to show you my stream and I`hope... some lovely brownies!

Tight lines to you all!
The life is too short to fish a bad fly
RleePApril 2nd, 2007, 2:09 pm
NW PA - Pennsylvania's Glacial Pothole Wonderland

Posts: 398
>I've never tried fishing a trout stream out of its banks; I would have guessed the fish would either be hunkered down in the channel waiting for the water to calm down, or be spread out so much that fishing blind to them would be fruitless. Sounds like I guessed wrong.>

Hi Jason...

I have a theory about that, or at least this particular instance. The creek in question, like many of its sort, is lousy with dinky brook trout and then has a small but stable pop. of browns. I think that during the spate in question, some of these bazillion brookies get mildly disoriented and start swimming around all over the place. And the larger browns figure this out and go after them. Which may be how they end up out of the flow cruising around the bases of the hemlocks and weaving through the semi-submerged hummocks.

It's a theory. I have a lot of them. Like a yellow humpy is all you need during 95% of sulfur hatches anywhere and like the likelyhood of the guy in front of you making a left against a long string of traffic is directly related to how hard you had to jump on your brakes 100 yards back when he suddenly pulled out in front of you..:)
GONZOApril 2nd, 2007, 7:26 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Stan, your encounter with that brownie is what sports programmers here in the states call "up close and personal." Nice trick!

Lee, I like your theories. I think it was Swisher and Richards who first pointed out a Humpy's resemblance to an emerging or crippled mayfly, and emergers are often the ticket during sulphur hatches. As for that last theory--ain't it the truth! :)
Shawnny3April 2nd, 2007, 7:29 pm
Moderator
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
I do look forward to those days with my boys, Gonzo. I only hope they'll share my passion for flyfishing (my three-year-old already ties flies with me, which is to say that he comes over when I'm tying, picks up a pair of my scissors, and carefully cuts whatever material he chooses to "tie" with into millions of little pieces). When fishing with someone else, I like your idea of taking turns and watching each other fish, something I too seldom do. It's too easy to let fishing become an extension of the busyness of life instead of an escape from it. I'll have to try doing that more. My brothers visited me here in PA last summer, and my younger brother had done very little nymphing before, so I got the chance to guide him for a few days until he got the hang of it - that was a lot of fun. By the end of the trip, he was (not surprisingly) outfishing me. Those who can't do...

Good point, Jason, about there being strength in numbers when trying to defend or restore stream habitat. It's nice to know there are other people keeping watch over my streams when I'm not there. If only they'd take a break whenever I want to fish, though...

Stan has pointed out one of the things I love most about small streams - the stealth often required to succeed. Often I'll fish at extremely close range, even on larger streams, because I love the challenge. I also find it necessary on heavily pressured waters to fish some of the skinniest water in the stream, which is not so different from fishing small streams. Sometimes I catch my biggest fish in the strangest places. When I do, I often find myself with a wry grin on my face, saying to myself, "Not too many people could have caught that one." This statement is usually followed, of course, with a stream of muted curses as my next cast lands twelve feet above my head in a tangle of limbs. If nothing else, this sport sure is humbling...

-Shawn
Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
www.davisflydesigns.com
GONZOApril 2nd, 2007, 7:46 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
If nothing else, this sport sure is humbling...

Amen, Shawn. Who was it that said that even on the most exalted throne in the world we are seated on nothing but our own arse? I think it was a brown trout. ;)
TheMidgeApril 26th, 2007, 7:05 am
Massachusetts

Posts: 16
I grew up fishing small streams in far northern Maine.... The small brook is still a passion of mine. My opinions on the questions are:
Hatch isn't all that important. A big bushy dry (Wulf's are great) will generally work well, put in the right spot. I have been surprised by the size of fish in small streams. I was recently fishing a small stream close to my new home that I'm not all that familiar with, only to find that Salmon running out of the Resevoir were feeding on anything that moved! (Hence my earlier post) Landlock's are quite an experience on a 3 wt.
Speaking of that, I have a little TFO 3 wt that I bought just for small streams. It's got a nice progressive action that roll cast's well, even for a short rod. In a small creek, I find the reel mostly unimportant (Although it was quite helpfull with the salmon last weekend)
Mostly what I love about the small streams is that generally the best ones are in places that are a long way's from anything else. The chance to get away is one of fly fishing's primary appeals to me, and the small streams in Massachusetts are generally the only break from Suburbia I get, when I'm only escaping for a couple of hours at a time
McjamesJuly 3rd, 2007, 10:46 am
Cortland Manor, NY

Posts: 139
I love the tiny streams, in large part for the solitude. But also because it forces me to laser focus on a miniature section of stream. On larger streams I sometimes have trouble targeting a particular slot and end up casting somewhat aimlessly. The tiny streams I have fished in N Central PA constantly surprise me with the amount of fish they hold-- I will walk across or through water that I am sure holds no fish only to see shadows darting away, and making me feel the clumsy oaf again and again.

I usually use dries although on some streams, like the upper reaches of Cedar Run, I have good success using small nymphs. The pattern does not seem to be important.

Like Gonzo mentioned, I often take turns with my buddy, leap-frogging up the stream. I enjoy this because with work/families/etc we dont get to see each other much and this is a nice way to fish but also catch up with each other.

ITs mainly brook trout for me, although I've caught a few browns on stonefly nymphs when the water is high and slightly off color.
I am haunted by waters

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