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Jim Chapralis' Five-Minute Course for
Small Stream Fishing Success

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After fishing in approximately 40 countries for most of the important game fish, I've discovered that I'm hopelessly addicted to trout fishing in small streams. They present a tremendous challenge, especially on heavily fished creeks (or "cricks" as they are known locally). Anglers who have scored heavily and mightily on the big, famous rivers often have trouble on the small, brushy streams. The big rivers are more forgiving (bad casts, careless wading, etc.) than the smaller counterparts. Here are just a few rules that will increase your score on small streams.

1. Obtain the right tackle:
Everyone knows that you need to match the fly line to the fly rod, but you also need to use the right leader and this must be in harmony with the streams you fish and the flies you plan to use. Rule-of-thumb: Use the lightest, longest leader you can adequately handle. Start with a manageable 9ft. 5X leader for dry-fly fishing. On some streams or in bright weather you may have to lengthen the leader (12 feet) and use a 6X tippet. Obtain the right fly patterns. What works on an Eastern stream may not be effective in the Midwest. Ask local fly shops for specific patterns and sizes. They know what is needed on a day-to-day basis. Buy some flies or other tackle from them (you know, to establish a rapport for the future!).

2. Sharpen your casting skills:
Most of us can use a little casting practice particularly at the beginning of the season. No sense in having the best equipment if we can't use it properly. Right? So we need to practice, practice, practice. Check out:

LESSON THREE: The Dry-Fly Event

LESSON FOUR: The Trout-Fly Event

TIP: Wherever you practice make sure you tie on a piece of yarn or a fly to your leader (but cut off the barb and point at the bend so that you don't hook yourself!). Use a leader length and tippet size similar to what you expect to use in actual fishing.

Important: Don't worry about distance; worry about dropping the fly accurately and quietly on the surface. For most stream fishing you won't need more than 30 feet of line max, plus the leader. I can cast a very long fly but seldom do I cast more than 20 to 25 feet of line plus the leader in stream fishing.

Very Important: Practice your roll casting. (You need to practice this on water.) In small, brushy streams this is valuable cast! Another excellent cast is the "bow-and-arrow." Cast at places that are very difficult to fish (under overhanging trees, or at a nice run where a backcast is impossible, etc), using the roll and bow-and-arrow casts. Why? Most anglers pass them up to fish easier, open stretches; so BIG trout may hang out there. Again accuracy pays off.

Also Very Important: After you make a cast and completed the drift, lift or "peel" the line off the surface. DO NOT RIP IT OFF (which will scare trout and start a chain reaction of frenzied trout).

3. Wade quietly. And s-l-o-w-l-y.
This is very hard to do, because the temptation is to make as many casts to as many likely spots as possible. BUT...if you wade fast, you will scare trout and they will alarm other trout up ahead. If you see a roll of surface water moving ahead of you, you are wading too fast. When you come to a bend that you know contains big trout, and if you think you've alarmed them, wait for ten minutes before casting (Lee Wulff suggested an even longer time!). Yeah, I know, that it's hard to wait that long without casting. Wade quietly. And if you're fishing from the banks walk softly and slowly. Creep and stalk!

At appropriate places, in small streams, you may want to kneel as you approach certain stretches (you can use knee pads for comfort). Stalking is very important in small, hard-fished streams.

Important: If at all possible, avoid fishing stretches that other anglers had fished recently (within three or four hours). On small streams-at least on the ones I fish-following another angler usually means very poor results.

4. Pay attention!
This is not the time to daydream or think about business or problems. This is the time to pay total attention to the fly and your drift, and obviously be ready to set the hook. Look for signs, a flash, or a bulge of water just below the surface. If you see a puff of sand or silt coming downstream, you probably scared a nice trout, which zoomed up ahead. Remember the exact place and approach and fish it carefully the next time you fish that section.

5. Setting the hook.
I break off a lot fish during the season, especially when I'm using very light tippets and fishing is slow. There is a rise! I set hook! Too hard! Time to tie on another tippet! I know better, but I'm too anxious. Try to strip in as much slack as possible during a drift and when you have a hit, all you need to do is put some tension on the line. Tighten up. Remember, all you have to do is move the hook less than a half an inch (beyond the barb) and you're on! I need to work on this as I'm losing some big trout in the daytime when I'm using light tippets. While many expert anglers sharpen hooks on bigger flies, they often neglect to do so on smaller trout flies. Use a fine file and touch up the hook point after hooking a trout.

6. Knot tying.
This is another crucial point. Take your time in tying knots. You only need two or three knots on the stream: Clinch, blood and perhaps double surgeon knots. Learn them and practice tying them. Moisten the leader material before you pull the knot tight. Be sure the knot is very tight, as a loose knot will slip and break. Tying a knot correctly is vital today because of the many different tippet and leader materials available now (some require slightly different turns than others). If you throw a wind knot in your leader, cut it and retie a blood knot. Do it before you hook that big fish.

That's it. Go catch some fish.

Jim C. Chapralis wrote FISHING PASSION: a lifelong love affair with angling. Click on Fishing Passion. Be sure to read his Le Shack chapter to see why he is addicted to small-stream fishing.


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