Now that trout season is here, it’s time for one of my favorite activities — fishing small creeks. Since I grew up on the Auburn Ravine’s North Fork, I’ve long been an affeciando of catching trout out of trickles. Most of the time little creeks give up…well…little trout, but size isn’t really what’s important here. There’s just something about hooking a vibrantly colored little native rainbow or brown or brookie out of a creek you could step across that’s good for one’s soul.
One of the most appealing aspects of fishing small streams is the inherent simplicity. No triple decker tackle boxes stocked with the latest in fish catching weaponry are needed. Just grab your rod and a handful of lures and you’re in business. Of course, you can load your box with a billion different lures if you so desire, but four basic baits will cover just about every small creek situation.
The most productive lures that I have ever used on creek trout are small leadhead jigs. Notice I didn’t say crappie jigs. A typical crappie jig will weigh about 1/32 to 1/16 of an ounce — which is much too heavy and lage for spooky fish residing in a rivulet. The largest size you can usually get away with is a 1/64 ouncer and I prefer the 1/80, and particularly, the 1/100-ounce jig sizes.
Keep a good supply of both marabou and rubber jigs on hand. In the marabou, I primarily use colors such as olive, brown, purple and black. Jigs in these patterns can imitate everything from nymphs to terrestrial insects to rough fish fry. In the rubber jig department, I use a lot of clear/silver sparkle patterns when fishing waters known for larger trout. These particular jigs resemble baby shiners or trout and are favorites of big fish, especially browns.
Spinners are also good lures to keep handy when fishing small streams. They seem to do their best work in the spring when the water is cold and running high, but you can also do well through the summer with them. On the smallest of streams, you’re best off using No. 00 Mepps in nickel or brass or 1/32-ounce Panther Martins in either the black with yellow spots or the silver blade/yellow body models. Since both of these brands of spinners typically come equipped with treble hooks, I take some pliers and cut the points off one or two of the hooks. I also pinch the barb down on all the hooks — without three barbed hooks on your lures, you may lose a few fish, but you’ll also be able to release any ones you catch with minimal effort.
The third key ingredient of a small streamer’s box should be spoons. About the only ones small enough that I have found are the 1/32-ounce Dardevles. These little guys are very thin-bladed and have a great fluttering action. Like the sparkle jigs, I use spoons most often in waters that harbor larger, cannibalistic trout.
The other small stream lure that can be effective at times is the plastic worm. The classic Creme 2 1/4-inch Scoundrel is a killer, but they’re tough to find. If you can’t locate any, buy some of the 4-inch finesse worms that are so popular with Western bass anglers and break them in half. Browns or purples are the top colors, but I have also done well with tan and black.
Now that you’ve got your box loaded, it’s time to hit the water. The Cardinal Rule of all tiny creek fishing is to fish from a downstream position. As noted earlier, trout in little streams are incredibly spooky and if you try to approach a pool from upstream, you’ll usually send the fish scurrying for cover long before you ever get a cast off. Stealth is of utmost importance in this type of fishing, so try to avoid wearing bright clothing and keep as low to the ground as possible. When fishing a creek, I end up doing quite a bit of crawling from spot to spot and casting while lying on my back to keep the fish from detecting my presence. Also keep in mind the sun’s position — if it’s behind you, you’re going to have to pay close attention to where your shadow is landing. A dark shadow thrown across a pool will spook trout more quickly anything else.
With that said, let’s discuss how to present the lures listed above. Since the majority of your fishing needs to take place from downstream, the techniques for all these lures are similar. Beginning with jigs, throw them to the head of a pool and let them sink about half way to the bottom. At that point, while you’re holding the rod in your right hand, grab the line just below the first guide on the rod. With gentle, 1- to 2-inch pulls (like you’re stripping in a fly with a flyrod), retrieve the jig. If a fish hits, take up the slack by raising the rod and then fight it on the reel. Jigs can also be hopped right along the bottom using this technique. When allowing a jig to sink, pay close attention to your line at the point where it enters the water. Watch for any unusual twitch — these tiny jigs sink fairly slowly and trout will often pick them up on the way down.
When fishing plastic worms for trout, you’ll need to employ similar tactics. To rig a worm, tie a No. 8 or No. 10 baitholder hook (barb removed) to the end of your line and thread it through the worm just like you’d do if you were using a nightcrawler. To avoid missing a bunch of short strikes, it’s best to place the hook as near the tail of the worm as you can get it.
Without any weight, toss the worm to the top of the pool (plastic worms are pretty dense and cast well on their own) and allow it to sink to the bottom. Again, pay attention to your line — many strikes will occur as the bait is falling. Slowly, and I mean s-l-o-w-l-y, crawl the worm along the bottom. If you get a hit, strike immediately so the fish doesn’t have a chance to swallow the bait.
Spinners and spoons are pretty simple to use — basically, cast above the area you think the fish are holding and reel slowly back towards you. Unlike steelhead fishing, a slow blade spin isn’t critical unless the water’s a little off-color or stained. Spinners like Mepps Aglias, Rooster Tails and Blue Fox can be a bit tough to use when casting upstream into fast water because it takes quite a bit of resistance to get the blade spinning. They’re better suited for slower moving pools and runs. Lures with in-line blades like the Panther Martin, however, have no trouble working in swift water and are the best choice for that application. The Dardevle spoons work best in long, deep pools with little current.
When using any of these lures, it’s critical to “soft cast” — in other words, try to cast your lure so it slips into the water quietly rather than splatting down hard. Remember, it’s not surf casting we’re talking about here — be subtle and you’ll catch more trout.