Sometimes, you’ve just gotta leave the boat, the expensive graphite rods and 27 tackle boxes at home and head for a tiny creek for some trout fishing. There’s just something so pure and basic about it. I don’t care if most of the trout are 9 inches long — it’s still a blast and, if I happen to catch a 12 incher, I’m as fired up about it as I would be a 12-pound steelhead.
Of course, summer’s the time to head out and try a little small stream fishing or “crik hoppin,” as we used to call it when we were kids. To get you all primed up for a season of light tackle fun, here are some basic tips.
Let’s start with the four main lure styles you’ll need to be successful.
When fishing a small stream, I’m a big fan of the “keep it simple” principle. You don’t need a triple-decker tackle box, $400 waders and an L.L. Bean vest. Just throw on some shorts and water sandals, keep a few lures in a small box in your pocket and then grab your rod and go!
The 4 basic “Food Groups”
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 large 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 department, 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. As far as rubber jigs go, I use a lot of clear/silver sparkle patterns when fishing waters known for larger trout. These jigs resemble baby shiners or other small fish and are favorites of big trout, 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, the smallest Rooster Tail or 1/32-ounce Panther Martins in either the black with yellow spots or the silver blade/yellow body models. Since all 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 Crème 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. Berkley also makes Power Trout worms now that come in a variety of colors. They work well but are so thin that they are tough to rig properly
The Cardinal Rule
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. Trout living in a trickle 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 than anything else. Also be mindful of your rod’s finish. If you’re using a stick that’s got a glossy overcoat or a bright paint job, consider switching to a black matte finish. Sounds a little funny, but the shine off a glossy or bright rod can catch the sun enough to alert the fish of your presence.
When I’m fishing a small jig for trout, I like to throw it to the head of a pool and let it sink about half way to the bottom. At that point, I’ll retrieve the lure slowly with gentle, 1- to 2-inch hops.If that doesn’t draw a strike, I’ll let the lure sink all the way to the bottom on the next cast and hop it along the rocks. Keep in mind that tiny marabou jigs sink very slowly, so it’s good practice to pay close attention to your line where it enters the water. Watch for any unusual twitch – trout often pick them up on the way down.
I’ll also sometimes fish a jig (or plastic worm) under a small float or fly fishing indicator. When fishing this way, run the lure so that it will be suspended just off the bottom and allow it to drift – drag free – through the entire run.
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 (most plastic worms except the Berkley Trout 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 where you think the fish are holding and reel slowly back towards your position. Vary your retrieve speed until you figure out what the fish want – a rule of thumb to keep in mind is: cold water, slow retrieve and warm water, fast retrieve.
For the upstream presentation, spinners with in-line blades (think Panther Martin) spin with little effort and work best, while lures like Mepps Aglias, Rooster Tails and Blue Foxes can be a bit tough to use when casting up into fast water because it takes quite a bit of resistance to get their blades spinning. They’re better suited for slower moving pools and runs. The Dardevle spoons I mentioned earlier 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 lob your lure so it slips into the water quietly. If your lure lands with a loud splat, you’re going to send the fish running for cover.