Small stream fly fishing is not a glamorous sport and it’s difficult to brag about the bite-size 6″ trout that you catch at the company picnic. But the satisfaction that comes from fishing an undiscovered virgin trout stream that’s never been fished before is hard to describe.
The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing, written by Tom Rosenbauer, captures that feeling beautifully. Dense with information, but easy to read and richly illustrated, it provides a comprehensive primer to small stream fly fishing, usable by conventional fly fisherman as well as acolytes of the Tenkara style. I’ve been known to fly fish using both styles of rods and view them simply as tools, each with pros and cons, when fishing for the small trout that live in small streams and creeks.
Why fish in small streams? Small trout streams are all around us, close to home, and easy to access. They’re also thirty times as abundant as many bigger, more famous trout streams and most of them are on public land, making them more accessible. Convenience, access, abundance, and very low pressure from other fishermen, make these stream fun to fish.
Any way you cut it, small stream fly fishing is very different from fishing a big river or lake and requires a new combination of skills, which Rosenbauer explains and illustrates in detail:
First, you have to find the stream, both on a map and on foot, which requires good navigation and off-trail hiking skills. This will appeal to hikers and backpackers who want to mix up their adventures and slow down to enjoy the bounty of the landscape rather than rushing through it.
Next, you have to find the fish, which requires a good understanding of stream bed geology and trout behavior. Trout habits and behavior vary in different types of streams and it’s good to understand the differences. On a side note, Rosenbauer covers east coast stream types and locations in the Eastern US and the Northeast as well as out west, which few fly fishing books do.
Once you find the fish, you have to give them an appetizing presentation. If you’re a reel fisherman, this requires good casting skills, which Rosenbauer covers in-depth. He doesn’t touch on Tenkara techniques at all, but if you’re familiar with them, you’ll quickly see how much easier it is to fish without a reel and heavy line that can spook a fish. Just saying…I use both types of rods, although it can be a hassle to cast on a small stream with a reel when you are on a vegetation choked stream with dense tree cover.
Fly selection is also an important part of presentation, but it’s far less complicated on small streams than you’d realize. The fish aren’t usually very picky because they don’t see much variety drifting past them. They’re also willing to snap at terrestrials like ants, spiders, beetles, and moths, which make up 50-90% of their normal diet. This makes fly selection on small streams easy.
Rosenbauer’s The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing is more accessible for newer fisherman than David Hughes’ classic Reading Trout Water, because it’s better illustrated and presented in a coffee table style format with lots of excellent pictures. I found it easy to read and inspiring, especially this spring while I waited for the snow to melt, the streams to get warmer, and the trout to wake up.
The author purchased this book with his own funds.