Our Man In Canada
October 4th, 1999

Small Stream Strategies

By Paul Marriner

Poisoned by a pit, renewed with refuse; such is the recent history of a small Nova Scotia stream near my home.

Once a the brook had repopulated naturally from the unpolluted upstream waters or if restocking would be necessary. The test-fishing expeditionncouraged me to review my small stream strategies. However, before the specifics, a brief explanation.

Shale is nasty stuff. When exposed to sunlight, crystals of acid appear on the surface. The longer the exposure without removal, the thicker the layer of crystals becomes. Such was the case during the dry summer of 1997 in a shale pit beside my local stream. Suddenly, a major rain dissolved the crystals and washed a toxic, acid brew into the creek. Everything downstream died. It took some sleuthing to discover the culprit.

Ironically, the problem was fixed by something which, in other circumstances, could have been a problem rather than a solution. Athough it's not supposed to work, a local resident, Bob Douglas, dumped gyprock waste into the pit. The pH of the stream improved rapidly. Next he decided to try general construction waste, and that worked, too. So, refuse that would normally clog up a landfull became the saviour of a stream.

"Small" is a relative adjective. What it conveys with respect to a stream depends upon the scale of other local waters. For the purpose of this piece, it includes anything an Olympian could broad-jump. Some of these will be meadow streams, offering reasonable casting room, but most, particularly in the east. are bowered with trees or alders. Where the inhabitants are brook or rainbow trout, they are likely sized proportionately to their homes, except for brown trout, whose growth is far less constrained by the dimensions of their habitat. Tackle, tactics, technique, flies: all need adjustment for these little waters.


The value of a short rod for wooded streams was vividly impressed on me some years ago, when I was fishing a Pennsylvania mountain stream with Professor Jack Eschenmann of Harrisburg. Jack's six and a half foot fiberglass stick put the fly in places I couldn't even contemplate with my eight and a half footer. It seemed that no matter where I tried to position my rod for a roll-cast, a bush or a tree branch caught the tip of the line. So think short. Also, unless you are so inclined, there is no need to plunk down big bucks for a new rod. My fishing partner, Paul MacDonald, converted the tip section of an old spinning rod into a serviceable tool for small streams. Should your destination have more space, however, a longer rod makes casting easier. I usually compromise with a 7-foot, 4-weight.

Saving money on lines is also possible. When the maximum casting distance rarely exceed thirty feet, what worth is a high-tech formulation, weight-forward line? Instead, spool an inexpensive double-taper. If convenient, try a line weight one step heavier than recommended for the rod. You may find this works better for short casts. Further, a simple reel is all that's necessary, I still use a low-budget Rimfly that I've had for almost thirty years.

Keeping thinking short when choosing or building a leader. Extended drag-free floats aren't what this type of fishing is about. Accurate casts with short floats, is. So I use a steeply tapered four-foot leader with a two or three-foot tippet. Other than in the high, cold water of early spring, when a sinking braided leader comes in handy, I rely on weight integrated into the fly for subsurface fishing.


Small streams demand a different mindset from larger waters. Approach, reading the water, techniques - all need to be adapted. The following tactics have proved effective for me.


Highlighting stealth may insult your intelligence, but I regularly encounter anglers plodding the banks of little water with heavy footfalls and upright profiles. Occassionally, I even catch myself slipping from grace. Meadow trout are the least tolerant of such mistakes.

Where wading is possible, I usually will. Enter the water well away from the intended target and move very slowly. The heron is an overworked analogy, but most apt.

A tactic which won't appeal to the impatient is the "long wait." Particularly when expecting a hatch, select a good-looking bit of water, either from experience or judgement. Quietly work into a position on the bank which lets you cast to the best spots, say a back-eddy or a useful riffle, and sit. Nearby trout will likely spook during this manoeuver, but after fifteen or twenty minutes the natural world will begin to accept your presence. Birds will sit on the branches beside you, and trout will move back into feeding lies. Now, careful casts combined with minimal landing disturbance can result in a half-dozen trout released before the honeymoon ends. When I was an Ontarian, I had several spots like this on a favourite creek that always produced with the "long wait." ~ Paul Marriner

Next time, Reading the Water, Techniques and Flies.

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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