Buzz Ramsey wrote a good primer on spinner fishing a while back, but his write up was a general guide to how to fish. What I'm intending to do here, is give everyone my
take on my favorite aspect of trout fishing - fishing on small streams and creeks.
Small streams hold a very special place to me - my first solo fishing trips when I turned 16 were to small streams - places where I could work on my newly developing fly-fishing skills, and learn how to fish artificial lures. They are places to explore, they're changing environments, and you can go back to them and find things completely different from how they were a week or two ago - water fluctuations, new dead falls, or an industrious beaver's engineering projects.
Some very productive small streams can be found disguised as those little 'ditches' that flow through the culvert under a neighborhood stream, or the brush lined trickle that runs along through a city park. All of those trickles end up somewhere - feeding larger trickles that turn into streams that turn into rivers.
Native, wild cutthroat trout are usually the name of the game on the waters I consider my home waters. There are the occasional rainbow trout - wild fish that are the successors to previously stocked fish, or fish that have found their way from stocked ponds adjacent to the stream. Some streams see small, but thriving, runs of steelhead, coho and chinook salmon, and some even host populations of ********* aka 'northern pikeminnow'. In some reaches, where the stream floods farm ponds, you can occasionally find a bass or sunfish that has somehow survived the cold water and carved out a living in the stream.
In Oregon, the vast majority of these streams which remain open to fishing are subject to artificial lure and fly regulations, along with strict catch & release rules.
A trophy trout from these waters would be in the 14 or 15 inch range - 10 to 12 inch fish would be very large, and the average adult trout are in the 5-8 inch range. These are fish that are generally not over-pressured from anglers, and may have adapted to urban living, and thus are not quickly disturbed by some noise or movement on the bank (from park strollers or vehicles passing overhead.) The streams that they call home could be anywhere from narrow enough for a man to straddle without wetting his feet, to twenty or even thirty feet across in some places. They can be from an inch deep to ten or twelve feet deep - but average only a couple feet. A deep run will usually be three or four feet deep.
There will be the typical makeup of any other stream with riffles feeding runs that feed pools. There will be undercut banks, gravel flats, boulders, maybe a water fall or rapid. Unlike larger streams though, all of this topography can be found in just a hundred yards or so of stream.
Sometimes you can find the same stream topography on larger waters, especially in the lower flows of summer, when rivers run low and clear. Islands emerge that, during the winter are covered in feet of water. Channels split, and the river takes on split personalities. A good example of this is the Wilson River - which is a very different river in June, July and August than it is in November, December, and January.
The photo above was taken on such an island, bone dry in the June sun. In a few more months, the place I was standing will be under a few feet of water. When you encounter such situations, approaching the river just as you would any other small stream will often produce results - sometimes surprising results. We'll cover this a bit more later.
The best approach to fishing small streams is to get wet - that is - to wade while fishing. Most small streams could be thoroughly covered from the banks - however wading puts you in the unique position of being able to effectively fish both
sides of the stream without changing position, as well as more importantly - being able to cast directly upstream to fish holding structure and cover. Also keeping in mind that most of these streams are brush lined, casting can be encumbered. Standing in the stream will give you more casting room, and allow for better presentation of fly or lure. I personally prefer to wear chest waders, even if I'm not expecting to wade water deeper than my knees. Chest waders keep me dry - and more importantly, warm. Even in the middle of summer, most of these small streams - fed by cold springs or snowmelt - never warm much above 50 degrees. I prefer a stocking foot wader with a good all leather wading boot and felt soles - but a wet wader could get by with just a good pair hiking boots to which they've glued felt or carpeting to for traction on the slippery silt and algae covered rocks. Small stream rocks are just as slippery, and just as hard as big stream rocks, and falling down hurts just as much on water with no one around to see you.
I also prefer to keep my small-stream tackle light and compact as possible. I don't like to carry a lot of useless gear - so I've pared down my tackle to a small chest pack - which carries a single double-sided Plano tackle box
(spinners on one side, a couple small flatfish and assorted terminal tackle - hooks, swivels, corkies, and tooth picks on the other), a pair of needle nose pliars (for the jobs that foreceps cannot handle), a couple small slip bobbers, a small (1" by 1/2") plastic box that holds about 6 1/16oz marabou jigs, a small tube of split shot, a few spools of assorted tippet material (6, 4, 3, and 2 lb test) and a small pack of 4" senko worms. The pack also came with a clip-on floating foam fly box, which uses magnets to stay closed. I've put about five dozen flies - nymphs, wets, streamers, and dries, with a few egg patterns - together in the box. To the outside of the vest I clip my foreceps (painted black, with the long arms wrapped in black electrical tape - which does double duty - if I cut myself, I can peal the tape off and wrap the cut with it until I get back to the car and access proper first aid gear. I also have a pair of nail clippers which are on a spring loaded lanyard, and a Gerber diving knife that has a semi serrated edge on one side, and a line-cutter on the other side of the blade. The back of the pack has two mesh carriers for water bottles, along with a zipper pack that can carry another small tackle box, or other flat items.
This chest pack keeps everything from shifting unlike my previous setup - which was an Eddie Bauer butt pack. The problem with the butt pack was that when I unzipped it to take out an item, all the others would shift, and I would have to redo everything when I put the item back, just to get it to close properly. And it would bounce while I walked - which is a personal annoyance. It also beats the day pack that I also used to use - the day packs biggest drawback was that I kept every
piece of tackle I owned in it. Salmon tackle, steelhead gear (including my leaders with corkies/yarn/snelled hooks wound around pipe insulation tubes), trout gear, bass gear, and sturgeon gear. I could fit three large plano boxes, and about a dozen small ones in it, with leader spools from 2 to 40 lb test, spare reels, fly boxes, lunch, and a change of clothes if I really wanted to. That got heavy at the end of the day - and as I get older (okay, I'm not that
old, but I'm not a strong young 18 year old anymore either) I appreciate less weight to pack around.
When fishing small streams I prefer ultra-light tackle, and I usually carry two rods with me (I've done trips with just one, but I always find myself gravitating back to carrying two) - usually an ultra light spinning rod, and my three weight fly rod. Occasionally it's two spinning rods, rigged with different lures. My favorite, go-to rod is my Okuma Celilo 7'6" ultra light spinning rod. I keep 4lb Trilene spooled on the Abu Garcia Ultra Spin 200 reel. It's got a quick action, it's light weight, with an ultra light power rating. The reddish brown blank, at least to me, blends in with the natural surroundings better than a darker blank of other rods.
90% of my small-stream lure fishing is done with in-line spinners, and 90% of that fishing is done with Rooster Tail spinners, though I have recently begun fishing more with Panther Martin and Blue Fox spinners in their smallest sizes. The Rooster Tail isn't going to be displaced in my tackle box though - I've caught more fish - trout, bass, and panfish - with Rooster Tails than any other lure.
My small stream trout spinners range from 1/24th oz to 1/6th oz, with the 1/16th and 1/8th oz sizes being the
most commonly used. My top three favorite patterns of Rooster Tails are hot pink with a silver blade, rainbow trout with a brass blade, and black with a silver blade. If I had to pick one lure type, in one pattern to do all the fishing for the rest of my life with I would happily take a hot pink rooster tail. It fishes well in muddied waters as it does in low clear summer flows.
I must say before I get much further - I modify all of my spinners. I clip two of the prongs off of the treble hooks and pinch the barb down on the remaining prong. Since I release almost all of the fish I catch, this modification makes releasing them unharmed as easy as possible. I've been doing this for the last ten years, and have not noticed a dramatic difference in the number of hookups from when I was using the barbed, unmodified treble. While I may have more fish spit the lure during the fight (almost always when they jump and shake the hook free on a slacked line) - it's worth it to me, personally, not to cause extra harm to the fish by pinning them with multiple barbs, necessitating longer time out of the water, and more handling. With a single barbless hook, I don't have to remove a fish from the water except for photos for most fish, and those that do come out are usually out for only a few quick seconds.