Creek Techniques

Tom Jarman disentangles his approach to small streams

If you enjoy fishing rivers in Australia, then the odds are you will spend a lot of time on small streams and creeks. Our mountain ranges lack elevation, and trout waters flowing off them tend to have a limited volume of water when compared to many other fly fishing regions around the world. The trout are rarely large, but the angler’s proximity to the fish and the intimacy of the streamside vegetation intensify the experience. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a trout at close range follow your fly and then eat it right in front of you.
The techniques and skills we apply on small waters are important for all anglers, because when we are fishing larger waters we are simply breaking them down into small pieces to make them easier to target. This makes creeks and smaller streams a great learning ground to hone your skills, as you need to worry less about reading the water and focus more on achieving good presentations.
Locating trout on a small creek or stream is made easier by the fact that there is less water for them to be in, and often you can fish all of the available water in front of you. Several other key factors also make them easier to target…
On any small waterway, depth is going to be your friend. It is water that will hold fish all season long, as it is least affected by low and high flows, providing more cover from predators. Depth can be found in the form of pools, depressions behind and around structure, or just a sweeping bend. You will potentially catch multiple fish in the same spot because this water holds good numbers, and trout on smaller waters are often more opportunistic and competitive.
Time of year will also affect where you find most of your fish. Early in the season, or any time with high flows, the fish will be set-up in the softer water and margins. They don’t have to expend as much energy in these positions. As the season progresses, flows subside and water temperatures increase. Under these conditions trout will typically seek out the bubbly oxygenated water and are more comfortable sitting in the main current to take advantage of available food. If flows drop too much and water temperatures rise too high, the fish will seek out the safety of any available deep water or structure and wait out the low flows.
Reading the water on a creek may be simpler, but one skill that becomes more complicated is the angler’s approach and body positioning. With bushes and overhanging trees having an amazing ability to be located exactly where you want to make your back-cast, you are rarely able to stand and fish from the ideal spot. Being comfortable casting on both your forehand and backhand is an advantage, and where an adequate back-cast is too difficult, you will find a roll cast or bow-and-arrow cast very useful if you can get close to the fish. Being prepared to compromise on your positioning and method of presenting the fly is very important.
When there is a lot of water pushing down a small stream it is amazing how close you can get to the fish. There is so much going on in their environment that an angler standing three or four metres below them is the least of their concerns. You will find that the slower and ‘flatter’ the water is, as in a small pool for example, the further away you will need to position yourself.
At lower water levels, getting close is more difficult as the trout become more sensitive to subtle changes in their immediate environment.
When approaching a likely lie, I always like to position myself so that there is something between the fish and me. This can be a boulder, a small bush, a logjam, or even just some fast current. This helps conceal my presence, even if just a little, and allows me to get closer. This is always my aim — to get as close to the fish as possible. It makes casting, line management, avoiding trees and other obstacles far easier. Striking efficiency is also improved as there is less line to pick up when setting the hook — this is a great example of a skill that applies to both small streams and larger rivers.
In pocket water I like to position myself to the side of the pockets I am targeting. This allows me to read and fish the full length of the pocket, including the back half and tail, with good control and connection to
my flies.
When fishing a run or pool I try to position myself below the water I am fishing and to the side. This allows me to achieve long drifts, fishing the flies alongside me and slightly below to extend the drift.
When fishing plunge pools I position myself directly beneath them, whilst being prepared to adjust my position to either side after the first few drifts. The currents can be very changeable with the amount of upwelling, and it’s hard to predict how your drift will play out.
When approaching a tail-out, I want to ensure that I am standing beneath it in the faster water. This allows me to fish the softer water before it accelerates, keeping a high rod angle and as much line off the water as possible.
Fishing at close range, you are often able to keep your line and leader completely off the water, using a style similar to Euro nymphing. This helps eliminate drag, increases control and improves the quality of your drift dramatically. With many complex currents around rocks, fishing in this way will enable you to directly navigate the pockets and seams where the fish are holding. It will also help to avoid the annoying debris and snags that often sit right in prime positions.
My go-to rigs on small water are ‘nymph below dry’ (dry-dropper) and single dry fly. I like to fish nymph below dry early and late in the season, or after rain when there are reasonable flows. In higher flows the fish will rarely come up and eat a dry, so having a nymph on allows you to attract those fish that aren’t willing to move as far to eat.
Typically I like to fish my nymph 50 to 60 cm beneath a dry fly. 2.5 mm and 2.3 mm tungsten beaded nymphs in a size 16 are my go-to nymphs. Having the correct weight fly is more important than having the correct pattern, but a Pheasant Tail, Tag or Hares Ear nymph is ideal.
For my dry fly, I like something reasonably buoyant. A size 14 Deer Hair or CDC Sedge suspends the nymph well and will also catch plenty of fish that are happy to eat off the surface. I also like a highly visible fly, such as a Hi-vis Parachute Caddis, which ensures I can closely track every drift, and strike at the slightest pause. In my experience, trout are not deterred by hi-vis posts.
Fishing a single dry fly is best throughout summer or whenever the flows are down a little. When there is less water the fish don’t need to move far to take your dry fly, making a surface eat a likely proposition. A single dry is a less invasive and more subtle way to present a fly. When the trout are wary and spooky, having beaded flies plopping down on the water can be a bit much, especially when they can already sense the smallest of dry flies gently landing on the water.
I try to fish as long a leader as possible. This makes the presentation more delicate and avoids the risk of landing my fly line over fish.
There are countless dry flies that will catch fish throughout a season, but some of my favourites include the Parachute Mayfly, CDC Sedge or F-fly, Klinkhamer, and Parachute Caddis. The fish in our creeks and streams are small, so I keep fly size relatively small — size 14 to 18 is ideal.
These two rigs are very versatile and will cover you for a whole season on our small creeks and streams. Both allow you to fish short to the fish if you can get close to them, or lengthen out and cast from a distance if they are a bit spooky. Typically, over a day on the water, you’ll need to use a mix of both as you encounter different types of water on your way up a stream.
As with any form of fishing, the skills we learn along the way are transferable to other waters. The skills and presentations we refine on creeks and small streams make our fishing on larger rivers much easier and more enjoyable. Fishing at close range provides a fantastic opportunity to directly observe trout behaviours and responses to your presentations, giving you immediate feedback and allowing you to adjust your approach. So get out there and discover the secrets that small creeks have to offer.

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