The most overlooked fishing across the U.S. is that found in small streams. Small is a difficult designation to fully define, but for the purposes this writing small is considered those bodies of water that are generally not navigable by power boats. These are the streams that appear insignificant, the streams that seldom see an angler. And they are scattered about the country in large numbers.
One plus to small stream fishing is the very fact that they are overlooked. The angler may fish an entire day and see no one else on the water. And since these are not fished often, the fish there are not constantly bombarded by every type lure known to humanity. This often makes those fish more than willing to cooperate with those few anglers who do actually get a lure in the water.
Although a stream may at first glance appear insignificant and prompt doubts about its productivity, seldom is this a reality. This was brought to my attention many years back when a friend invited me to accompany him on a bass fishing trip. The stream in question is one I had known all my life. But I had never fished it. In fact, I had intentionally overlooked it, suspecting it was not worth the effort. My friend knew better.
He and I drove down a woods road as far as it allowed, and then grabbed a casting rig each and walked across a strip of woods to the stream. “Tie on a spinnerbait and cast to the logs and where the sandbars drop off,” he said as he stepped into the knee-deep flow. I followed his advice.
The first cast brought a shock. The spinner had hardly splashed to the water’s surface before it was attacked. A two-pound Kentucky spotted bass hit it with great enthusiasm, and I soon landed a fish that was to change my way of thinking. The two of us collected 26 that fall afternoon, most released to be there the next time we visited.
There are drawbacks to small streams. One is that which was mentioned at the outset of this article—navigation. None of those comfortable bass rigs here. Such streams demand a great deal of effort and are limited to canoes and kayaks if any water craft at all. The best way for most fishing on these is wading. It can be arduous, and it can be a bit dangerous. Log jams are prevalent, and in many places snakes are common. The angler must always be aware of the possibility of slipping on wet logs, this posing at least remote possibility of falling and becoming trapped. And the angler must keep on the lookout for things that sting and bite. Just be careful and make logical, wise choices.
Another limitation is that many small streams wind through private property. Depending upon location and laws of individual states, land adjacent to streams may be considered private. This restricts, both ethically and legally, the use of streamside routes when moving about. Know the regulations and follow them closely.
The type of fish in small streams depends a great deal upon geography. Bass, crappie, catfish, and sunfishes are generally encountered. And in cold-water mountain streams, the nod goes to trout. All, where present, can be encountered and caught by the angler willing to put forth the effort to fish the tiny trickles.
Gear? That depends on the fish available. If bass are the target, casting rigs are hard to beat. Because of downed timber and tangles into which bass will head when hooked, go heavy on line. Something in the 14-pound class is beneficial.
If it is the smaller species that dominate, ultra-lights and flyrods are ideal. Small spinners on ultra-lights will take a variety of sunfish and small bass. So will flyrods. And where trout are king, flyrods are the No. 1 choice. Small streams are too often overlooked. This is unfortunate, for they can provide some close-to-home and economical angling that too few experience. Don’t fall victim to dismissing these streams. They can delight and surprise any one who takes the time to explore them.