Blue lining, aka fishing small streams, is a passion for many fly anglers out there. Some devote their whole year to it and others just do it on occasion. Whether you have done it 1,000 times or are looking to the first time there's always something you can learn. Lets discuss some of the basics of blue lining.
This is always the first question. Where do I find these small streams that hold trout? Well the answer is sometimes easy and sometimes not. They surely aren't everywhere but in some places they are. The first place you should look is your state fish and game website. There you can typically find a listing of trout streams with natural reproduction. Some states may only list the best of the best which may be classified as a Class A or Blue Ribbon stream, but others will list any stream that has 2 year classes of wild fish as a minimum to make the list. Not only that, but many states will also give a GPS coordinate of the stretches they have surveyed and even let you know if the land around it is private or public. On this note, be sure to honor the privacy of home owners. If a stream is listed as being on private property, either don't fish it or even show up with a plate of cookies and knock on the door of the owner to ask for permission. This can usually work...
If you want to really be adventurous then you can do your own scouting. Look for cold water tributaries or other topography that may lend to good water temperatures and a good PH level to hold trout. You may just find a diamond in the rough.
The right gear goes a long way here. Many will debate it but there are some basics you should follow.
Rods - "Most people" would say a short 3 weight rod is a good starting point. I would recommend a 7-7.5' 3 weight as a good all around small stream rod. This gives you the length to not get hung up all the time and the back bone to do some bow and arrow casting into tight coverage. You can still get the delicacy for your dry flies as well but also handle the pool boss 18" brown you may encounter.
These rods can be either graphite or fiberglass. Glass is very popular on these types of streams for the feel of your casting stroke and the nostalgia of using it in these locations
Just like everything else, you can custom your rod choice to the conditions. You may fish a very open stream with typically small fish and want to throw a 6' 1 weight rod. You can also get into the world of tenkara fishing and see the advantages of using an 11'+ rod on smallers streams. Start basic and change up your gear for what suits you best.
Reels - This can be as basic as you want. Rarely do you need a drag system in most trout fishing but this may be the case where you really don't need much more than a line holder. The old clicker style reels are a favorite of many blue line anglers. You can also use any reel that matches your rod well, or even re-purpose an old reel you just don't use anymore.
Line - Depending on the cover of the stream you can adjust accordingly. If it's open and you're using a dry fly, then go ahead and match the weight rod you're using. If you have very tight cover and need the extra load in your rod going up a line weight may be advantageous. You can go with a weight forward line or double taper for these situations. The advantage of the double taper is the ability to flip a line around after some use to extend its life. A weight forward may be a bit lighter if you get your cast beyond the taper but that is extremely rare in these situations. In the end, it's all about preference.
Leaders - I'm personally a huge fan of furled leaders. They have a huge reduction in memory for more accurate casts. Just add some tippet onto the end and you're fishing. Keep them rather short though, 4-6 feet is a good place to start. Longer leaders are harder to cast in cover and you'll be hung up in the trees more than you would like.
Flies - This can somewhat be the easy part of this style of fishing. Many of these fish are very opportunistic. Meaning if they see something that looks good to eat, they'll eat it. Good high floating, visible dries are great on streams like this. Hi Viz parachute adams, royal wulff, elk hair caddis, stimulators, humpies, etc. Grab a handful and you'll be catching fish for sure. If you want to go underneath be sure to get some basic nymph patterns as well as a few attractor patterns as well. Pheasant tails, prince nymphs, hares ears, green weenies, san juan worms, squirmy worms, mop flies (yes I said it) can all work. I also tie a few small streamers as well. Your basic wooly buggers and zonker style flies in sizes 12-8 can work well in some of the larger pools.
Wear some dark colored clothes or even camouflage if you'd like. These fish can be spooky so be sure to approach the water with caution. Watch where your shadow lays and be sure to use cover like trees and large rocks to conceal your visibility. Work each hold or run from the bottom up. That way you may catch a fish at the tail of a pool and still be able to fish the top end without spooking the whole thing. Be slow and methodical with each pool. Make a few casts into each spot, THEN MOVE! This is the hardest thing for new blue liners to understand. If you don't catch something on the first 5 or so casts, you probably wont. Don't beat the water, just move to the next spot. It's not unusual to fish through a few miles of stream in these situations.
Work on your casting. Many times the first cast is the only one you'll get. You either place it right and get a take, or you get stuck in a tree and spook the hole. Work on a limited back cast. I hold my fly in my non casting hand as I cast into spots much of the day. There just isn't room to lay out a 20 foot cast on these streams. It's pretty much a modified roll cast, but once you get the hang of it you'll get used to how it performs. Also work on a bow and arrow cast. If you haven't seen this done before basically you take the fly/leader, pull it back like a bow and stress your rod. Aim at your spot and let go of the fly/leader. Be sure to hold onto the right spot or that fly will not be in the water, it will be in your hand. You can also hold slack line in your casting hand and release it at the right time to get some more distance as well. Practice this in your back yard to get it down well.
Much of this type of fishing can be done all year round. HOWEVER, be sure to know when the fish are spawning and avoid these streams during that time of the year. Educate yourself when that time typically is and be sure to know how to recognize what a redd is. This is loose gravel that the fish have moved over their fertilized eggs. Do not fish over spawning fish nor wade a stream with active reds. We want these wild fish to thrive!
We hope you learned something today in reading this. Check out the following items to better prepare you for some blue line fishing!
Need to get fully set up, check out our small stream trout kits!
We have a 7-7.5' 3 weight rod in each of our 3 rod series. Check them out HERE.
Need some of the flies we mentioned, get them for as little as $.90 HERE.
Our new Alpha SS lines come in WF and DT with a taper built just for these situations.
If you haven't tried a furled leader, give it a go. You'll be pleasantly surprised.