Trout Everywhere – Craig Rist

In Tasmania, trout have found their way into just about every trickle of water around the state. Many of these are very small tributaries of larger more popular rivers. The majority of the fish in these smaller streams are by no means monsters, with the average fish being somewhere between half a pound and a pound. Small brown trout dominate most of these small streams with the exception of a few rainbow only waters that are isolated from the dominant brown trout population.?The upper Mersey River between Lake Meston and Junction Lake is a classic example of this with its huge impassable waterfalls preventing any further migration of brown trout up stream.


Many fish possessing brilliant red or orange spots down their sides.?But by far the most appealing thing about these small streams is the seemingly endless number of opportunities you have to actually catch a trout.
On some streams, every pool will contain half a dozen or more fish, so if you miss an opportunity in one pool you simply move onto the next and try again. These small streams can teach you so much about trout and the way they hold and feed in different parts of the stream. Lessons are often learnt by trial and error, with a single day on a small stream giving you many opportunities to learn the way of a trout in a river.?
The world of a trout in a small stream is highlighted even more with a pair of Polaroid sunglasses on a bright sunny day. The smaller fish can be seen holding in the shallow tail of the pool while the larger fish are often holding stationary or patrolling the best of mid section. Take a moment to watch the fish in a pool for a while and you will soon see them taking insects beneath the surface as they shift to one side and rise up to take insects from the surface. The very nature of a small stream with its close proximity to the streamside vegetation sees many insects finding their way into the water. Because of this and the competition that exists for food within each pool, trout are nearly always looking up. The short runs and pools that are often present also mean they have very little time to accept or reject a possible food item.?Sometimes even small leaves or sticks floating past are mistaken for food. This eagerness to rise is why dry fly fishing small streams is so appealing. When dry fly fishing small streams it’s quite often more about the “take” and not the size of the fish that counts at the end of the day! 

When you see a fish rise up to your dry fly and then stop, follow it down stream for a while and then refuse it, this immediately prompts the question of why??This is just one of the reasons why fly fishing can take you on a seemingly endless quest to learn more about your target species and the food organisms they feed on. Fish in small streams will usually take a well-presented dry fly but there are times when they too can have you scratching your head in disbelief, as they refuse some of the most reliable flies ever made. Like most trout fishing scenarios, presentation plays a major part to a trout accepting an artificial.?One of the biggest things that can destroy your presentation in a river is the onset of drag to the fly. I can think of only two exceptions, one is during the madness of grasshopper season when trout are accustomed to seeing hoppers kicking down stream and the other is during caddis hatch when skating a caddis fly across stream actually represents the action of the natural.?Presenting a dry fly with the longest drag free drift on a river is always going to pull more fish.? There are some simple things you can do to make this happen. Any river, be it twenty metres wide or half a metre wide has water flowing at different speeds across its width. Trying to land a fly over the top of a fast flowing rapid into the slower water off to the side with a straight line cast will see drag setting in almost immediately as the fly line is swept down stream in the fast water. By simply repositioning your casting position you can eliminate the need to cast over this faster flowing water that will create drag. One step sideways can make all the difference to get a drag free drift in a small stream.?One of the hardest places to get a drag free drift while fishing upstream is at the tail of the next pool above a fast flowing rapid. Casting a slack line with big loose sections of fly line over this fast water will give your fly a few more valuable seconds of drag free time on the water. This cast will take a little practice, but what better place to try it than a stream that is loaded with trout and opportunities. Another method of reducing drag in this situation is to lay your fly line on top of a large exposed rock at the head of the rapid, delivering only your leader and fly onto the slower water above.?In many cases on a small stream it’s possible to get up close to the tail of the pool and deliver the fly with most, if not all, of the fly line held off the fast moving water. This short line approach will often give you the longest drift possible in this situation.? In many of the over grown little streams, the rise to a fly from a short line is often only heard and not seen, as the fly is swept out of sight under the over growth at your feet. At times these small fish at the tail of the pool can be a real curse, as they are usually the first to be spooked up stream taking many of the bigger fish with them as they charge around the small pools in a panic. You can sometimes overcome this by entering the stream above the tail of the pool so the smaller fish are spooked down stream, leaving the slightly larger fish in a better state of mind to accept an artificial.? Every one loves to cast a line with the wind at your back as the line always lays out straight. But if your leader is not snaking out in loose coils you will be fighting the effects of drag all day. I find the simplest thing to do in this situation is to just keep lengthening your tippet until you can no longer cast it in a straight line. If your leader then becomes too long to manage simply shorten it up by cutting out the heavier mid section leaving the fine tippet to snake its way out onto the water to take up the affects of the different flows.?? 

Casting in small streams
One of the best things about small streams is that you can always find one to match your progression into fly fishing. There are streams that are flanked by open paddocks making them ideal for anyone starting out that needs a bit of room to throw a line. There are also many tight overgrown streams that will test the patience and challenge the skill level of the most advanced caster. Pulling off an impossible cast and getting a drag free drift is often satisfaction enough in these streams, with the ultimate complement coming from that subtle take as your fly disappears in a swirl.?
When you’re casting a fly in amongst long grass, over hanging trees and blackberries you are going to get your fly hooked up on the back cast or forward cast at some stage.?Take it from me, it happens to everyone and it is just part of fishing small streams. Mastering a few different casts for small streams will not only reduce this cause and affect, but also get your fly into places you first thought to be impossible. Short rods come into their own on small over grown streams and without a doubt one of the most useful casts with a short rod can be the side cast. Another useful method of delivering a side cast is to hold onto the fly in your line hand throughout the false cast releasing it only on the final delivery cast. This has the affect of halving the length of the back cast.? As the available room behind you diminishes even further the side cast can be replaced by a roll cast and then when things get really tight the bow and arrow cast can come into its own. I recently picked up a new type of bow and arrow cast while fishing a small stream with Mike Stevens and Leroy Tirant. We were fishing two rods between the three of us on a very over grown small stream that was covered in willow trees. After releasing yet another fish I passed the rod over to Mike and watched him climb down into the river under a canopy of over hanging willows. In the confines of the river Mike began delivering the fly up stream using a bow and arrow cast. But instead of holding onto the fly to load the rod up for the basic bow and arrow cast, as I would have, I noticed he was holding onto the fly line, leaving the fly and leader to trail behind him in the water. When he finally released the line it speared up stream twice the distance of what I could achieve by holding onto the fly. This doubled the length of the standard bow and arrow cast making it an ideal and extremely accurate cast for small streams. Mike’s casting technique was quickly rewarded with a fat little river trout charging around the shaded pool under his bent rod. Until now, I had always though of doing anything other than holding the fly by the bend of the hook would have resulted in the fly being firmly implanted into one of my fingers. Mike assures me this doesn’t happen very often and I must say, I never looked like getting hooked as I used that same cast to successfully probe some areas of a stream that were until now, unreachable.

Flies for small streams are no different to the ones you would use on the larger rivers. Early in the season small streams can offer you the first chance of taking a fish on a dry fly. Size 14 Red Tags can work well early, but if you’re having trouble getting them to look up try putting on a size 16 black beetle as a dropper under your Red Tag. 
As summer approaches so do the mayflies, caddis, midge and beetles.?Again, the Red Tag will catch at this time as will the Royal Wolf along with a host of other flies. Small foam Chernobyl’s Ants, Bionic Bugs and the like, really start to pull fish at this time of year. Peter Broomhall is a very competent and devoted small creek fly fisher who wouldn’t fish any water that holds trout in Tasmania without a box full of his foam bugs. Peter has given me a lesson on the fish pulling power of foam and rubber legs on many occasions on these small streams. These days when I go fishing with Peter I no longer need to ask him what fly he is using, merely what colour?? Late in summer the grasshopper population really explodes on the low land streams. The water level has usually dropped and the fish are fired up on the thought of a grasshopper landing with a splash in their section of the stream. Competition for a helpless grasshopper is often fierce between these fish with things getting a little bit crazy as fish charge down stream several metres to inhale most flies landing with a loud splat. For that reason it’s little wonder flies with a bit of weight such as the foam grasshoppers and Chernobyl’s Ants and of course Peter’s bugs are irresistible to these fish at this time of year. Even late in the season you can still find a small creek somewhere to get a rise to a dry fly.? 

Down Sizing 
Anyone who has hooked and then finally landed a big fish on light tackle will know it’s far more rewarding to have done it on tackle that gives the fish more control over the fight at some stage than you do. It’s what makes it all the more satisfying, when you finally do land it. Over the years fly rod manufacturers have been catering for the needs of small creek enthusiasts by making lighter and lighter rods. There was a time when a 2 weight was the lightest rod being made. Today they are down to rods that can cast 000 weight lines. My wife was kind enough to put one of these super lightweights under our Christmas tree last year. The Don River on the north coast is full of small brown trout and just happens to run down past our house.? The first opportunity I had on Christmas day saw me disappearing over the bank with this little 7’10” Sage and a size 14 Red Tag. The water on the Don was running higher than usual and slightly coloured after recent rains. I waded into the first pool, fishing the Red Tag across the long slow glide of the first pool. The fly wasn’t on the water long before it disappeared in a delicate rise. I lifted the rod and was presently surprised by how much this little rod was bending over under the weight of the tiny fish.? It even buried me under the bank at one stage. This rod suddenly brought everything into perspective and was a joy to cast and catch fish that actually took some controlling on this small river. The next forty five minutes saw 13 fish being hooked and landed along a 100 metre stretch of the river. In my mind anyway, these short light rods are defiantly the way to get the most out of our small streams in Tasmania.?But be warned, once these small streams have gotten hold of your imagination you’ll have even more trouble deciding whether to head to the lakes or fish that small trickle of water you passed over, only the other day. ?

Where To Start
There are so many small streams in this State that it’s hardly worth naming them. Besides, one of the most exciting things about this type of fishing is discovering your own little gem of a stream that makes you feels like you’re the only one who fishes it. For many, this could be closer to home than you think. Tributaries of the better known trout rivers around the State are a great place to start. Pick a fine day, get a map and knock on some doors to gain access to a stream that has taken you eye, or follow up one that has been secretly passed onto you by a friend of a friend, who knows of a small stream that never gets fished. Who knows, that could become your own gem of a small stream. 

Craig Rist