Fly Fishing Small Streams For Trout

No longer under the shade of the canopy, the sun shines down on the back of his neck. Tree limbs fold up and around him. A quick flick back and forward with his rod is all that is needed to send the drowning ant into the plunge pool. A slight line twitch and then a swift hookset soon follows. A small but aggressive Brook trout on the other end of the line could be mistaken for a much larger fish with this light tackle. Fly fishing small streams for trout can be quite exhilarating.

Have you ever wondered how to catch trout in a small stream or creek? If you have been camping, hiking, fishing, or hunting I’m going to assume that you have.

The fact that your reading this might even imply that your not a trout fishing beginner.

Small stream trout fishing can be surprisingly challenging. You see trout that live in small habitats like streams and creeks have less room to move freely. They are contained to a much smaller area.

What does this mean? Well, these trout come in contact with predators more often than a trout in a lake, pond or river. Because of this they have a more natural ability to sense danger.

What this means for a fisherman is that these small stream trout spook very easily. Often times these trout spook before you ever even know they are there.

Since a lot of small stream trout fishing is done by sight, this creates a problem for the fisherman. Lets talk about these amazing creatures in more depth.

About Stream Trout

fly fishing small streams for trout

Stream trout are a very sensitive species. The littlest change in the environment will effect these fish for better or worse. When talking about small stream trout we must understand the watershed around them first.

Watershed Effects On Stream Trout

A watershed is the area of land around a stream that drains into the stream.

Imagine a watershed that has little elevation changes. This means the the stream will sort of meander about the area. This will mean the water in that stream moves slower than others. The water not moving though readily means that the temperatures have the ability to rise in the warmer months.

Depending on what the climates are where you live this could have a tremendous effect on some trouts ability to flourish.

adversely if you have steep gradient water shed your water will move rapidly through the area. This water will remain cooler through the various seasons.

Other factors that may effect a trouts ability to survive in particular watersheds is, vegetation. Tall standing trees will cast shade over the water, provide structure, and habitat.

You can see how human factors may play a roll as well. Such things as logging, mining, or building of infrastructure development can play similar roles.

Stream Trout Habitats

When fly fishing small streams for trout it is imperative to understand their habitats. These fish are going to congregate around rocks, logs, lay downs, or any other place they can hide.

Trout will want to positions themselves just out of the main current. They do this so they can quickly ambush food that comes down the stream or creek.

A stream trouts ability to survive has a lot to do with its ecosystem. The ecosystem is the community of organisms interacting in their environment.

Stream Trout Diet

mosquito fly fishing small streams for trout

The aquatic life such as the insects, crawdads, and other fish all play a vital role as food sources.

The ecosystem just outside the waters reach play a equal role in the stream trouts ability to survive. The nightcrawlers, grasshoppers, flies, mosquitoes, ants and more are some of the main food sources for trout.

A decline in any one organism can throw off the entire habitat and thus jeopardizing the trout.

Small Stream Fishing Gear

There are many ways an angler can go about fishing small streams for trout. You can use spinning gear or fly fishing gear to target trout.

When using spinning gear a like a ultralight rod. A rod that is 7 foot or less with a fast action tip.

You can use small live bait such as nightcrawlers, red worms, grasshoppers, or even natural insect such as may flies.

Using artificial baits such as lures is sometimes the most desirable. Head over and read my article on 5 Killer Trout Lures That Crush Fish.

There you will find my favorite lures for to fish for trout.

One of the funnest ways to go after these beautiful fish is fly fishing, in particular, ultralight fly fishing gear.

fly fishing small streams for trout using ultralight gear will be the focus for the rest of this article.

Fly Fishing Small Mountain Streams

What is Ultralight Fly Fishing?

Ultralight fly fishing was originally born out of necessity when chasing fish in narrow mountain streams. The overhang of tree limbs makes it difficult for a 9’ rod or larger to successfully cast. Many anglers shortened up their rods and lightened their lines in order to get back into these secluded areas.

Ultralight Fly-Fishing rods come in the following sizes

  • 000 wt
  • 00 wt
  • 0 wt
  • 1 wt
  • 2 wt
  • 3 wt

Ultralight Fly-Fishing Gear Guide


Ultralight rods are going to be 8’ 6” or shorter, with a lot of them being 7’ 6”.

When you look at a rod and it says 2wt just know that is not the actual weight of the rod. Instead, it is telling you the weight of the line that the rod can cast.


When picking your reel make sure to select one that is made for an ultralight rod. This will ensure that your balance is correct.

A lot of companies do make ultralight reels so finding them should not be too much of a hassle.

The most important aspect of picking your reel is the drag system. You will be using very light and thin line; so if there are hang ups in the drag, then that will produce very quick breakoffs.

Ensure that the drag is smooth and reliable. Most ultralights use a click and pawl drag which work great for lighter leader and tippet.


When picking out your line make sure to look at what line capacity your rod is able to handle. The general rule of thumb is that you can be within one size of what the rod recommends.

If you have a 2wt, stick with 1, 2, or 3wt. It’s tough to near impossible to find sinking fly line in these sizes.

The majority of the time the flies you will be throwing are going to be dries anyway. If you want to get down deep, just tie on a little extra leader or tippet.


With most ultralight set ups, you’ll want to keep your fly selection small.

The small line size has a difficult time handling anything larger than a size 18. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, just be aware that you will have a tough time with accuracy throwing larger flies.

I personally have a summer fly box and a winter fly box. My Top 3 Flies For Finicky Winter Trout can be found in this link.

Ultralight Fly Fishing Gear for Small Streams

Fly Rod Recommendations

Reddington Classic Trout Fly Rod 7’ 6” 3wt

Redington Classic Trout Fly Rod

This is great for someone looking for a solid all-around rod. The is one of the best on the market; so if you’re rough on gear, then this is a great way to go. It’s sensitive enough to fight 6” brookies and compact enough to get you on top of them.

Temple Fork Outfitter TFO Lefty Kreh Finesse Rod Series

A great lightweight rod. Very accurate for close range casts. Despite the short length and light weight of this rod it is able to cast further than anticipated. Slightly more expensive than the Reddington, but still a great rod at a good price.

Fly Line Recommendations

Orvis Clearwater Size 3

A great beginner line. Not super expensive but has decent enough durability. Despite being a size 3 it is actually built a half size heavier. This helps load the rod and allows for better casting.

Royal Wulff Ambush Triangle Taper fly line size 3

This was made for fishing tight quarters. The line has a shorter rear taper that makes roll casting much easier. Perfect for when you have no space for a back or side cast. This line has the capability to be thrown 50+ feet on a sub 9’ rod.

Reel Recommendations

Redington Zero Fly Reel

redington zero fly reel

A great reel for a beginner. Not very expensive, but is extremely smooth and durable. The click and pawl system is perfect for light weight leader and tippet. The reel itself is also very light, which makes it perfect for backpacking into your favorite spot.

It offers the precise control, balance, and touch necessary to execute the most delicate presentations. The key to the Zero’s performance can be found in its unmachinable diecast construction—meaning that its unique open structure is not yet achievable using current CNC machining processes.

Waterworks-Lamson Liquid Fly Reel

Waterworks-Lamson Liquid Fly Reel

A nice lightweight and durable reel. Perfect for stumbling around the woods looking for those small streams.

Ultralight fishing flies

Last but not least, the most important aspect of fly fishing. The flies.

The most popular and well known of ultralight flies is probably the midge, and that’s for good reason.

What Are Midges? Midges are an aquatic “insect” located in most trout water, which means they play a key role in a trout’s diet.

When throwing a midge make sure to know what the oxygen level of your water is. If the oxygen is low, that means the midges will be a bright red color, so forfeit the classic olive, black or brown.

Once winter has come and gone ants are a great fly to throw, especially if you’re being stumped that day. These are great after a rain storm which has pushed insects into the water. Sinking ants specifically work best during this scenario.

Another great fly to try after heavy rains is the San Juan Worm. The new high water catches unsuspecting worms on the banks off guard washing them into the water.

So, you’re in between hatches and don’t know what dry to throw. Have no fear because the mosquito is a killer.

You’re dead set on throwing dries but the BWO’s aren’t hatching, well its time to slap on a mosquito dry. If you’re confident enough in your rig you drop a mosquito wet fly underneath it.

Ultralight Fly-Fishing Tips

If you’re used to throwing a 9’ 5wt or larger then it may take a minute to get used to your smaller set up. Don’t get aggravated because you can’t throw your dry exactly where you want it. Just give it some practice as well as patience and you’ll be hitting your targets in no time.

You’ll mostly be sticking with dries if your a beginner. Any sort of weighted nymph or streamer could overwhelm the rod. This is going to cause errant casts which will lead to a frustrating day on any body of water.

Fly fishing small streams for trout can be especially difficult. I have an entire article written about just that. 3 Winter Trout Fishing Tips To Catch More Fish is a short read packed with some really good information.

Targeting Brook trout on small mountain streams you’ll need a rod with a slow action. These are very accurate and are perfect for throwing darts on those compact streams.

I hope the above tips and recommendations were helpful when picking out your ultralight mountain stream set up. Caching fish on ultralight rigs is an absolute blast and something that I cannot recommend more.

The second part of this blog will be focusing on ultralight fly fishing in larger bodies of water. There we will show how to catch rainbow and brown trout as well as bass and panfish on ultralight set ups. So Stick around for part 2!

Conclusion – Fly Fishing Small Streams For Trout

No matter your experience level, fly fishing small streams for trout is something anyone can do. Go down to your local sporting good store and buy a fly rod. You don’t have to buy the ones I recommend.

The most important thing is to get out there and try it. The bet way to learn is to do.

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Tight Lines,

man fly fishing small streams for trout