When searching for trout in small blue line streams of Southern Appalachia, many anglers assume that it will be an easy task due to fewer areas for the trout to seek refuge. This assumption, however, often overlooks the intangible challenges that come with angling small trout streams in tight quarters. These challenges include the overhanging branches of mountain laurel and rhododendrons, undercut banks lined with woody debris that provide little room to cast, and less space to set the hook. These obstacles must be overcome before figuring out where to fight the trout. Nevertheless, these streams get much less attention from anglers who wish to avoid the hassle of hang-ups, spooking trout, and losing fish. Instead, these streams are left to the dedicated fly fishermen who enjoy the ever-changing puzzle of making creative casts in the skinniest of spaces and are rewarded with trout that see very few fly presentations in their lifetime.
When fishing in tight trout streams, many fly anglers opt for smaller 7.5’ 3wt rods. These rods are more convenient to move through tight cover over long distances compared to larger rods. However, in mountainous regions like Southern Appalachia, where banks are lined with thick vegetation, overhanging branches, vines, and other debris, a 9’ 5wt rod is more suitable. Roll casts, short water hauls, and bow and arrow casts are more efficient with a stiffer nine weight rod. Anglers can get an extra 5 to 10 feet on a standard bow and arrow cast with a stiffer rod, resulting in more precise casting at a distance and more hookups by the end of the day.
The best flies for small streams are dry flies, dry flies, and more dry flies. Dry flies will keep you out of the thick brush and hang-ups on the banks and below the surface. Most trout in small water are willing to look to the surface for a meal for most of the year. Even in winter, the 12-inch move to grab a quick snack from the surface is not much of a stretch for the wild trout. Terrestrial patterns such as a chubby Chernobyl, beetle, or ant are great options during summer and fall months. In shoulder months, stimulators, elk hair caddis, and Adams patterns are great. The hackles on these fly patterns also make the flies more weedless around dense cover. During the coldest fishing months, anglers may have to go subsurface for bites. Larger flashy nymphs are good options as they attract plenty of attention. Stonefly patterns, rainbow warriors, or the trusty squirmy worm catch the eye of many small water trout with their larger profiles and flashy nature.
Trout in small water can be incredibly spooky due to the shallow water and limited cover within the stream that leaves them exposed to many threats from above. When approaching a stream, it is crucial to understand the trout’s position, which will be facing upstream nearly 100% of the time. Being aware of your shadow and silhouette when approaching these fish is crucial to keeping out of their line of sight, which spans in every direction except for about thirty degrees behind their head. In faster water, use seams and stronger currents that break up visibility and any water you might push toward the trout during your approach, to mask your presence and edge closer. In calm or flat water, keeping your distance and not pushing water in their direction is imperative for success. The subtle change of wearing dull, earth-tone colors instead of bright, flashy colors also makes a world of difference on the water. The final tip is to limit your body movement once you are in position, and if movement is necessary, opt for slower motions.
Accurate casting is critical for dissecting the short seams and microcurrents on small trout streams. Anglers often make the mistake of casting far too much and far too long in the small creeks. This mistake will ruin your drifts by creating additional drag and lead to fewer bites, missed strikes, and waterlogged dry flies as well as potentially spooking trout with poor execution. Using stealth to maneuver closer and a shorter cast, anglers can accurately place flies in the targeted seams with more consistency and better results. High sticking or keeping your fly line off the water, will also improve your chances of landing trout as it minimizes drag and slack for quicker hooksets. A simple roll cast is typically more than enough to get your fly to your target in typical conditions. Too much arm waving can give your presence away and leave you searching for new fish. In areas with a low canopy, water haul casts are great for staying low and getting distance. In the times where anglers really need to thread the needle, a bow and arrow cast will provide the most accuracy and control. This is where anglers can make the riskiest cast into the tightest cover. Being comfortable with your gear makes all these casts much easier as well as making anglers much more effective and efficient on the water.
For more information on fly fishing North Georgia, be sure to check out the Georgia Wild Trout website, as well as these articles on Fly Fishing North Carolina and Fly Fishing Tennessee.