Some Minor Tactics For Small Streams

by Tony Orman

There are small streams and small streams. They come with different characters but basically you can start by generally dividing them into “rough” bouldery  streams and spring creeks.

Nymph fishing suits spring creeks. After all that’s where UK gurus like G.E.M Skues and Frank Sawyer developed their craft. By the chalk stream Avon, Frank Sawyer developed his ingeniously simply made Pheasant Tail nymph.

But then nymph fishing does well in any trout water. Back in 1952 a freshwater study titled “A New Zealand Trout Stream” was made of a small “rough” stream near Wellington, called the Horokiwi. The Horokiwi which runs into Pauatahanui Harbour near Paremata after following the old highway now known as  the Paekakariki Hill Road, was selected for the study as “typical as possible of at least one important class of trout waters.”

The author and scientist K Radway Allen concluded that bottom fauna (i.e. nymphs) formed 95 percent of the weight of food eaten by trout in their first two years and 75 percent  from three years and upwards. So nymphs are an ideal general tactic.

But there are occasions when nymphs are not the main choice of trout. Individual trout can be memorable especially if they drive a lesson home.  One I recall was a big feeding trout in a small wilderness river which was arguably more a stream in size. The trout fed in a regular tempo in a pool with a strong rapid swirling in at its head. I plied that trout with pheasant tails, pheasant tail variants, half back nymphs , tiny Hare and Copper nymphs – you name it.

I was baffled and frustrated. I looked in my fly wallet. There was one nymph I hadn’t tried but it was ridiculous. Whoever heard of a size 8 Hare and Copper? I don’t know why I ted it in the first place. No rhyme nor reason but there it was – the only one untried. On it went and the fish took it instantly. The trout was a wonderfully conditioned 3.2 kg (7 lb plus). I killed that trout and examination of the stomach revealed about 15 cicadas. The big Hare and Copper simulated a drowned cicada.

So be ready for cicadas in mid summer. A cicada dry is always a good mid-summer choice. 

Also in midsummer there’s another windfall that trout can focus solely on. In the warmth of summer, willows get blighted by small red blisters which are the home of a small whitish grub which when by the time it hatches is a light lemon colour. It latin name is Pontania Proxima known commonly as the sawfly. Willows invariably overhang streams and rivers. Many hatching willow grubs fall into pools and trout just cruise beneath willows slurping in the multitude of food.

Many years ago I was fishing the Maraetotara Stream in Hawkes Bay with a real character of a fisherman Pedro Burney. I had fished for an hour on trout that I found cruising under willows. They hugged beneath the willows systematically feeding on the surface. I tried Pheasant Tails, Water Boatmen and other nymphs. And dry flies. The trout were selectively feeding on something I couldn’t discern or match.

So I rejoined Pedro. He had one nice trout, had released another and was intently stalking another.

“What’re they up to?” I asked as I crouched by Pedro.

“Willow grubs,” he murmured.

He crouched and roll cast, just a flip.

He had a floating line and to facilitate a roll cast beneath the willows, a 2.5 metre tapered cast.

He caught that trout eventually because it had to chance upon the tiny artificial from the multitude of naturals.

I looked at his fly. It was a size 16, pale lemon, with a smidgen of peacock herl at the head to suggest a grub’s head and a  few whisks of blue dun hackle near to hook eye.

“It imitates the willow grub,” he explained. “Tie it on  light dry fly hook gauge, grease the tippet and you must fish it in the surface film.”

Then there’s the lace moth or passion fruit hopper, in early autumn. The lacewing trout fly (can be called the passion-vine hopper, leaf hopper, vine hopper and lace moth) is a small insect found late summer and autumn mainly in the North Island and warmer parts of the South Island. Many end up in rivers, lakes and small streams particularly spring creeks. Trout home in on them.


The lacewing is a small fly and needs to be in a size such as a 16. Go smaller if you like but I have a helluva job tying 18s and 20s on the tippet and even getting the end of the tippet through the hook eye. And the optician tells me I’ve got exceptionally good eyesight!

There’s yet another case of the brown beetle hatch in November. I’ve had some terrific dry fly fishing in soft twilights dimming into the darkness. Nevertheless there’s always a glow in the western sky and if you fish this near-night phase, position yourself on the eastern bank so you have that western glow reflected on the pool. This enables you to see a rise. And if the brown beetle is hatching prolifically, the trout will just steadily rise.

I found two American patterns ideal as a brown beetle in terms of  shape, because that’s all you want, a suggestion by silhouette. In about a size 12 the Irresistible or better still Humpy, fits the bill admirably.

You will not be able to see your fly in the encroaching darkness but you’ll see the rise. Cast the fly about a metre upstream of the feeding fish and when you reckon it’s about at the trout and there’s a soft rise, count to three and then lift the rod to tighten the hook home.

I’ve had some big trout at brown beetle time as I related in last month’s issue. The beetles just seem to bring the big fellows out.

I referred to “rough” streams earlier. These are the typical New Zealand streams that flow over a shingle bed or boulder bed and usually into a parent river or lake. Much depends on the character of small streams from a regional perspective. High summer temperatures in regions like Marlborough and perhaps Hawkes Bay and Canterbury to name others, results in small “rough” streams dropping in water flow as summer heat sets in. Trout will drop downstream as flows diminish. These sort of small streams therefore fish well early season before the heat of summer. Of fish that have run up to spawn in winter, a good number may remain while water flow remains steady. Therefore in October fish these small streams that by December/January will probably have been vacated by trout.

But it depends on the character. A small stream with good willow cover and stable banks may hold good trout if you’re prepared to penetrate the “jungle” and indulge in roll casting or even crawling on your belly.

Some small streams flow into estuaries and summer rains and a flush of current may result in sea run trout, often big, suddenly running up into the freshwater. I took a good friend from Vermont, USA, John,  to a small stream one day. It was slightly discoloured after some rain and we chanced upon and he caught a magnificent brown trout that just nudged double figures and had run into the stream from the estuary.

Small streams running into lakes may after rains result in an influx of good sized fish. For example Lake Rotorua streams.

It’s a positive move to develop a close attachment to your small stream. There’s a saying “Limit your kill, don’t kill your limit.” The limit bag on many waters is two fish today. I have seen streams trashed by fish hogs. In about 1970-80s I had one favourite that had a relatively low number of hefty trout. There were fish that occasionally topped the double figure mark (i.e. 10 lbs) and many of its population were four to seven lbs. The limit bag then was short-sightedly 10. Even back then, I personally limited myself to two.

Then the fish hogs found it. They spent weekends there, trashing the lovely stream and spotlighting the valley flats for deer. The farmer told me of parties taking a dozen to 20 fish back with them. One idiot was photographed at the farm house with a wheelbarrow full of trout averaging 5 pounds.

Lethargically the Acclimatisation Society put a limit of four fish on it. The new limit should have been two fish and iit should have been implemented years earlier.

Aldo Leopold in his brilliant “Sand County Almanac” wrote “ A peculiar virtue in wild life ethics is that the hunter ordinary has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlooker. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”

Leopold’s words apply to whether hunter  or angler. The obvious suggestion from this is to practice “catch and release.” Perhaps take one if you really need one for the dinner table.

As for me I  have increasing doubts about “catch and release” (based on scientific studies) and the effects on the trout’s physiology, i.e. well-being, thereafter. So I’m beginning to limit even my “catch and release” just being content with one fish and then just looking for and just admiring other trout.

You might liken it to a sporting ethic in deerstalking. You may shoot a deer and then let others go. After all one deer is enough.

I catch my trout, then I just enjoy the stream, the environment and watching and observing  other trout if I see them.


If I catch my trout, then I just enjoy the stream, the environment and watching and observing  other trout if I see them.

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2 Responses to Some Minor Tactics For Small Streams

  1. F. Henry says:

    There’s something more intimate about small streams. They are a joy to fish. In the 1950s and thereabouts, small streams in the Manawatu (e.g. Scotts Creek, Kahuterawa, Tiritea, Tokomaru) were full of trout, although mostly small but fun to us kids. Why are they not now?

  2. "Fario" says:

    There needs some serious scrutiny of “catch and release”. The stress on fish is considerable and I think there’s overseas research showing it inhibits and prevents fish spawning?

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