Small Fry: The Lure of the Little

Published Jun 16th 2008

Chapter 1: The Lure of the Little


Small brook trout - Saltwater fishing enthusiasts may call such fish 1\
Small brook trout
Perfection is as illusory in fishing as it is in any other aspect of life, yet practice brings with it certain plateaus of near-perfection. Such stages in a fly fisher's practice provide a good time and opportunity to branch out.
    Rivers, like trees, have numerous branches. There is a lot of territory within all that tangle. Each feeder stream is a primal source that contributes its modest share to an ever-growing bigger and bigger picture. Time goes like these deliquescent flows, and eventually, as the fishing seasons pass and accrue, the big water's formidable image dissolves and is replaced by a familiar face. This familiarity does not breed contempt, nor does boredom or stagnation settle in, although there is a soft call within the water's flow that becomes ever more audible over time. I like to equate this sound to the wind speaking through tree branches. A similar breath of spirit is continually calling from the branches of the big river, calling those who will listen to turn upstream, to follow one of the branches off the main stem, to try something different, something smaller.

There is much to love about little waters and the fish that call these flows home. The miniature scale is more manageable and here a close relationship can be cultivated. I like to think this makes a fly fisher more sensitive and more skilled. These qualities -- a more refined approach, a lighter touch -- lead to a greater appreciation of, and ability on, any size water.
    Much has been written about fly fishing's relationship with things small -- high country beaver ponds, tiny spring creeks, even tying and fishing small flies -- yet lesser coolwater streams and their resident fish species remain a consistently overlooked and understudied resource. Pristine cold waters with legendary reputations draw a large, exclusive following, while huge, man-made impoundments shimmer in the heat of tournament fishing fever. Elsewhere, though, small streams flow out of the limelight, offering plenty of solitude and fine fly fishing for the average angler. These forested runs and country brooks are sometimes even anonymous, little more than short, ragged blue lines on a topographical map. These waters can become, figuratively and literally, an angler's personal stream.
    Coolwater freestone creeks have many attractive qualities. These are angler-friendly waters. The scale is ideal for comprehensive exploration and thorough casting coverage. The flow is often spring-fed, born at higher elevations, and so generally tends to run clear of clouding runoff after rain. Consistency is found in the stream's dynamics, too. Quiet riffles meander into small pools that are usually never deep enough to turn an opaque jade green. Reading the water is easier here, as one can usually see both the rocky bottom and the extent of a shadow's reach along the streambed. These pools can be described more precisely as depressions that add one or two feet of additional depth to the main stream's general flow. This slightly higher roof provides the fish below a safe house of slightly slower water; a room -- a kitchen -- that gives a greater sense of ease and security, which make fish more conducive to feed.

If these creeks are pictured as the branches of big trees, then coolwater ponds and small lakes are the fruits that offer the same kind of tempting perks to the Piscator. Stillwaters of this size are often as unkempt as a trout bum, and so contain numerous coves, brush piles, and other fish-holding cover undisturbed by human activity. The hiking or biking angler can cover the circumference of such destinations in a good day's fishing and, because of the deceptively small size, can bet that less adventurous anglers with a lunker in their eyes will be absent. The solitary fishing fan, or a single family, can experiment and explore at peace without stress-inducing competition and catch their brace of fish in the process. Small ponds throughout the country are chock full of panfish. The numerous, small, sand and gravel lakes of New England teem with brook trout and white perch. And the "thousands and thousands of lakes" region of the upper Midwest is stacked with rock bass and small smallmouth that rarely, if ever, see an artificial fly floating on the roof of their cold, clear, cobblestone homes.
    These environments bring us up close to those scaled sirens that call us anglers to meet waters large and small. In the coolwater pond or creek, diversity is the main draw, far outweighing the monolith of size. This concept -- the celebration of differences -- has become more and more a part of our culture in recent years, and I can think of no other place in life where the positive benefits of diversity are more apparent than along a coolwater pond or freestone stream. This is the place for the fly fisher who respects and likes all fish. Dry fly, wet fly, streamer, or nymph: any given cast with any given pattern can result in a hookup. The list of what may be on the other end of the line is long: sunfish, catfish, white perch, or black bass. This cornucopia of species adds an additional quality of excitement to the sport; like a box of chocolates, the excitement of: "You never know what might bite next!" When this facet is added to all the others -- the scenery, the tie, the cast, the presentation, the take, the catch, and the release -- fly fishing becomes that proverbial good thing in a small package; an undisputed gem of an outdoor sport.

The fish species that reside in these waters almost always grow to a size that is in proportion to their environment: panfish that rarely exceed a pound, foot-long smallmouth bass that top the creek's food chain, or wild mountain brook trout that grow old without ever growing beyond the length on an angler's outstretched hand. Saltwater fishing enthusiasts may call such fish "bait," but at the end of a 4-weight, "lightening" comes to mind. A sunfish working against the current, a smallmouth leaping a half dozen times, or a brookie holding fast beneath an undercut bank will engage any fly fisher's skill set.
    One of the big challenges is learning to target smaller species with specific techniques as precise as a soft cast on a spring creek. The fish described in the following chapters have habits and preferences that can be, at times, as hard to figure out as a wise old brown trout. Sometimes the trick is a classic fly pattern scaled up or down a few hook sizes, or matching a more unorthodox hatch such as crayfish or forage minnows. The redbreast sunfish, rock bass, white perch, chubs, and small stream smallmouth bass and brook trout are all fascinating and fun fly rod quarry. The pursuit of these fish can lead to an angling lifetime of serious study and sport; a pursuit that can turn into a passion I like to call "the lure of the little."

All chapters of Small Fry
  • Small Fry, intro - Prologue: These Lines, published June 16th 2008
  • Small Fry, 1 - Chapter 1: The Lure of the Little, published June 16th 2008
  • Small Fry, 2 - Chapter 2: Presenting Brookus bassa; The Smallmouth, published June 30th 2008
  • Small Fry, 3 - Chapter 3: Presenting Rob-fin redbreast; The Stream Sunfish, published July 14th 2008
  • Small Fry, 4 - Chapter 4, Presenting Solid rocky; The Punk Rock Bass, published July 28th 2008
  • Small Fry, 5 - Chapter 5: Presenting White lightning; The Tidal River Perch, published August 11th 2008
  • Small Fry, 6 - Chapter 6: Presenting Mighty minnows; The Chub Family, published August 25th 2008
  • Small Fry, 7 - Chapter 7: Presenting Small wonder; The Mountain Brook Trout, published September 8th 2008
  • Small Fry, 8 - Chapter 8: Scaled-down Gear, published September 22nd 2008
  • Small Fry, 9 - Chapter 9: Thoughts on Knots, published October 6th 2008
  • Small Fry, 10 - Chapter 10: The Little Angler, published October 20th 2008
  • Small Fry, 11 - Chapter 11: Epilogue: Further Reading, published November 3rd 2008

    The chapters are being published with a couple of weeks inbetween.
    When new chapters are ready, they are first announced and then linked from here.

  • User comments
    From: David Swart · davidaswart·at·  Link
    Submitted May 18th 2011

    2 things great story I introduced many folks to fly fishing by taking them to small water & fishing for panfish or bass,my favorite fly for these little buggers is a black body,grizzly hackle,red tailed woolly worm #12 or 10 (non-weighted),love the simple fish.

    From: Nycflyangler  Link
    Submitted November 18th 2009

    This reminds me of the little Vermont brook that runs through my friend's family farm that we fished while we were growing up. Maybe two to three feet wide at it's widest point, it had a good supply of brook trout of the 5 to 8 inch class. Just dap a dry fly across the surface of the water or drift a nymph and let it be pulled by the current under the undercut bank. Then pull it out with one of these little gems attached. They were small and colorful and perfect, just like all trout should be.

    I've caught and have seen much bigger specimens, but some of these trophy trout with their distended bellies are kind of ugly when compared to these jewels of nature you can only find in these tiny brooks that come down from the mountains to feed larger bodies of water.

    It's important to always remember that both ends of the size spectrum are trophies, they just have different criteria.

    From: Boyan · pbojan·at·  Link
    Submitted September 9th 2008

    Instead of comments, all I'd like to say is that I'm impatiently looking forward Chapter 8... :)

    From: rybolov · rybolov·at·  Link
    Submitted August 17th 2008

    My not-so-secret recipe for redbreasties is a #12/10 stimulator or hopper with a #14/16 beaded hares ear dropper. Very much the Western-style approach to catching fish. =)

    From: Eric · ericsabo·at·  Link
    Submitted August 11th 2008

    Chapter 2 really inspired me to get back out to a spot I had visited (and gotten skunked at) over the winter.

    I got out there today with some big time success - including a surprisingly large 14" smallmouth from a pool that was no more than 15 feet wide when the rest of the creek was only between 6 and 8 feet wide. It was like tail-water fishing for trout... except the fish pulled a lot harder.

    So, thank you for the inspiration.

    From: Bernard Yin · LARiver·at·  Link
    Submitted August 1st 2008

    WOW I love this entry. As a musician myself, I was on tour and while somewhere in the south (US) our bus broke down. We were near a small store and a large field. In that field was a farm pond. I went to take a look and spooked a massive largemouth! I ran back to the store and bought a small jig (I had no choice) and a spool of line and walked back out to the pond. It was hot and humid and the insects were loud. I crawled out on a fallen tree branch and lobbed the jig out and caught a beautiful Rock Bass. What a neat species of fish. I will probably be re-playing that moment every day for the rest of my live. Rock and Roll!

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