UK Small Stream Fly Fishing - Josh Allen

Sometimes fly—fishing is a patience game requiring delicate presentation, slowing down your movements and subtle changes of approach. It can be a test of resolve, covering a stubborn trout who seems to slurp down everything that comes past his nose – except for your fly. Or blanking session after session while searching the coast for bass. The mystique, allure and sense of satisfaction are all what makes fly-fishing the incredibly rewarding pursuit that it is. But the frustration, at times, is real. That’s why it’s fun, necessary even, to break from this occasionally and do something a bit more action packed. That’s where small streams come in – what I like to think of as “instant gratification” fly-fishing.

 Large swathes of the country are veined with tiny streams which tumble down their bouldery paths from bogs and seeps high in the hills, or from the outflows of mountain lakes, cut through towns and farmland, joining and combining forces before joining the larger, more traditional fishing rivers below. These rivers below can be a good gauge as to whether the small streams will hold fish – if there are trout in the river below or the lake that the stream flows out of then there’s a good chance of finding fish in the stream. When scoping out a new area an OS map is your friend. Find the small blue lines, those are your targets and if the blue line has a name then even better, usually a beautifully folksy sort of name ending in “beck”, “gill”, “nant” or “brook”. It goes without saying that you should find out if you are allowed to fish in the stream you are planning on visiting. Check with local angling associations (although the really small streams won’t usually be within their scope) or relevant land owners. 

 Small Stream Brown Trout

Your average tiny-stream trout


If you’re planning a hike into trout country, even if you’re not heading anywhere particularly fishy like a lake or larger river, taking a fly rod along can provide some fun on your breaks. Most paths follow streams for at least some distance. Going on a hike with friends? Try and convince your non-fishing companions that the routes that follow the streams will be the best ones. Arbitrarily drop hints that the spots by the stream are the perfect spots to stop for lunch or to put the kettle on. This will buy you at least 15 minutes to go and pick a few pockets for trout, and 15 minutes is a long time on a small stream.

The fish are generally small, although the occasional 8” monster will surprise you, but the action is usually non-stop. In a good small stream every pool will hold a trout, some will hold several, and you’ll find fish in the most unlikely of hidey-holes. In a recent trip to Snowdonia I fished a stream that at its widest points spanned half a metre but still held trout, all too eager to take a small dry plopped into their tiny, saucepan sized pools. My approach to fishing these small streams is as simple as it gets. A short, lightweight rod, short leader and a small dry fly plopped into the head of the pool will almost always result in a dramatic, splashy take from a hungry little trout. Rather superstitiously I almost always fish a black fly – I have had success on pretty much every colour, size and pattern of fly I’ve tried. Black just seems right in the dark, peaty streams of the British uplands. Parachute flies are helpful as they aid visibility in the usually quite bubbly and turbulent water but usually the takes are energetic and obvious. Quick reactions are essential. Many of these streams are relatively sterile in terms of invertebrate life and the trout rely heavily on terrestrial insects being blown or stumbling into the water. The resident trout, perhaps not having seen a meal for a little while, will be all too eager to snap up your offerings and the quick pace of the water doesn’t allow them much time to scrutinise your fly (and perhaps your tying abilities).


 Small Stream Fly Fishing

A typical upland stream – enough pools to keep you busy for a little while


 Wild brown trout

A veritable monster – fin perfect, beautifully coloured and from a stream you could step over


The turbulent water of small upland streams provides the angler with an advantage when it comes to staying unseen. Keeping a low profile is made easier by the usually steep nature of these streams. The typical upland stream tumbles down the hills in a series of plunge pools connected by small waterfalls. This arrangement often places the pool ahead of you at near eye level.  Another beautiful thing about this kind of fishing is that if you make a mistake and spook the fish in one pool, the inhabitants of the next pool up will be none the wiser. This only adds to the “instant gratification” factor.

There is a simple, childlike pleasure to be found in these miniature rivers and a faint hint of the absurd when you find yourself casting into water you could step over. But the rewards come thick and fast and for the trout-bum looking for a quick fix they’re hard to beat.

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