A Tiny Stream System for Trout

Secrets of Stream Babble, Stream Gurgle and Stream Whisper

Wild brook trout from a stream are among the most highly prized gifts of nature, especially when your trip is simple and productive.

My neighbor likes to take a folding camp chair to the local trout stream before the season opens, sit by the water’s edge, and just listen.  Often the banks are covered with snow, but he doesn’t mind.

“The babble of water running through a quiet woods is the purest form of therapy,” he says.  “For me, it’s better than meditation.”

When the trout season opens in April, the banks of the little stream may yet be covered with snow.  Or the leaves could be out, painting the forest that bright shade of emerald we only see in spring.  Or something between those extremes.  We never know as we prepare vests, rods, and reels in the weeks prior—and it doesn’t matter.  Being in the forest, listening to a stream gurgle and whisper past rocks and fallen trees, is a real world, far from the soul-killing artifice of computers, spread sheets, bills, economies, and urban sprawl.


It might as well be the other side of the moon.

We tread along on the day of the opener, from a wide spot on an “Unimproved Road” down into the little river valley.  The streams we like during the early season—the ones closest to home—are small.  All are less than 20 feet across from bank-to-bank and can be crossed almost anywhere with a pair of knee-high boots.
Not to say these streams are only good early in the season.  The tactics we use work all summer and into fall, when the trout season closes again.

Small-stream trout can feel the vibration of footfalls near the stream.  And, because a hole more than 4 feet deep is almost unheard of, trout are never far from the surface—meaning they can easily see your approach.  So we slip quietly down to the water, keeping our heads low, often fishing from our knees.

brooktrout2The first spot I directed my partner Mary to is the best “hole” on the stream.  No more than 2 to 3 feet deep, it has broken water over more than half the surface, created by a riffle above the head of the pool.  The stream is only 12 to 14 feet across at this point, depending on water levels.  Wild marigolds and trilliums stand by her feet as she takes the hook from its arbor on the rod blank.  It’s been a warm, early spring, and the water is already 50°F.

We would only find trout under broken water that day.  A disturbed surface distorts the trout’s vision and hides your approach, often allowing a careful angler to hook trout in lies only a few feet away.  Our rods were 8-foot ultralights from the St. Croix Panfish Series.  The line is 4-pound test Maxima Ultragreen or Berkley FireLine (braided line doesn’t absorb water, and therefore doesn’t sink toward the end of the day).

We have a teeny stream float on the line—like a little Red-Wing Tackle Black Bird, tiny clear-plastic Brennan Loafer, or bitsy Thill Shy Bite.  Immediately below that we crimp on two or three very small split shot—just enough to stand the float up.  Below that we tie on a minuscule #10 SPRO Power Swivel, to which we tie about 2 feet of 4.5-pound Raven Invisible 100% Fluorocarbon.  The rig terminates with a size #10 or #12 Owner Mosquito Hook, baited with a single waxworm or tiny red worm.

Here is the smallest Drennan Loafer, in the background (left) is the Red Wing Black Bird and (right) Thill Mini Shy Bite.

All the weight is up by the float.  The bait is allowed to swing freely in the current.  In a tiny stream, it’s impossible to float a bait too high.  Trout will see it anywhere, from the bottom right up to the surface.  No need to put weight by the hook.  And, we used the same two hooks all day long this day—never snagging up, which can spook the entire pool.

The greatest advantages of using tiny floats for small-stream trout: Trout always bite down on a live bait first.  The moment they bite, the float goes under.  If you set immediately, the hook is always in the mouth—not the gullet or stomach.  You can safely release every trout, all day long.

The float keeps the hook in their mouth by resisting, keeping the line tight.

Floats keep the bait off bottom most of the time, avoiding snags, leaves and detritus that foul the hook.
And, most important of all, tiny floats allow you to drift a bait way downstream, well beyond the “spook zones” all around you and your partner.

As it drifts, time stands still.
The forest whispers.
The stream burbles.
The birds sing.

When the float darts under, it leaves no doubt as to why.  Most of the trout are under 10 inches long, some coming from drifts only 6 inches deep under broken water (another advantage of having no weight near the hook).  Though this stream has produced browns in the 7-pound range, our biggest this day will be a brook trout only a foot long.  But the sides are adorned with sparkling gems of blue and red that quickly disappear as the trout darts from my hand back to the relative security under a rippling surface.  High above the tree tops wave in a wind that never reaches the valley floor where the stream makes its way through emerald alleys to a lake far below.