I just returned from several days in the Black Hills fishing Spearfish Canyon where I grew up. It was great, perfect fall weather and I landed about a dozen trout over the couple afternoons I fished. I grew up there but didn't fly fish it until recently. I'm not used to fishing smaller streams and have several questions. Questions are probably applicable to bigger water too.
1. Line to leader connection. I use Rio Gold line and Rio leaders with the loop to loop connections. I typically fish a leader and tippet set-up that is longer than the rod. Moving around a lot in the thick brush means I need to use the hook keeper and reel the line/leader connection past the tip guide and it's a pain to get the connection back out of the tip...and probably not good for it. Any tactical suggestions? Use a needle knot and clip off the welded loop? Makes it tougher to change leaders and switch to a streamer etc.
2. 2-fly nymph rig. How far up should the strike indicator be? Spearfish Creek trout are selective and strikes are very subtle. Flows transition from thin to deeper runs along with pools connected by foam lines and typical "trouty" water.
3. Rod size. I used a Scott A4, 8 ft 4 wt. I like the rod but almost seemed too big. Lots of twiggy foliage to manuever through. Trout are in the 8-12 inch range with some larger ones lurking about. Width of stream is about 10-15 feet in most places. I only made a few traditional casts, mostly just roll casts and "flipping" my line into suspected strike zones. There were some breakout areas though where longer casts were called for to visible trout holding in areas that were easily spooked. This is my favorite all time fishing spot, should I consider a shorter 3 weight?
1. You can bring the leader back around the foot of the reel seat and hook the fly to a guide. I do that when my leader is longer than my rod, though If I'm moving through bad brush I might just break the rod down rather than risk snapping the tip.
2. A general rule I've heard is to have the indicator about 2x the depth of the water, assuming you want your fly to be near the bottom. This accounts for the tippet drifting at an angle behind the indicator due to the current. In slower water, closer to the depth of the river as the flies will hang more vertically, in faster water, raise it up as there's more current. Using a moveable indicator is helpful. If you're tying the nymphs under a dry fly, it's harder to adjust.
3. I love my short, light rod but on small streams sometimes longer rods are better. They can give you more reach to get over currents and into small pockets while having little to any line on the water. I have a 12' 3wt I love for small streams and wouldn't mind if it was a 4wt.
I fished the same creek back in 1983 and it was a challenge with my 7'9" rod. I wouldn't want anything longer than a 6'6" if I were there today. Many people tell me that they like long rods on small water like what William has just said ahead of this post. The problem with long rods is that there are too many places you must pass up on a Creek like that running through Spearfish Canyon. With a 6'6" slow action rod there is hardly anything you can't cast around. JP has told me he would fish the small streams here with a 9 footer and I tell him I'll just bring drinks and snacks so I'm comfortable watching the show.
William does the same thing I do with his leader, except I take the line around the reel radius itself so I don't kink the mono. As for a 2 fly dropper........I have never done this. That may sound strange but I've always been happy with either a dry fly or a wet fly but never had the desire to use both at once. I guess I just never cared if I were missing a fish
That is interesting, I actually switched to a single small pheasant tail (size 22) and actually caught just as many fish as trailing it. My gut feeling is a shorter rod may be the ticket. Maybe a used Orvis Superfine or Redington CT would be a good option. Spearfish Canyon is heavenly. No people and picturesque classic trout stream, what you imagine the perfect stream to look like. I'll post a couple pics later.
Below is a pic I snapped of one of the colorful small browns along with a link to photos of this beautiful creek. I called the local fly shop and they swear by the Scott G2 8 1/2 ft 4 wt for this area.
Caution, the contents of this post are highly opinionated and somewhat stubborn in nature.
The last thing I'll do is to debate with a guy who makes his living selling fly rods, but I will share some personal observations. I have fly rods ranging from 6'3" in length all the way out to 15' rods. Regardless of what person at which shop would tell me, an 8'6" rod would be the best tool for fishing small creeks I will tell him he is wrong. That statement I'll stand on until I can no longer crawl and clamor through the bushes and over the rocks along 'small' creeks. If you go fishing often as I have been fortunate to have been able to do for my whole life, you figure one thing out for sure. While I was out there exploring my state, my country, and the continent, with my fly rods in hand the guys behind the counters who were telling everyone what rod or reel worked the best were just that; behind those counters.
I'm not saying that being in a shop filled with the very latest and best that the tackle manufactures have to offer does not impart some level of expertise but if you are asking me about the right rod for a small stream............... and you really mean a small stream.......... You can bet your last dollar I'm not going to hand you a long rod. Maybe I'm really misguided and have been doing this all wrong all these years but at least I was out there doing it day after day and not just telling people how to do it.
Perhaps that all sounded a bit harsh, or defensive, or self embellishing, but when I think small streams I'm thinking small streams. There is no way to swing an 8'6" rod on the same streams and spots I fish with my 6'3" rod. If there were why have I been using the tiny little rod when I could have had an 8.5 or 9 footer in hand. I think the guy at the shop is selling the rod he likes to people who are asking for guidance. I somehow figured the length thing out on my own by fishing small streams.
I like long rods on small streams if it is open, as in not much overhanging branches and brush. On such streams, a long rod can be a pain and I love my 6'6" 2wt. When the stream is open the long rod is great, especially for nymphing.
I fish a lot of small brushy trout streams here in Idaho. I have several rods of different lengths, but if I know that I will be on a brushy stream, I will take the shortest light weight rod I have.
If the stream is open meadow, long rods are heaven. You can reach over current seams, and mend effortlessly. But if it is brushy and wild, get a short rod. Seven and a half feet is about the longest I would take. Shorter is better. Willow and briar jungles are murder with anything longer. The little open spots are pretty small on such creeks and overhead room can be nonexistent.
1.) Loop to loop is just fine - go with a shorter leader. On a small, bushy stream, you don't need a long leader. My go-to small stream rods are a 6'6" 4 weight, a 7' 2 weight, and a 7'6" 3 weight, and a very short (5' 2" 4/5 weight). I rarely go with a leader longer than 7'6" including tippet in such scenarios.
For short, brushy streams a 6' leader, including tippet - works great. Furled or braided leader butts work especially well here - a 3' furled or braided butt, with a few steps of tippet size will turn over bushy flies or bead head nymphs.
2.) If I'm not fishing hopper & dropper setups and I want to indi-nymph fish, I set my indicator just a few inches deeper than the deepest part of the stream section I'm fishing. I will go with the quickest sinking flies I can get away with, or pinch shot onto the leader a few inches above the fly to get them down where I need them. Typically, small streams don't run extremely deep. The tiny creeks I fish average a foot deep in the shallows, and the deepest runs go maybe 3-4 feet during summer/fall flows. I just fished my favorite small creek on my favorite stretch today - and the deepest water I encountered was about three and a half feet deep. On these small streams I honestly rarely indicator nymph - I stick with short, tight line presentations and do quite well. You'll feel the strikes on a tight-line drift much sooner than you'd see them translated to an indicator, even with a short leader.
3. As I mentioned earlier - my go-to small stream rods range from 5'2" to 7'6" - it depends on the creek I'm fishing as to what rod I take. I tend to favor my 7' 2 weight and 7'6" for most small streams I fish - but they aren't brush choked either, and I rarely have to crawl on hands and knees to get into casting position. For those brushy - almost impossible to fish streams - I bust out the 5'2" rod. I can nymph with it, cast dries, or even chuck streamers - but that's because it's heavy for it's size. It's not one to bust out a 40' cast - but for the 5-30 foot casts needed on little streams, it works great.
If I were going to buy an off the shelf rod for small streams - Cabela's TQR rods would be the ticket. TQR means Tight Quarters Rods - they're short rods ranging from 2-5 weight. Good casters, light weight. They're a bit stiff for as light as they are - if I was fishing the 5' 2 weight, I'd line it with a 3 weight WF taper line to load it up more easily. Maybe even go up to a #4 if I was sure I was only making 15 foot casts all day. They have a 6' 5 weight which would be a great all-rounder for small streams where you might want to fish larger flies, or you'll be fishing big-ish streamers. I know there are some little streams out there that host fish measured in lbs, not just inches.
Other rods I'd consider - the TFO Signature II 6' 2 weight (I had a TFO Signature 6' 2 weight that I dearly miss. GREAT casting rod with a DT2 line. Made an 8 inch trout feel like a monster) , Sage Approach 7' 3 weight, or if you're budget conscious - the Eagle Claw Featherlite 6'6" 3/4 weight or Cabela's Three Forks 7'6" 3 weight.
I built my 5'2" rod from two top sections from what was going to be a 10' 3 weight. I purchased that blank off e-bay. As a full length rod - it was waaaaaaaay too heavy/stiff for a 3 weight. It's Common Cents rating put it as an 8 weight. I discarded the bottom sections and built the short rod, and it casts a 5 weight line best in close, and a #4 line for longer casts.
1. For all fishing situations, small streams especially, I have switched over to furled leaders almost exclusively. Loop to loop connection from fly line to leader, then there is a tippet ring where you can swap tippet out quick and easily. The loop to loop connection is very small so you should have no problems lightly pulling or casting the leader out of the tip. Joni and CutthroatLeaders here on the forum make some excellent furled leaders. Definitely look in to these if you haven't already, not only do they turn flies of all shapes and sizes over beautifully, they have also saved me a lot of time and money in the long run.
2. This is up to you. My buddy puts his 6-9ft deep, even if the water is only 2ft deep. It is beyond me why he does this, but he manages to catch just as many fish as anybody else. Of course he does get snagged up a lot more than normal. If the water is 3ft deep, I will put mine somewhere around 3ft and go from there.
3. From what you are describing, I would definitely go for a shorter rod, rather than longer. The Scott A4 is a pretty fast rod if I remember right. For most of my small stream fishing, I like a slower rod. It will allow you to cast with more accuracy, precision, and delicacy required for spooky trout in small streams. Bumping down to a 3wt wouldn't be a bad idea either. In my opinion, fiberglass rods are the king of the small stream world. They are slower than most graphite, allowing you to make them really tricky casts. Fiberglass also flexes more than graphite, so even an 8inch trout puts a nice bend in the rod. This year I have fished small brush choked streams more than anything, and my Scott F2 6'6" 3wt has been by my side the whole time. Having a 10 inch trout nearly double over the rod never gets old.