I’ve seen some pretty amazing things in the bush but there it was, leaning nonchalantly against the tallowwood stump on the bank of the picturesque trout stream: A short, blue-water trolling rod with roller tip and a medium-sized Alvey reel!
For a number of years my first wife and I managed a cattle property near Ebor. We regularly encountered anglers along the stream that flowed through the property and occasionally we found things they left behind. But this rod-and-reel combo certainly had no place along one of New England’s premier dry-fly streams.
I guess over half of the anglers I meet along our trout streams are using the wrong gear. Whether it is lure or fly selection, rod-and-reel combo or simply the tactics they employ, many are way overgunned for the conditions.
Trout, particularly those on smaller waterways or during periods of low water on larger streams, are wary. To increase success in such conditions, think about your gear.
For the past few years I’ve been downsizing my rigs for northern trout and I believe it has increased my success.
These fish are not generally large. Solid fish over a kilo are regularly taken each season but the majority of New England rainbows don’t top 500g.
And the majority of northern waters are small. We don’t have the likes of the mighty Eucumbene or Thredbo rivers up on here.
Even local rivers which do carry higher flows, such as the Wollomombi or Macdonald, generally consist of larger pools connected by smaller runs.
These two factors mean lighter, more cautious angling tactics and rigs are successful.
Each season trout see plenty of oversized and garishly-coloured lures splashed and ripped through their pools. If an angler is prepared to stalk the streams correctly, long, searching casts are seldom needed.
Ultra-light gear is also suitable along lake margins, where sight-stalking shallow-water trout has long been a favourite of the fly brigade.
The very nature of targeting trout in 30cm of clear water is often daunting to lure anglers. Most lures are too large for subtle presentations but ultra-light rigs are perfect.
Lightweight marabou-dressed jigs are excellent imitations, particularly when targeting fish around the yabby beds.
Casts are rarely long when polaroiding, you don’t need to ‘horse’ a fish taken along the flats and the lighter line weights are perfect. A light, short flick stick is also great to avoid ‘flashing’ trout at close range and offer consistent accuracy.
In recent seasons I’ve been mainly fishing northern streams with two lightweight fly rods which offer subtle presentation options.
The first is a Pro-Angler Master 7’ in 2wt. I first used a ‘loaner’ one of these many years ago while working as a controller at the World Fly Fishing Championships in the Snowy Mountains Jindabyne region. I managed to wrestle a couple of tidy browns from the backwaters.
The rod is a delight on small water and very handy in the bush streams that offer some of our premier dry-fly action. The short length allows me to explore the bush-choked margins more easily, although one needs to open up the casting stroke.
Under these conditions, casts are rarely longer than a leader length and the soft tip allows the rod to easily load with a short length of fly line.
The ultralight floating line barely ripples the surface as it lands on a pool. Light fly lines also have smaller diameters and are much less susceptible to surface drag. On fast, tiny waters where it is imperative to eliminate drag, particularly with a dry, the 2wt is a bonus.
With rods as short as this you can pretty much forget about mending line, the length just doesn’t facilitate it. Heavy flies and multiple droppers or strike indicators won’t cast neatly, either.
These rods are designed for surgical casts with small, light fly patterns – perfect for the bush streams.
The second rod is a Vision 3Zone 7’6” in 3wt, a superb stick for exploring the open, meadow streams. Although only slightly longer than the Stalker 2wt, this rod offers a little more control for medium casts and gives the option to flick a medium-weight fly.
While it is true that many streams can be fished with heavier gear (most anglers would carry a 5wt or 6wt) the lighter combos promote a little finesse which on tiny or hard-fished waters provides an edge that can improve your catch rates.
Many anglers’ trout spin sticks are those they flick bass poppers with – a matter of convenience or economics, I don’t know. I now have separate rods for each scenario.
For about four seasons my spin stick of choice for trout has been a Surecatch Microlight 4’9” 1-4kg with an Abu Garcia 100U Cardinal reel.
The beauty of this rig is the ability to employ small, light lures and the ease with which I can move through the tight bankside vegetation. The rod has a relatively fast action for its length which greatly assists in flicking ultralight lures accurately.
I’d consider line weights around 2kg perfect for such situations; whether fly tippet or spin line, this facilitates easy casting.
It is imperative that knots are tied with care and line should be checked often for nicks and abrasions. If the line shows wear, snip out the offending section and retie.
Be attentive to tackle when fishing light.
Downsizing rods and reels necessitates reducing the weight and size of lures and flies, a definite benefit. Smaller offerings can be worked through tighter, shallower water and with less disturbance. The angler who becomes proficient with ultralight gear will work water bypassed by most other anglers.
By the very nature of the waters where we employ lighter gear, dry flies are the bread-and-butter option.
Small bushy streams, wherever they are found, generally offer terrific terrestrial fishing where bushy dries such as Humpies or Wulff patterns are consistent fish-takers.
Smaller patterns such as sizes 14 to 16 will stir small and larger fish when drifted through the tighter cover.
In the larger pools generally associated with waterfalls there is an opening for streamer patterns.
Many are, however, simply too heavy to cast any distance on lightweight sticks. The solution is either Waddington-style streamers or those tied on lightweight tubes. Both are simple to construct and allow the option of larger flies with minimal weight.
The accompanying fact box outlines how to tie a Waddington, simply adjust the colour and dressing to suit your typical local streamer pattern.
Ultralight lures are notably absent from most tackle store shelves. Take a look at the size of the lures in the ‘trout packs’ available in most megastores and tackle shops: Many would not be out of place on a cod river!
One of my favourite mini-lures is the ‘jellybean’ style which made a spectacular yet brief appearance several seasons ago. At the time I snaffled plenty and haven’t needed to purchase any more.
I’m not sure who still makes them but any of the Japanese manufacturers would be a good start. The killer tactic is to drift them under overhanging structure and slowly tweak them back on the retrieve. On occasions I have even had fish hit these lures as they dead drift.
Another outstanding lure option is the micro jig. I use jig heads around 1/16oz and find those dressed with chenille and marabou far superior to soft plastic bodies. The marabou works even when the jig is at rest in the slightest current and has an irresistible, enticing action.
Small metal spoons are another excellent choice, as are No 1 Celtas.
Treble hooks are an impediment when fishing bushy streams and tight water. A snagged lure carrying a single hook can generally be flicked from vegetation and will not foul on bottom structure as easily.
Small stream trout are generally that – small – and single hooks do less injury when releasing fish.
A concerned effort to downsize your gear will increase the pleasure of your fishing and your degree of success. Learn to stalk and fish smaller waters thoroughly, get close and cast short with mini rigs.
You’ll extract more satisfaction from each fish and that is the aim of the game.
Step 1: Take a piece of 15kg wire trace twice the length of the finished fly.
Step 2: Fold a quarter of wire in from each end.
Step 3: Slide a short shank straight eye hook onto the wire.
Step 4: Bind down the length of the hook with tying thread.
Step 5: Wind on a body of chenille or marabou or dubbing. Add hackle collar.
Step 6: Double wrap leader through loop before tie down. This reduces risk of tippet cutting on wire during fight.
Small ‘jellybean’ lures are perfect for ultralight trout.
When downsizing rods, ensure you match smaller reels to balance the outfit.
Micro jigs, particularly those with marabou dressings, are deadly on stubborn fish.
A typical victim of ultralight trouting: A fit and healthy small river fish.
Exploring lake margins with lightweight gear is an excellent choice in still conditions.
Bernie B with an Oberon rainbow that fell to a mini ‘bean’ lure.
A quiet, careful approach with little bankside cover will allow you to get close.
Small stream water is the home of ultralight trouting. Downsize for success.
No need for a ‘big gun’ here. A beautiful headwater rainbow that fell to a wee dry.