In the heat of summer, try tiny tributaries for big action.
July brings hot weather to much of trout country. A blazing noon sun packs people into the shade of our village store, where Popsicle pops and cold cans of soda sweat and drip along with their owners. Keeping comfortably cool is difficult, and it’s a problem for trout, too. Major rivers (other than some tailwaters and spring creeks) are dropping in level and warming, forcing trout to seek coldwater spring seeps or other refuges from the heat.
Some trout will move even farther, pushing dozens of miles upstream to reach the cooler flows of small tributary creeks. These might be narrow, alder-lined streams in upstate New York, a swamp flowage in northern Michigan, or a blowdown-choked cascade in Oregon. Wherever it may be, the combination of cooler water and abundant cover offered by small streams can mean fantastic summer fishing.
Spinfishing small streams requires short, accurate casts to little pools, pockets, or runs that are often only 10 to 20 feet away. That kind of short-range accuracy is difficult with a conventional overhead cast; thick streamside cover makes it nearly impossible. Southern bass fishermen invented a technique called flipping with heavy baitcasting gear to solve their in-close casting problems. Trout anglers can do almost the same thing with light spinning tackle.
Shorter rods are the easiest to handle along brushy creeks, so start with a 5-foot ultralight spinning rod holding a small reel spooled with 4-pound-test monofilament. Let your lure or bait hang about 3 feet down from the rod tip. Open the reel’s bail and hold the line in your left hand near the spool. Move both hands in a shallow semicircle gently toward your body. This makes the lure swing inward like a pendulum. As it begins to swing away from you, move your hands forward and slightly upward. This accelerates the outward arc, at which point you can release the line with your left hand, and the lure will fly to the target. It’s that simple.
Because you’re not waving the rod around to make a cast, you won’t get tangled in the bushes. This casting style also gives a low trajectory, making it easier to toss a lure back under any overhanging cover. With a little bit of practice, you’ll find that by using the pendulum cast, you can reach a small spinner out to as much as 40 or 50 feet, although teacup-accuracy at 15 feet is usually far more important.
I often wet-wade small streams in summer just because the cool water feels so good. A pair of sturdy wading boots with studded felt soles give the best traction on rocks and are comfortable enough for a moderate hike to the water. Don’t forget insect repellent. The alder thickets you’ll be fishing tend to be mosquito hells.
Carry a small lure box with some assorted split shot and bait hooks, together with a selection of 1/32- to 1/8-ounce spinners. Put some garden worms in moistened dirt in another small container. If you plan to eat any trout, keeping them fresh is a problem, too. The best answer I’ve found is an old-fashioned canvas creel. Soak the fabric in the stream periodically, and its evaporative cooling will prevent your catch from turning to mush.
Some of my best small-stream days involve a frying pan, some salt pork, and a hunk of lemon. I’ll spend the morning fishing, keeping two or three trout. Heating the pan over a small, noon fire (where legal) renders enough fat from the salt pork to cook the trout, with sweet, crunchy pork cracklings as a bonus. This is about as idyllic as trout fishing can get. The only hard part lies in eventually having to hike back to the heat and traffic in the valley below.