Tips for Fishing Cricks and Creeks

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Learn the Basics of Creek Fishing

Regardless if you fish a creek with a fly, a spinner or bait, the principles are basically the same, and the rewards are wonderfully experienced with a wild trout on the end of your line. This summer and fall I will be writing an entry on fishing creeks with lures and bait.  Regardless of what tackle you use, small cricks and creeks require stealth and a low profile.  Lure fishermen should cast downstream in shallow water conditions, but if there is good pocket water, follow the tips in this entry.  Bait fishermen should go to smaller hooks, smaller tippet size and smaller bait portions.

Creeks Are Not Just for Kids!

Years ago, when I worked out of a local fly shop, I wouldn't hesitate in suggesting a guided instructional trip to one of our local creeks, if a perspective client mentioned that he or she was a beginner. I fondly recall many days when instruction was immediately reinforced with fish after fish rising to take a swat at my client's Royal Wulff or bushy Humpy. If you are new to the sport of fly fishing, spend as much time as you can on a mountain creek. You will be delighted with the action, as well as accelerating your mastery of fly fishing. Keep in mind, however, that spring and early summer the creeks generally run very cold, and the trout are sluggish. Wait until mid-July. August is even better for high elevation canyon creeks.

The size of a trout is relative to the conditions of its environment. High elevation canyon creeks do not produce large trout, but they do provide a respite from the summer heat and an intimacy with the water and flora of a mountain stream. Best of all, most creeks produce an abundance of small, hungry trout. And when you catch a 10 to 12-incher, it is akin to catching a 16-incher on a river. If you are new to fly fishing, follow these short guidelines to Master the Basics of Creek Fishing.



Casting: A short cast is all you need. How short? Try right in front of you with no line on the water. The key to creek fishing is to keep your fly out of tree top branches and brush. You do not need finesse casting skills on a creek. Get your feet wet and position yourself in the middle of the creek. Fish directly upstream on both sides. Make short casts and control your line. After you make a short cast to a small riffle or pocket, keep your fly line off the water! Keep your rod tip up and allow the fly to drift naturally. Do not pull or move the fly once it is on the water. In a tumbling creek, it is imperative to keep line off the water. Once the line is on the water, you will have immediate line drag, and your fly will be drowned. Instead of making a long cast over tumbling water, move up closer to your target. Trout face upstream. If you are directly behind them, you can catch them three feet away, providing your shadow is not on the water or they do not see the flash of your rod.

Fly Patterns: Go big or go home! Use 10-12 common attractor patterns, such as a Royal Wulff, a Humpy, a parachute Adams or a hopper. If the water is fast and deep and you can fish only one side of the creek effectively with a dry fly, use a Girdle Bug or a Yuk Bug. Fish these patterns just as you would a dry fly. Allow them to sink under the surface and watch for the strike. Once you learn to read water, make a short cast, anticipate the strike and set the hook, you will be ready for rivers. Be sure to pinch the bards down on your fly patterns for quick catch-and-release.

Line Control: If you are right handed, slip the fly line under your pointing finger of your right hand. Place your left hand under your right and pull down any excess line, as the fly floats back to you. You should also be raising your fly rod, as the fly drifts back to you.






Setting the Hook: Creek trout slam an offering without hesitation. After all, winter is long and cold in these canyons, and if they are going to grow up, they have to eat everything that comes their way! These little buggers are fast. You may miss a lot of strikes before you see their approach under water. After the splash, it is usually too late to react. I suggest wearing Polarized sun glasses, which cut through the surface glare. Anticipate the strike when you see movement under the fly and lift the rod tip up quickly as the trout breaks the surface. At the same time, begin the habit of pulling the line in a downward motion with your left hand. (Remember, the line has already been transferred under the index finger of your right hand.) Don't feel embarrassed if you throw a little cutthroat over your shoulder. We have all done this.


Reading the Water: The benefit of learning to fly fish on a creek is that the angler gets a crash course on trout hiding places. The advantage is that a creek is a much smaller classroom. Trout need protection from predators, and they need a resting spot where they can spot food drifting their way.






Waterfalls and Pools: Carefully cast your fly to a pool, as it will hold larger fish. Keep your fly out of the turbulent water and foam. Start presenting your fly on the tail-out of the pool, so that you are not disturbing trout further up in the pool. Next cast your fly along the edges of the pool on both sides before you cast to the middle. Look for dark pockets in the pool to cast your fly.

Riffles: Unlike rivers, creek riffles are usually fairly short. Just like rivers, they provide trout with both cover and a steady flow of food. Again, keep your fly line off the water. If your fly gets sucked down, pull it up and re-cast.

Pockets: Look for small pockets of water behind boulders in fast water. Drop your fly dead-center in the pocket or along the fast seams. The trick to fishing pocket water is to keep the fly moving very slowly.

I always proclaim that I am an expert when it comes to fishing a creek, even though expertise can be acquired by anyone with just a few forays into the canyons of Montana. One summer I was taking a father and his son out to teach them "crick fishin". Looking up the trail, I spotted a lone fly fisherman walking towards us. "I’ll bet he had lousy fishing," I whispered to the young boy. "let’s find out."

Sure enough the man had caught only a few small Cutthroats, and he was obviously disappointed. When he was out of hearing, the father looked at me quizzically, and the young boy asked, "How did you know?"

"Simple," I replied. "He had dry pants and dry sneakers."

10 Rules for Successful Creek Fishing

  • 1. Get wet!
  • 2. Position yourself in the middle of the creek, and keep moving upstream after two or three casts to a likely holding spot.
  • 3. Keep your fly floating at a natural speed. Better yet, keep your fly along the seams and in slow pocket water at a slower speed.
  • 4. Unless you are using a Hopper, present your fly gently on the water.
  • 5. Keep excess fly line off the water. Don’t let the current drag your fly under. Better yet, keep your fly line off the water entirely!
  • 6. Keep a low profile and make the first cast count!

  • 7. Don't forget to dab from above. It can be fun!

  • 8. Use large attractor patterns.
  • 9. Wear felt-sole wading boots or sneakers with outdoor carpet glued to the bottom.
  • 10. Learn the creek, and then return with a child.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Archer published on January 21, 2008 10:28 AM.

Float Fishing Safety was the previous entry in this blog.

Goodale Creek Campground / Independence Area is the next entry in this blog.

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