How to Prospect for Trout in Small Streams

How to Prospect for Trout in Small Streams

Stepping foot into a new trout stream can be exciting, with opportunities aplenty for a day to remember! 

The problem is that new water means unfamiliar spots, hatches different than our usual streams, and trout that are foreign to us.  In situations like these, prospecting for fish is the name of the game, and here are a few tips to help make the process go a bit smoother. 

Pay Attention 

Clues abound for the alert trout prospector if one only knows where to look.  Let’s say you’re heading for a juicy-looking deep run and spook a fish or two in the tail out on your approach.  Then that happens again at the next spot, and you notice the pattern. For the rest of the day, throw a few prospecting casts in the tail outs since you noticed fish holding there.  It’s all about paying special attention and focusing efforts where the fish are. 

Pay close attention to those “fishy” spots and look for shadows, ledges, or structure within the water that might give trout shelter.

  • Deep runs
  • Branches
  • Undercut banks
  • Overhanging brush
  • Seam lines
  • Riffles
  • Large rocks
  • Aquatic Vegetation

Don’t shy away from tossing your fly into those areas a few times. If nothing results from your efforts, keep moving forward and cover more water.

Don’t Be Too Specific

When prospecting for trout in unfamiliar streams, avoid specific “match the hatch” patterns unless you are sure what bugs are coming off.  At certain times of the year, BWO’s might be the main trout snack on one stream, but water just a few miles away might be totally devoid of them.  Prospecting missions should focus on attractor patterns that could imitate a number of different bugs until we can hone in on what’s hatching, and more importantly, what the fish are eating. 

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Change Flies Early and Often 

If a fly isn’t working, cycle it out for something different.  On home waters, we become accustomed to a set of patterns that consistently work and produce fish, but that’s not the case when prospecting a new stream.  Even if a fly is a favorite, it’s only as good as the fish it’s catching! Have a very short leash on fly choices when you’re prospecting and keep changing until you find one that works. 

Fish Fast

At the start of a day of prospecting for trout, tell yourself over and over to fish fast.  Pick out the likely spots, throw half a dozen casts, then move on if the fish aren’t cooperating.  The whole point of prospecting is to probe spots and try to find where the trout might be. In these situations, more water covered means more data used to determine where the fish are. Make a cast, take a step, make a cast, take a step, and do this over and over again until plenty of water is covered! 

Prospecting for trout can be very rewarding and is a great way to fish a new stretch of water.  When you’re out there trying to find some unsuspecting fish, fish fast, change flies often, don’t be too specific in fly choice, and keep alert to ensure a great day trying out a new stream!

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