My heart races as soon as I drive up to the bridge and back into the small gravel spot that accommodates one or two vehicles. There is no one else around and I can explore new water in solitude, with the chance of larger fish and exciting fishing. Already I feel a sense of accomplishment. I peered over the bridge as I drove and noticed the water was slightly off color. A rain two days prior created just enough of a stain to conceal my presence if I clumsily stumble in the stream. 

Beginning the morning on the river

This stream is one that other anglers I know speak of in hushed tones, with the lore of secret spots to access pools teaming with large fish that attack dry flies with ferocity. All the stories were circling in my head as I quickly pulled on my waders and put together my rod. I wanted to slip down to the stream as quickly as possible, like a thief or spy trying to move through a restricted area undetected. 

To prepare for my visit to the new stream, I had done my homework. I searched through sources for stream gages and fishing reports and looked through maps of the area on google earth. From Google Earth, I discerned the distance between confining road culverts, the number of bends and cross over riffles, and scoped out the areas I thought fish may hold. While no fishing reports or stream gage records exist for the stream I was fishing, data on nearby streams helped me to determine that recent rain and cooler nights likely kept the stream in a fishable condition. 

Slightly off color water from earlier storm

Fishing on nearby streams also gave me a clue on where my fishing should focus along the reach. My recent trips in the late summer season indicated fish were holding in moderately deep areas immediately adjacent to steeper riffles. Warmer water holds less oxygen and riffles help mix oxygen into water through the turbulence of falling over rocks. Many nymphs have hatched as adults, restarting their life cycles, depositing eggs within the substrate and submerged vegetation in the stream, but leaving less insects available drifting in the water column. Fortunately, the warm weather brings terrestrial insects such as ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and inchworms to the stream, introducing new food sources to hungry fish. 

I scampered down a steep bank adjacent to the bridge. Mist was rising off the water, as a kingfisher calls and jets past me, taking up a perch on a branch above a pool fifty yards upstream of me. Seeing a kingfisher, heron, or osprey is always a good sign to me when exploring a new stream. They may not signal trout, but they feed on fish and aquatic organisms efficiently and they don’t waste their time in barren ecosystems. 

I decided to use my nymphing rod with a mono rig, due to the versatility it provides. Obviously tight line nymphing is optimized through the longer rods and thinner leaders. The tippet ring at the end of the sighter allows me to quickly change tippet for different presentations, including using an indicator. Also using a triple surgeon’s knot to attach the terminal tippet creates the option to leave a tag for a lighter nymph or to affix a larger dry fly like a hopper or Chubby Chernobyl for using a dry dropper rig. If there is a sudden hatch with rising fish all around me, the nymphing rig is a hindrance to me, as I haven’t mastered casting delicate flies with the setup. However, for larger dry dropper set ups, I have reasonable accuracy and distance casts on a mono rig. 

I was excited to fish new water, but I was able to approach the water with a learning and exploring mindset. This lessened the pressure I can sometimes put on myself to make sure I catch a fish quickly on a trip. My calmness helped me to appreciate the new setting and the chance to add more stream reaches to my fishing experiences. 

In areas of moderate depth immediately downstream of riffle features, I concentrated on using a dry dropper rig with a hopper fly suspending a pink beaded hare’s ear nymph approximately fifteen inches below the surface. While not my favorite all time flies, I do have lots of confidence in the hopper patterns and nymphs I selected. I didn’t want to get in a doubting mindset where I was constantly cycling through flies on a new stream. 

Fishy water protected by an overhanging tree

At the first deeper pool formed by the plunging flow over a boulder riffle, tree branches shaded the water like a protective parent’s hand. It looked fishy but it was hard to make a good presentation. I moved further upstream than I wanted to create an unobstructed angle to the likely holding water. On my third cast I got the drift I wanted. I started to count the seconds of good drift, my awkward habit of rewarding myself for a solid cast, before I got to three a flash of good shot toward the nymph and the hopper plummeted below the surface. The larger fish immediately darted for the protection of a larger boulder. I was able to turn its head and navigate the fishing into slower water. My heart was racing, and I forced myself to take a deep breath. It was an 11-to-12-inch beautiful brown trout, full of energy and aggression. I looked around the stream and took it in. I felt blessed. 

Throughout the next hour and a half, I caught and lost several more fish. I switched to a contact nymphing set up in the deeper pools but had most success with the dry dropper. A huge grin spread across my face as I walked back to the truck. I was grateful for the wonderful morning on a new stream and appreciative of my preparedness for the outing. The research and time spent investigating the stream before the trip helped keep me in a good mindset and enjoy the day. I was reminded that enjoying the journey of preparation makes the outcome even more satisfying.

Keep Mending! 

New Stream DIY Tip Cheat Sheet

–  Look up stream reports, search YouTube, other social media for tips and techniques in the region for the time period you are fishing

– Check out the Natural Resource Agency mapping to see if the resource is stocked or wild

– Check out local stream gages on USGS – (discharge and temperature)

– Monitor local weather trends

– Call or visit local fly shops

– Understand general seasonal trends of hatches and water conditions

– Use Google Earth (or Trout Routes) to explore the area – understand the stream size and planform geometry, stream crossings, property ownership and land use

– Identify safe/allowable places to park

– Rotate through flies and techniques with an exploring mindset, don’t get frustrated

– Use a versatile rig

– Use confidence flies – combinations of attractors and natural patterns

– Methodically break down and explore the water

– Observe trends or presence of fish, rises, spooked fish, 

– Observe presence of herons, osprey, and kingfishers

– Give yourself time to fish slower and explore

One Reply to “Tips for Exploring a New Stream”

  1. The amount of preparation is staggering! Lots to know and lots of decisions!
    Your experiences are so exciting and interesting to read!
    I bet you will be back to this stream to enjoy again!

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