S3:E11 One Fine Morning on the Little Jordan

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Little Jordan is a tiny stream that flows through a junky farmyard in southeastern Minnesota. We had our doubts about fishing the stream. We had read about the Little Jordan in Bob Trevis’ Fly-Fishing for Trout in Southeastern Minnesota … a Troutchaser’s Guide. His description of the farmyard – and the great brook trout fishing – was spot on. Listen now to “One Fine Morning on the Little Jordan.”

Listen now to “One Fine Morning on the Little Jordan”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

When was the last time you took a risk and discovered new water? Any great stories about overcoming some obstacles to find some great fishing?

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The Lure of Fly Fishing Creeks

fly fishing creeks

Fly fishing creeks – that’s what I plan to do this weekend. My podcast partner, Dave, and I will make a five-hour drive and spend a couple of days on the water. But where will we go? A five-hour drive to the northwest will take us to several creeks loaded with 8-14 inch browns. A five hour drive to the northeast will take us to a river where we have a chance of landing 18-22 inch browns.

I hear the creek calling.

Why am I so fond of fly fishing creeks — or “cricks” as my friends and family in both Montana and Pennsylvania call them? I have been pondering that question the past few days:

Nostalgia

One of the first places I learned to fish for trout was on Cole Grove Brook near Smethport, Pennsylvania.

I was eight years old, and my Uncle Ivan taught me the art of dropping a worm in this tiny, brush-lined creek to catch brookies. A few years later, I threw Mepps spinners in the Big Thompson River (trust me, it’s a small creek) in Rocky Mountain National Park. That’s also where I got my first taste of fly fishing and caught my first brookie.

Then there is the little creek near Orville National Forest campground in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

I was in high school when my brother and I stumbled across some kind of mayfly hatch (I’m guessing) one evening and pulled out trout after trout on a Royal Coachman. There is also the mystique of Elk Creek near Augusta, Montana. During our college years, Dave and I had some terrific days on a little stretch of this creek not far from where if flowed out of the Scapegoat Wilderness area.

Whenever I’m on a small stream, I get nostalgic. I revisit these creeks and spend some time on them in my mind.

Into the Wild

Fishing creeks tends to get me into more wild places than fishing the larger rivers. That’s not always the case. My favorite stretch of the Madison River in Montana is in the Beartrap Canyon, and my favorite stretch of the Yellowstone River is in a remote place in Yellowstone National Park. They are big rivers. But they are the exceptions.

It seems like more often than not, fishing creeks gets me off the beaten paths and deeper into the timber or further into the mountains.

I remember running into a coyote in the thick forest surrounding Cole Grove Brook in northern Pennsylvania. I also remember catching a 12-inch brookie out of a beaver pond in the Bondurant National Forest south of Jackson, Wyoming, while a cow moose grazed about 75 yards away.

When Dave and I fish a creek in the Driftless region of southeastern Minnesota this weekend, we’ll fish until we come to a rock cliff where the creek flows out of the mouth of a cave.

If you like wild places, make the creeks your destination.

Less Pressure

This is a corollary to the previous point.

Wild places can mean less pressure.

One July day, when the drift boats seemed to be bumper-to-bumper on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley, I drove up the West Fork of Mill Creek — several miles above where main Mill Creek emptied into the Yellowstone. I fished a stretch in the Absarokee-Beartooth Wilderness Area a couple hundred yards from where I shot my first bull elk. I used a Red Humpy, and every cast resulted in a fierce strike by a plump 8-10 inch Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

I doubt that anyone had fished this stretch of creek in years. It was a couple hundred yards down a steep ravine off of the trail.

As a general rule, expect that bigger rivers that hold bigger fish will attract bigger crowds. The streams that flow into them will receive a lot less pressure. So head to the creek to get away from the crowd.

More Action

Generally, smaller creeks mean smaller fish but more action.

Last summer, I fished the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Don’t let the word “river” fool you. It’s a small stream that winds through a meadow after emerging from a canyon. It seemed like every cast resulted in a strike on the Elk Hair Caddis I was drifting along the undercut banks. I didn’t catch anything over eleven inches. But the two dozen trout I caught were all fighters.

Finesse

Part of the appeal of a creek is the finesse required to fish it.

Perhaps that comes from the days when I used an ultralight spinning rod and sneaked up through the weeds to peek into the hole where I was going to cast my offering (that sounds better than “cast my worm”).

As much as I love my nine-foot, six-weight rod, I find joy in taking my eight-and-a-half, four-weight rod and crawling up to a bank where I will make a short cast to fish an six-foot run along a bank. Fishing the small creeks require more stealth, smaller leaders, and softer landings on the surface. Even streamer fishing in a creek is more delicate. It’s not the same as lobbing a weighted Woolly Bugger on a mighty river.

I’ve lived a few minutes from the Yellowstone, the Madison, and the Missouri in Montana. I’ve had some terrific days on them. But, the creeks still call me. The “cricks” do too. I simply can’t resist their lure, and I hope that never changes.

Why We Love Fly Fishing Small Creeks

My podcast partner, Dave, and I have had some fantastic days on big rivers. One spring we both had 20-inch rainbows on at the same time in the Madison River.

We’ve both landed big browns in the Lower Madison, and we’ve had a blast catching cutthroats feasting on hoppers in the Yellowstone River.

But it is the small creeks that we find irresistible.

Even on our trips to Montana or Wyoming, we always devote at least one day to fly fishing a small creek. Here are five reasons why we find small creeks so charming—and why you may want to make them part of your fly fishing experience as well.

Small creeks get less pressure

I wonder how many times I have seen the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley look like rush hour in Chicagoland, with all the drift boats making their way down the river.

Yet the little creeks — such as Pine Creek, Mill Creek, and Big Creek — are abandoned.

Recently, Dave and I fished the Driftless in southeast Minnesota. We had plenty of company on the South Fork of the Root River, but we spend most of our time on a little creek that emptied into the river. Canfield Creek turned out to be a gem. We had it all to ourselves, and the browns were happy to rise to our elk hair caddis flies.

Small creeks bring out the hunter in us

Small creeks require us to go into stealth mode.

When I fish my favorite runs in the Yellowstone or Madison Rivers, I rarely need to sneak up to the bank on my hands and knees. But that’s what it takes to fly fish a small creek. The run you want to fish in a small creek is only a couple feet away from where you’re kneeling rather than a dozen feet away as is often the case in a bigger river.

These runs in small creek are typically more shallow than the ones in a river, so a fly fisher is simply more visible to the fish. Maybe all this sneaking through the brush reminds me of bow-hunting elk.

Whatever the case, operating in stealth mode is part of the fun.

Small creeks require more precision

To be honest, this is a reason to hate fly fishing small creeks as well as to love it.

It’s not that big rivers allow you to make sloppy casts. But they are more forgiving.

A river may give you a foot-wide window for placing your fly. But in a small creek, that window often closes to a couple of inches. Short, gentle, target-specific casts are the order of the day when fly fishing a small creek. The challenge is usually fun, although some days it will drive you crazy.

Small creeks are easier to wade

This is the middle-aged man in me speaking.

A day of wade-fishing the Yellowstone leaves me weary. It’s a combination of fighting the swift current while trying to keep from slipping as I step from one slick rock to another.

Recently when Dave and I fished a couple small creeks, the pedometer on his cell phone indicated that we walked about seven miles (full disclosure: some of those steps were to and from a great little café in Preston, Minnesota). I was surprised we had walked that far because my legs and feet were hardly tired at all. That’s the benefit of a day of ankle-deep and calf-deep wading.

Small creeks are home to some large trout

For the most part, the trout are smaller in small creeks, and neither Dave nor I mind a bit.

I get as much joy landing a ten-inch rainbow in a small creek as I do a twenty-inch rainbow in a large river.

Last week I caught an eleven-inch brown on a dry fly in a small creek, and it made my day. But occasionally, you’ll catch a monster in a small creek. Recently, I fly fished the Boulder River in Montana in a mountainous stretch where the “river” is really a small creek. For several years, I had caught mainly eight- to twelve-inch fish. But one afternoon, when it began to rain lightly and the trout went into a feeding frenzy, I caught a fifteen-inch rainbow and then a sixteen-inch rainbow on consecutive casts.

Then the rain stopped, and so did the fishing. This experience reminded me that bigger trout lurk in these small streams. They are harder to catch, but everyone once in a while you’ll hook into one of them.

Enjoy your next trip to a big river. But don’t overlook the smaller streams that flow into it. Your best day of the trip might be on a creek that everyone else has neglected.