Maybe even more so than lakes and rivers, Washington State has a huge number of creeks, streams, and small rivers throughout the state. Though not all of them are open for fly fishing, many of them during certain times of the year are and can often be great for small, medium, and even large-sized trout.
As always, it is best to check the regulations for the latest updates before you head out to the water. Because many of these streams and creeks are the home waters to stressed or even endangered species of fish the regulations can and do change suddenly.
Creeks and small streams run the entire range of Washington State. You can find them along the coastline running into the Pacific Ocean, in both the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and even in the high desert of the Columbia Basin. Creeks and small streams often flow in and out of lakes or are tributaries of larger rivers.
Some of the trout species you might encounter in these rivers are Rainbows, Cutthroat (Sea Run and Resident), Browns, and Dolly Varden (Bull Trout). In many of these rivers, you will also find Steelhead (Winter or Summer Run), Salmon, possibly Coho, Chum, and Pinks. Other possible species include Whitefish, Large Mouth and Small Mouth Bass, Carp, Crappie, Yellow Perch, Catfish, and Pumpkin Seed Sunfish, especially in some of the rivers in Eastern Washington. All of these fish will sometimes take a fly. Including many of the flies, you might be using to catch trout. Gear
Fly Rods: For creeks and small streams, I almost always use a four-weight. I like using a four-piece travel rod. I tend to also use a shorter rod as well. A six foot rod is often all you need for these creeks and streams. You will almost always be making short casts and often making roll casts.
Fly Lines: As with fly rods, on creeks and small streams I don’t get fancy. A full floating line is all I ever use. If I need to go deeper I use weighted flies. I will use fly lines in muted colors though rather than the bright yellows or oranges. I’ve found these are much less likely to spook the fish on clear sunny days.
Flies: For creeks and streams most of your standard dry flies will work, though smaller sizes (#20, #22 sometimes) seem to work better. I’m terrible at matching the hatch, so if I haven’t done my homework before I hit the stream then I will just start with a small Elk Hair Caddis if I see rising fish.
Small nymphs and scud patterns will also work well especially on Spring Creeks.
Cutthroats (Sea Run and Resident), Browns, and Dolly Varden all will take streamers and Wooley Buggers in various colors. Also, don’t be afraid to try your San Juan Worm or even Egg patterns on these creeks and small streams. You would be surprised by what will work sometimes.
Techniques: Most of the same techniques you would use for trout on larger rivers will also apply to creeks and small streams. But there are a few techniques that I think are unique to creeks and small streams. There are a few things that might be different though.
Approaching a creek or small stream often requires a lot more stealth than a large river. Because they are generally a lot narrower and shallower these creeks and small streams tend to run a lot clearer than many of the bigger rivers. Which means the trout in them can be much more keyed into shadows over the water, reflections off your gear, and even heavy footsteps near the bank. On a Spring Creek, I often fish I will sometimes will walk up on a coulee overlooking the stream with a pair of field glasses and spot where the Browns and Rainbows are before I start fly fishing. I have learned that sometimes a little extra preparation avoids me spooking the fish. On most of the creeks and small streams I’ve fished, I am almost always sight fishing. And therefore stalking the trout as well. I don’t usually go so far as wearing camos, but I do try to wear darker colors and I’m careful with stuff that reflects on sunny days.
In the late Spring and Summer when the shoreline brush and weeds have grown tall and the trout are often keyed in on big terrestrials like grasshoppers, instead of attempting a cast that I know will most likely hang up on the weeds, I will swing or toss my fly over the brush. This often works very well in deep holes. I’ve had some pretty big fish (five to six pounds) explode on Hopper imitations. I’ve also found that that it pays to bring a good net with a longer handle. Creeks and small streams often have brush-covered shorelines or very steep banks that make it impossible to land a fish without a long- handled net.
A few things to consider when fly fishing these creeks and small streams. Many of them are very remote. If you going to be hiking into a remote creek or stream to fly fish I’d at least bring a first aid kit and plenty of water with me.
Also, in the mountains and in much of Eastern Washington in the late Spring, Summer, and even early Fall Deer Ticks are a real danger. They do carry Lyme Disease. Wearing proper clothing and using some sort of bug repellent are both great ways to keep yourself safe from these nasty little critters and the terrible disease they carry.
It is always good to remember that oftentimes you are sharing these creeks and small streams with other wild animals. Depending on where you are and what time of year it is Rattle Snakes, Cougars, and Black Bear are possible to encounter. On one of my favorite small streams in Eastern Washington almost every year I usually see a few Rattle Snakes. I’ve also seen Black Bear cubs (yes, I got out of there fast), and signs of what was probably a fairly big Cougar. A creek or small stream is oftentimes the life line for these animals for both food and water. I always try and keep this in mind whenever I’m fly fishing in an area where there might be potentially dangerous wild animals.
The worst day fishing usually beats the best day at work, but not if you get eaten in the process.