Small streams feature plenty of fish, just not as big

Brushy banks and small overhangs provide needed food and habitat for trout living in small streams. Plus, plunge pools under dams can be the deep water needed for winter survival.

In a world that glorifies bigness, small streams stand out if only for the very lack of that.

Stories abound of 100-fish days, 22-inch browns, 100-foot casts ­— ad infinitum.

It’s not bad to catch 100 fish in a day, or to gloat over out-muscling a 24-inch brown trout fought to exhaustion or being able to cast 100-feet when 90 percent of the fish you’re going to catch are within 30 feet.

Is it?

Small streams have, in a condensed sort of way, all of the above.

Your 100 fish may not come out of the same pool, or even the same stream, but they will come.

That 24-inch brown comes in three, 8-inch segments and the only thing you’ll catch at 100 feet is the top of the blue spruce towering over the creek.

Small streams lack only thing — winter habitat.

People ask why small streams often don’t harbor big fish and mostly you hear the line about “not enough food.”

Yeah, maybe, but that’s always true.

A bigger river may have more food, like a supermarket has more food than the corner store, but you won’t starve either place.

Caddis emerge, drakes pop out, stoneflies crawl and fly away, on streams large and small across the West.

The food supply of a river or creek relies more on the quality of the water, the insect life supported by that water and the creekside vegetation offering shady pools and the occasional terrestrial bug that falls or is blown into the stream.

But when winter comes and trout in bigger waters head for deep water, trout in small streams often can only wait it out, hoping for an early thaw.

Think about any stream rehabilitation project and you can be sure among its main goals are deepening pools and developing winter holding water.

Without those still, deep pools, the ones deep enough they won’t freeze, where the current softens and where enough water flows to maintain oxygen levels, trout won’t live long enough to grow big.

Deep pools also offer late-summer refuges at a time when springs and snowmelt begin to dry up and water temperatures rise.


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