explore small water

Explore the Small Water this Summer

Getting time out on the water amidst our bustling, busy lives can be somewhat of a struggle for some. Whether you’re a full time college student or working the 9-5 – we all have that fly fishing bug. A yearning to spend more time than we already do out on the water. When you finally catch a break and get a chunk of time to yourself; chances are big fish and iconic water are on your mind. Now, as much as we all get stoked about a colored up 20in brown on the Colorado, I encourage you to try something new.

Give some careful thought and attention to that creek a buddy mentioned. Small water carries a special kind of release through its riffles and runs. At the right time of year most of the natives that inhabit these delicate waterways can be fooled by your favorite dry, and are always eager. You don’t have to worry about your 3 fly rig clad with an indicator and split shot getting tangled. Sometimes you don’t even need your waders!

Finding it: 

In the Vail Valley there are numerous options in the realm of small water, and most have a good amount of access. Options like Gore Creek, Brush Creek, and Homestake Creek are all exceptional options, as well as the lesser known or talked about tributaries of the larger water in the area.

Back Tracking

Google Earth is a priceless tool when looking for new water or exploring water you already know. There are a couple of strategies to utilize when looking for a small creek or identifying a new stretch of water you may already know. The first strategy is backtracking. What I mean by this is finding your favorite local river on the map, preferably one with plenty of public access and public land on at least one side of the river, and then looking at the various tributaries that flow into said river. Once you’ve found a good candidate, start backtracking. Follow the twists and turns paying careful attention to the features both of the creek itself and the surrounding land.

The water is obviously what we’re all interested in, but making sure to look at the land surrounding the water is just as important. The water is only fishable if you can get to it!


The second strategy is looking for access. At one time or another, we have all struggled with finding access on an piece of water we think will turn out to be unbelievable to fish (which is probably why it’s so rad in the first place). Look for roads and trailheads, they are your friends! Remember, you can’t wet a fly if you can’t even get to the water. Always be aware of public and private land boundaries so you don’t find yourself in a sticky situation with a land owner. Not everyone understands that you’re “just fishing and not doing any harm”, trust me, I speak from experience.

Once you find the water and the access to it print out a copy of what you see on the computer screen, mark your way in and where you want to fish. Taking the time to use these strategies before you hit the water can be crucial to getting the most out of your day.

Taking Something Home From Your Day on the Water, And I’m Not Talking About Fish:

Not only is it a good time, but creek fishing hones skills that can be overlooked on a larger piece of water such as presentation and watching where you wade.


Presentation is arguably the most vital skill in your fly fishing arsenal, and when you’re looking at a gin clear pool filled with skittish residents, it IS the most important thing, that’s a fact. Sharpening the skill of fly presentation will help you get that eat wherever you may wind up trying to fool a picky fish. You want the fish to be genuinely fooled by your fly, and the first step to achieving that is to be sure that your fly is the first thing that fish sees. Make sure you’re managing your fly line, and mending or high sticking when necessary. The next thing you want to be mindful of is setting your fly down delicately to begin the drift. Slapping it down on the water with a large footprint will most likely spook the fish.


Watching where you step while wading is, more often than not, neglected when fishing a larger piece of water. The truth is that the water you’re dredging through to get to that “perfect run” up the river probably has fish in it too, and you should give your fly or flies a few drifts before disturbing it. Fishing a smaller piece of water can make you much more sensitive the where your boot is going to land next.

Most of the time just a little critical thinking and observation is required to take that next step in a productive direction, and spook less fish. Take the time to think about how you’re going to approach fishing a certain run, read the water, decide where you think the fish are, decide how you’d like to present the fly, and don’t walk through water that may be productive. Being keen on details like these, and heeding the tips on presentation will give you a better chance of getting a fish to hand.

Clear, Cold, Public

Not everyone can say they’re a landowner, but here in the United States we are fortunate enough to have vast, expansive public lands that every citizen can go out and use. We are so lucky that we live in a country that sees these lands as a right to their citizens. These lands are crucial to the lifestyle we live, as well as so many people’s careers. Not to mention that they hold some of the best fishing, and most beautiful scenery in the country, so let’s keep our public lands public! It’s up to us, as stewards of these lands, to be aware of keeping them pristine and accessible.

So next time you get the day off work…or maybe even decide to skip class on Friday to disappear early for the weekend, log some time looking into the small water options in the Vail Valley area, or in your home area. You just may find yourself taking a day off from that technical tailwater to catch 10in native trout, and really enjoying it! Head over to the shop to stock up on flies, gear, and advice before your outing, and if you’re not in the Vail Valley area check out our online store! Get out there, fish it, and leave it better than you found it.

By: Max Westheimer, @troutwest