27 - Top Tips - Summer Small Rivers



Stealth and simplicity: River fly fishing tackle tips

With the late start to the current season, river fly fishers will be as eager as ever to get back to what they love. We have some excellent hacks to help make the most of your time on the water this month.

With such a long layoff before this year’s river fly fishing season, it’s been a rough time for many. Obviously there have been far more important things than fishing at stake, but the enforced absence should also make us cherish our sport more than ever.

If nothing else, there has been time to tie extra flies and sort the gear out properly and this month we’re going to take a closer look at how to fly fish small rivers- or at least how I do it!- in terms of the tackle and some of the practical aspects.

Start small and keep it local

Throughout the country, there is affordable fly fishing these days- but some might be put off by the price and exclusivity of more expensive waters. And in the digital era there’s also the endless stream of huge trout and orgasmic looking river shots on social media. Dont worry about what others are doing, because with some local homework and a look at local fisheries and waters, there’s some excellent fishing to be had for all.

90% of the fish on just 5 flies

(L to R): Klinkhamer, Elk Hair Caddis, Beadhead Hares Ear Shellback, CDC CaddisRose Loop Tag CDC


Ok, so it’s the pub debate that never ends. But if you could pick just a minimum of patterns, what would you take? You can experiment with stacks of realistic flies and beautiful designs, all of which have their place but often simple is best (especially when trees will always confiscate some of your work).

So, whilst always keeping the odd curveball in reserve, try and keep a good selection of tried and tested patterns in the fly box that do the job and are either easy to tie or source. With the dries a simple Klinkhamer Emerger (size 16-18) or Elk Hair Caddis (12-16), especially for broken water with the latter. For subtler presentations and smoother water, CDC patterns tend to rule, such as a CDC Caddis (16) or Rose Loop Tag CDC(16).

For wets, not more will hooks more fish than with a simple beaded Hare’s Ear, (usually with a size 16 being optimum and these days).

One final tip here is to stock up on the flies you use most. The same goes for tapered leaders and other basics; order them in and keep in stock. You will always be sure to go through and use them. You don’t want to find yourself in that situation where you reach in the pocket and find you are out.

Sort out your leaders and tippets!

When starting river fishing we can all make the same mistake. We get through endless leaders in a season and pick tippet materials that are either mediocre quality or too thick. Try the opposite; a solid reel and fly line, combined with top quality tippet materials!

Find a reliable tapered leader for starters, and extend its life by adding a tiny leader ring on the end to attach your tippet. This will save you many quid in the long run, as you won’t keep shortening leaders until they are useless.

In terms of leader length, a 9ft tapered leader plus 2-3ft of tippet is a very useable typical length. Only try changing this if the stream was especially tight- in which case one could occasionally chop down to 7ft of tapered leader plus tippet.

The actual tippet is possibly the most vital part of all. Does it really matter to the fish whether you use 5lb or 3lb tippet. In a word, YES! This is especially true for dry fly fishing. There is a world of difference between say bog standard 3-4lb mono and a really top class material.

The best of them will give you a fantastic presentation with just under 3lb of leader strength at just 0.10mm of diameter. Flies just behave more naturally with thin, supple tippet, it’s as simple as that. Why is it that we will pay over £100 for a reel, but consider anything over £10 as outrageous for really top notch fishing line?


Invest in the best tippet material and you’ll trick more fish!

You may also find a low diameter fluorocarbon is perfectly fine for dry fly fishing. Yes, others will disagree and say “no, fluorocarbon sinks” but in finer diameters it works well. It will still stick to the surface tension or, at worst, just-about-sink. Perhaps this is to our advantage, as it makes those final few inches harder to see


Really damned simple nymph tactics

Talking of leaders and leader or “rig rings”, this tapered leader to rig ring to tippet set up also makes it a cinch to fish nymphs on smaller rivers. Ok, we may rather catch on the dry fly- but if it’s a cool day, nothing is rising, or the fish are in the deeper pools, why make life hard for yourself?


The same leader set up is just fine- and the leader ring makes an ideal stopping point to keep a basic, fold-on foam indicator in place. Yes, it’s very basic- but with a gold bead nymph it’s an incredibly effective, hassle free set up. The advantage of vast leaders on big rivers and fussy fish with long rods are diluted when on bushy little streams. For those of you who may wish for a flexible solution the Thingamabobber offers a great solution with its patented jam stop system allowing to easily change and adapt lines.


Boxes and Storage

Common to a lot of anglers of all levels every season, we can vouch for the fact that they love their little containers. Some anglers have more containers than Gandalf’s cellar! Nothing wrong with any product if it does the job for you, but our advice is always find a simple selection and stick to it.

Best dry fly floatant

Floatant and revive image

Beyond a bit of fuller’s earth to dull shiny tippets or help nymphs to sink, an essential selection is simply a dry fly grease and a bit of dry fly revive powder.

One common fault that drive us to ruin, for example, is seeing floating flies sinking quickly. Just a tiny rub of floatant is all that most need. For rough water and patterns that need extra buoyancy, like the Elk Hair Caddis, a good tip here is to apply floatant twice- once at home, followed by a second time on the water.

Some Divagra may help those inclined to use a nylon leader. Designed to help the leader sink below the surface it can help get rid of the visibility on the leader in the surface film.


As for the more delicate side of things, CDC patterns are a great addition to any fly box- but they can be very brittle, tending to crumple in a heap when bitten. A bottle of  dry “fly revive” powder is like the “magic sponge” of the physio, quickly perking them back into action, hence it also finds a permanent home in my pocket.

Other really useful fly fishing gear



Slime line Nipper – 3 in 1 (Left)

A complete package – nipper, knot tying tool and guarded needle.

Tippet holder (Middle)

Allows for easy access and holds spools securely.

Sportsman bumper fishing rod holder car (Right)

Last but not least, I would not be without my stick on rod holder for the car? Why exactly? Because I once smashed a friends rod clean in two by propping it against the car; before it slid down and got caught in the car door, mid slam! For £15 the Sportsman Bumper sticks magnetically to the car and avoids all risk of the sort of accident that could cost a small fortune and ruin your day. You have been warned! Google it and buy one, because they are absolutely indispensable.


Simple tackle

One thing to love about stream fishing is how simple the tackle is. Basic, practical, tried and tested tackle is all you need.

Fly lines offer a large range of choice to many anglers. Yes, for a big river, specialised tactics or very fussy fish you might want to invest a bit and look at the best lines for your water and tactics. Keep in mind where you are fishing and what you are after and how you intend to do it.

For the small streams, where space is at a premium the need to cast more than 10-15 metres is rare. The Cortland Fair Play series is an example of an ideal fly line for entry level.  Or for more near range in close fishing try a Cortland Sylk line available in a double taper or weight forward.