Small stream, big reward? |

Small stream, big reward?

Trout willingly rise to a fly in crystal-clear waters. There’s not another angler in sight, though it’s midsummer in Colorado.

Sound familiar? Probably not.

Anyone fixated on the Roaring Fork Valley’s vaunted Gold Medal waters ” the Fryingpan River and the Roaring Fork River ” will endure finicky trout rising to a hatch (just not one you can successfully match) and, especially on the Pan, ass-to-elbow crowds.

For the adventurous, it doesn’t have to be that way, says Tim Heng, manager at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt.

The high country is filled with small streams where anglers willing to take a hike are often rewarded with solitude and feisty, native cutthroats and brook trout that will bend the rod like a lunker ” provided it’s a small rod.

“If you catch a 12-incher, it’s probably a trophy,” Heng said. Fish in the 4- to 10-inch range are more common.

Heng recently extolled the virtues of small-stream fishing during an evening chat with campers at Chapman Campground on the upper Fryingpan ” in the heart of small-stream country.

The tributaries that feed into the upper Fryingpan, above Ruedi Reservoir ” and the upper Pan itself ” are all likely stomping grounds for the small-stream enthusiast, according to Heng.

He prefers a 7-foot, 4-weight rod with a 4X or 5X leader of 6 to 7 1/2 feet. The smaller gear will make a small fish feel big, and it’s really all one needs for the short casts required in small water.

Small streams are also a good training ground for young anglers, according to Heng.

“Kids can catch a lot of fish without making great casts,” he said. In fact, on a brush-choked stream, casting may be impossible. Heng’s not above holding his rod out and dangling a fly in a hole.

And fly selection isn’t nearly as critical as it is on the Pan below Ruedi, or on the Roaring Fork, Heng added.

“The fish up here are more opportunistic feeders,” he said. Favorite summertime flies for Heng: royal wulffs and caddis patterns in the No. 12-16 range. Floatant is important. If the trout aren’t rising, try tying a dropper behind the dry, he advised.

“A lot of the joy of it, quite frankly, is you’re not going to see a lot of people on the small streams,” Heng said. “You hike up a ways, you may not see anybody all day long.

“That’s probably more the enjoyment of it ” more than the size of the fish.”

Inspired by Heng’s talk, a friend and I headed the following day to Chapman Gulch, one of the small streams he mentioned in the upper Fryingpan Valley.

From the Chapman Gulch trailhead, we bushwacked up the stream bank and dropped in a royal wolff whenever there was room to maneuver, which wasn’t often. We had the fishing to ourselves, though.

I quickly caught about a 6-inch brookie, but after a few hundred yards, we concluded the fishing wasn’t exciting enough to warrent further exploration. Instead, we went off to get skunked on bigger water.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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