Always be ready to adjust when you’re on the river.
I’ve been fishing my local streams long enough to know when the fishing is good within the first 10 minutes of stepping into the stream. When it’s not I keep moving. If I see some action but don’t get a take, I’m always ready to adjust based on conditions or patterns that I see.
I believe my line of thinking can apply to most any small stream situation, so here is how I do it.
When I keep moving
If I don’t see rises or any interest in 5 or 6 casts, I pick up and move on to another spot. There is no sense in wasting time changing out 3 or 4 flies, or changing tippet size, or adjusting indicator location; give it up and move on. I may revisit the same spot later in the day, but I’ve learned it’s better to cover more water than it is to try and make a particular spot work for me.
This depends on time of day, weather conditions and other factors, of course, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
When I change flies
I change flies most often when I see trout look interested, but fail to take my fly. This usually tells me that they are interested, but just not quite sure they want that one.
Sometimes just a simple color change can do it. Other times it takes a smaller size, or a different–but similar–fly to get them to eat.
I also change flies based on time of day. Early mornings almost always start out with a nymph, but in Summer it may be a small beetle pattern. As soon as it’s decently warm or a fair amount of sun is coming off, I switch to dry flies for the rest of the day in almost all situations.
When I change presentation
I honestly don’t change presentation much, especially on small streams with really tight quarters. I’m either drifting a dry fly or I’m fishing a nymph just below the surface. Both usually require short, calculated casts on the smallest tippet I can get away with.
I also tend to fish upstream 99% of the time. Cast upstream, drift it down, and always be alert on the swing. I find many takes happen when swinging the fly across right before I pick it back up for another cast.
In terms of actual presentation, I almost always dead drift my flies, except for hopper patterns, which I often throw in some movement. Small stream fishing just lends itself to a solid, accurate dead drift and it works 99% of the time.
Honestly, fly fishing tends to be a healthy dose of trial and error. There are so many variables involved that you just have to be ready for whatever you may come across.
I am by no means an expert at fly fishing, but these are some tips that I have picked up over the last several years. I hope they can help you with more hookups and more fish.