GRAYLING, Mich. -- A half-dozen times a year for a decade, I drove over a creek so small you could jump across in most places. It went under the road a mile from a major trout river, and I always wondered what it might hold.
One day I stopped at the creek and began fishing upstream. It was great. There were 10- to 12-inch brown trout that would eat any insect that landed on the water. The absence of a fisherman's path or even footprints in the mud along the banks was a pretty good indication it rarely was fished.
The trees and brush grew so thick along the creek that hang-ups were common, but the fishing was so good that they were a minor irritation. About 300 yards up from the road the creek widened to a shallow pool where I could see a fish rising next to a deadfall along the side.
The rise was small, like another dink, and when I dropped the fly above the fading ripple, it was sucked down in a couple of seconds. But when I raised the rod tip, the water just exploded as a big fish ripped off across the pool and ran 20 yards upstream.
It turned out to be a 22-inch brown, the kind of fish you'd never expect from a stream this small. The memory of that great fish has lured me back to the creek several times a year since, and while I haven't caught another trout that big, I have been surprised by enough 14- to 18-inchers that I'll drive 50 miles out of my way to fish it.
A couple of weeks ago, I fished for smallmouth bass with Mike Pehanich, the senior writer for BASS Master magazine, and he told me about a series of stories he's working on called "Small Waters."
Pehanich's premise is that while most anglers work the same well-known big lakes, there are hundreds of 50- to 250-acre ponds within easy reach that contain good numbers of bass and get very little fishing pressure.
That got me to thinking about my penchant for small trout waters, which often are more productive than the big streams except when a major fly hatch is on, like the Hendrickson or hexagenia flies.
And the little rivers have a beauty and charm that's tough to match on big waters. One small river in the far western Upper Peninsula drops down a series of rock steps and ledges, and by midsummer the water level has dropped so low that it turns into a series of pools connected by tiny rivulets. The water runs clear and cold, but the fish are in little ponds ranging in size from a kitchen sink to a hot tub.
It's delightful to scale the exposed rock of the riverbed and cast flies to fish swimming in a pool 4 or 5 feet above. In some places, you can stand on the steep rock face below, poke your head over the rim of the pool and spot the fish holding in the crystalline water.
Many little streams don't produce major fly hatches, but that probably is what makes the fish in them less choosy. You will have a lot more success if you fish upstream rather than down.
The tight quarters along most of the small streams make a short fly rod a good choice. And for the creeks and small rivers, I've found that a leader a little shorter than the rod seems to result in fewer streamside hang-ups on the back cast.
Rather than the 2- or 3-weight rods that I often use on more open waters, I like a 6-weight fly rod for tight, brushy streams. Because most casts are 20 feet or less, the heavier No. 6 line makes it easier to drop a fly accurately.
When I fish a well-known trout river for the first time, I usually map out ahead of time a couple of smaller feeder creeks that look like they should hold trout and may get less angling pressure.
Computer sites like Google Earth are great for looking over these places before the trip. And if you get the GPS coordinates for a likely looking site from Google Maps and plug them into a car's GPS navigation unit, you'll be amazed how often the navigator will be able to guide you there on gravel roads and two tracks.