The Expert: Tim Patterson, owner of RIGS Adventure Co. in southwest Colorado, has been a fly-fishing guide since external frame packs were in.
1. WATCH FIRST
If the trout are eating on the surface, use a dry fly that mimics the size and color of the insects. Use nymphs to go after deep-feeding fish. In small streams that lack flying insects, trout eat ants, beetles, spiders, crickets and other creepy crawlies. Cast flies that look like them.
2. ADAPT TO THE FISH
You might go after surface-feeding fish with the right fly and only catch small ones. Switch to a nymph to see if the bigger fish are lurking below.
3. READ THE RIVER
Look for areas where fish are more likely to hang out.
4. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE SMALL POOLS
An adult trout can live in a desk-size pool in a stream as long as the water is more than 2 feet deep.
5. THINK LIKE A SMALL FISH
Look for logs and rocks that offer hiding spots.
6. CHOOSE THE RIGHT ROD
Mountain fishing—with small streams, brush-lined lakes, and smaller trout—calls for light gear. You’ll be happier with a short rod (8 feet; shorter if you like exploring forested creeks). Two- to four-weight rods yield more action and play.
7. BE STEALTHY
Don’t spook the fish: Approach from downstream and avoid casting a shadow on the water or creating a silhouette against the horizon. Stay on the bank if you can.
8. TIME IT RIGHT
Target mountain streams in summer through early fall. Don’t waste your time on rivers that are fast and turgid.
9. KEEP THEM GUESSING
Don’t cast to the same spot over and over; the fish will know something is up.
10. GO SHORT
Long casts look nice in photos, but aren’t very useful in close-quarters fishing. Farther than 20 feet will most likely cause problems, such as casting over fish, which can scare them away.