By Karl Kortemeier
Want a new adventure? Want to fish to unstocked, naturally reproducing, native fish?
Want to fish water that rarely sees another fisherman? And is probably less than a few miles from home? If this sounds like a blast, then urban fishing is for you. So what is urban fishing? I define it as fishing natural waters within city limits of any modern metro area. My adventures in urban fishing started a few years back when I sat down at my vise; because, I didn’t have time to drive to one of my favorite mountain trout streams. After a few flies, I took a break by looking at Google Earth for some armchair exploring. The main screen displayed my current location. I live in Decatur, GA, which is part of Metro Atlanta. As you would expect, Decatur is a bustling community of cars, traffic, barking dogs, and loud music. But, thanks to Google Earth, I noticed that there are also blue lines, Tons of them! Blue lines indicate creeks, streams and other waterways. I was amazed, by all of the water that runs right under our feet and next to our homes and businesses in almost any urban area. This got me thinking, “What if I could fish any time within minutes of my home?”
I zoomed in and focused on a possible candidate. I grabbed my fly rod and headed to an access point, the closest being Park and Putt, a local beer store. After buying a beer, I talked to the guy behind the counter. His furry eyebrows twitched when he saw my fly rod.
“You want to do what?” he asked, incredulously. “That creek has nothing but sewage and trash in it. If you catch anything the next beer is on me.”
I headed through a field of kudzu and a broken fence to get to the stretch I planned to fish. The water was crystal clear and ran over a sand bottom. Every 50 to 100 yards the sand was broken by sections of stone riffles or old sections of stonework, very similar to many of the mountain trout streams I have fished. I put on a small yellow popper and got to work. My first cast was engulfed by a small bluegill. I went on to catch fish after fish. I caught close to two dozen fish within a few hours of fishing. Every fish was beautiful and brightly colored. The reds and blues of the sunfish looked neon against the verdant growth along both shores. I even caught two small bass. Each fish jumped on the popper like it was the first they had seen. I never went back for my beer. I figured the store clerk wouldn’t believe me anyway.
Since that first trip, I have learned a few things about fishing these small streams.
In Atlanta, we are graced with the Chattahoochee. It is an amazing tail water trout fishery all on its own. The ‘Hooch, as it is fondly known, is an urban river in its own right; but for this article, let’s focus on the smaller warm water feeder streams. When I look at Google Earth, I first look for the blue lines. Then I switch to the satellite image to see the size of the water. Any waterway that is 5 to 10 feet wide is worth looking at. As I drive to work or if I am out with family, I am constantly making mental notes about streams I want to look at. My wife and kids roll their eyes every time I go scampering into a sewage drainage to look at a creek. It’s part of the fun.
Once you find a waterway that shows potential, it is time to figure out a decent place to park and a way to access the stream. Oftentimes, appealing creeks and streams pass through city parks and public spaces. However, there are typically no boat ramps or central access points for truly urban streams. Consider having someone drop you off or using Uber (thanks for the idea, Louis!). Last but not least, don’t forget how handy a bicycle can be.
When should you go? I enjoy fishing urban streams mid-Summer through the first cool days of Fall. I prefer this time of year, because the water levels get lower which concentrates the fish. There are also tons of insects in the air, and the fish will readily strike top waters.
Watch the rain! These streams are hugely influenced by rainfall. Because of all of the nearby impervious surfaces (read: concrete), the rainwater flows immediately into these drainages. If it rains, I usually wait a few days before I go. If you do go before the water clears, the fishing is doable but tough. You can’t see what’s under your feet, and the fish act very sluggish.
Always wear good wading shoes. I typically wet wade. These creeks have a beauty all their own, but the stream bed is full of urban artifacts. Forget waders. They will get torn to shreds by the pieces of metal and briers that you’ll find on your adventure. On a recent family trip, I turned to help my older son out with a fish and when I turned around my 2 year old was wielding a 12” long butcher knife he found in the sand. Can you say, “Hello Chucky?”
What kind of tackle should you use? I use my 4-weight trout rod, but I overload the rod with a 5 or even 6 weight line. Most of the casts are going to be up close and very short, 10’ or less. You want your rod to load closely with very little line out. I also have a Sage Smallmouth rod. This rod works extremely well because it loads up close and is very accurate. I like a shorter leader. A 7 ½ foot 2x or 3x works great. I custom make a 6’ leader, or you can cut the 7½’ leader to size. Fly selection is simple. I almost always use a size 4 or 6 popper if Largemouth Bass are present. The size 6 will draw strikes from the bass, but the bream can still get it into their mouths. If I am fishing a tiny stream, say around 5’ wide, I will go with the smaller bug, sometimes down to a size 8. Yellow or chartreuse are my go-to colors. I will also sometimes use a small nymph as a dropper off the popper. This combination is fantastic. I use this on the larger creeks when casting is a bit easier. I think the popper often pulls in the fish, but they end up eating the nymph. A small size 8 to 12 nymph is perfect. Any of the popular trout nymphs will work.
What about watercraft? If the stream is large enough, I will put in my kayak or canoe. The kayak works extremely well when you want to cover a lot of water or have time for a through trip. There will be lots of times that you will have to drag over shoals, but the inconvenience is greatly outweighed by being able to carry your gear, cold drinks, etc.
On one of my last urban trips, I wheeled my kayak on a city park path, down a dirt drainage, and across an in-fill lot before I got to a feeder stream of the creek I wanted to fish. I was soaked in sweat by the time I got there. All I kept thinking about was the cool adventure awaiting me. I ended up dragging the kayak about 100 yards down the feeder creek into the main stream. At the confluence I noticed a bunch of green plywood shacks up and down the hillside. There were chickens, and a garden off to one side. As I was getting situated, an elderly man came out of one of the shacks. His back was arched by age, and his neck muscles strained so he could look straight ahead as he walked.
“You goin’ fishin’?” he asked.
I said, “Yes sir,” and he pointed down stream at the first bend.
“That spot there,” he said pointing his finger at and old cinder block building that was half in the creek. “That spot right behind there. That’s the spot to fish.”
I thanked him, and after I got going a bit he yelled, “Be careful! Some of these folks that live here don’t like people pokin’ around. They scared someone will kick ‘em out.” I assured him I would mind my own business as I waved and paddled on.
Another item that surprises some people is the amount of garbage.
Many of the eddies or stream pileups are full of bottles, tires, discarded dolls, etc. My son always asks, “Why is there is so much garbage?” I tell him to think of them as ornaments. The streams are beautiful places. It’s a shame that people abuse them.
A few last thoughts: The fish in these streams are naturally reproducing, wild fish. They are a blast to catch and deserve fisherman’s attention. They are scrappy fighters that are willing and able to pounce on any reasonable presentation. Don’t overlook the local streams; they can make a broken day into a great one. I can almost guarantee you will see very few people even though the press of humanity is only yards away.
Go out and find a local urban stream, grab a few poppers, and have a blast!
For further reading: (These are not specifically about urban streams, but the information is great)
“Fishing Small Streams with a Fly Rod” by Charles R. Meck
“Sunfishes” and “Bassin’ with a Fly Rod” by Jack Ellis (A must read for any warm water fly fisherman)
“Stream Smallmouth Fishing” by Tim Holschlag
“Fly Fishing Techniques for Smallmouth Bass” by Harry Murray
“Fly Fishing for Smallmouth in Rivers and Streams” by Bob ClouserKarl Kortemeier Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!