Serving The Fly-Fishing Enthusiast in Michigan
and the rest of the Great Lakes
Home  ·  Topics  ·  Privacy Policy  · Fly Patterns  ·  Knots  
Main Menu
  • Home
  • Article Topics
  • AutoTheme
  • Most Read
  • Reader Surveys
  • Search this Site
  • Stories Archive

  • Random Headlines

    Fly Fishing Tips
    [ Fly Fishing Tips ]

    ·Proper Stream Etiquette - a Few Suggestions
    ·Fly fishing for Coho
    ·Urban Streams
    ·Intro to rod building
    ·Basic Entomology
    ·Lefty Kreh on Fly Fishing Leaders
    ·Warm Feet Are Neat - What To Wear
    ·Double Taper Versus Weight Forward: Which is Really Better?
    ·How To Choose the Right Fly Line Weight

    Urban Streams

    Fly Fishing Tips TonyCarpBoy writes "City Streams and The Urban Sportsman
    I have been a city boy for all of my adult life. I grew up fishing but gave it up in college because I could never get up to the northern Minnesota lakes that I grew up with. Much of the problem was that I assumed that there was nothing worth fishing for in the city.

    This idea strengthened when I took up fly fishing and especially trout fly fishing. The closest marginal trout water is a solid hour south of my house. It was worth the effort for a while when I was learning about trout and fly fishing. Now my life is too busy to take a half day to go fishing three times a week. For fishing to work in the fanatical way I wanted it in my life, I needed to find a better solution.

    In the past couple of years I have started to expand my targeted-species list and also, more importantly, explore waters that I have ignored for years. Trout were just too hard to find in my part of the state and non-crowded waters were even harder to locate. I looked to panfish, roughfish and other warm water species to fill the species void and to urban streams and ponds to fill the need for lightly pressured waters.

    This article is designed to help you find good fly water near your own home. This advice works for spinning gear and even live-bait fishing so do not feel excluded if you do not fly fish.

    Urban streams are often assumed to be polluted, dead waters. They get a lot of abuse from their surroundings and these small waters can seem devoid of life. This is not always true though. One day this spring it occurred to me that the city creek my son was tossing stones into looked exactly like a medium sized trout stream. Smallish but deep pools, fast riffles and long runs. I brought polarized glasses the next time we went down there and soon realized that there was a run of 16-20 inch fish bunched up in the tail-out of the pool in front of us. This was in direct view of a bike path and the hundreds of people that rode and walked by every day. The fish were the size and shape of trout but I knew they could not be. No one was fishing.

    Change in Species

    I tossed a variety of flies at them for a couple of days with no luck. After getting skunked a couple of times I dug some worms in my garden and returned with an ultra light rod. That evening I caught a half dozen pound to two pound white suckers on two pound test. It was great sport. They fought like mad and were a bit challenging to get to bite. I was hooked and went back every night for a week. It was ten blocks from my house and that allowed me to venture out for quick sundown fishing sessions after my son went to bed. (My wife was not impacted much since I could fit it in without shirking any home duties, another key element to this system!)

    This success got me thinking differently about that small creek. It averages about 15 to 30 feet wide, a couple of feet deep and has a moderate, steady flow. Most seasons it does not run dry although there have been some seasons that it has done so. It is fed by a dam that controls the water level of a large lake system and this provides a good source of water. I started scouting it like I would a trout stream. Over the course of a couple of weeks I caught carp, white sucker, northern pike, walleye, bluegill sunfish, crappie, a huge creek chub and, of course, bullheads. This was all from a single stretch of creek less than a hundred yards long.

    Nearly everyone that walked past would say ?there are no fish in there? or ask accusingly ?do you actually catch anything in there??

    The increase of catch and release fishing has changed the nature of sport fishing. If you are not looking for dinner then different qualities become important in your fishing. Catching fish is always a good thing, catching big fish is fun and outwitting difficult or easily spooked fish is very rewarding. Even small wild fish like creek chubs and sunfish are enjoyable if you fish for them with the right attitude. I spent a half hour catching tiny (4?) sunnies with minute flies in 4 inches of water one afternoon when nothing else was biting.

    Finding water

    The best thing to do is buy a DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for your state. They show very small creeks and ponds and the roads to access them. If you can?t find a De Lorme, any topographical map will do. Don?t get discouraged if you fail to find fishy waters your first attempt. I have scouted dozens of locations to find a few choice spots. In a way, the hunt for good waters is half the fun, enjoy your scouting sessions or combine them with other outings. This is a perfect way to include family or friends in your fishing. I also take mental notes of spots that I happen to drive by but can?t check out right away.


    Mid sized ponds that do not winter-kill are common in many areas. Often they are stocked with sunfish, bass and catfish. If there is a private pond near you, ask some of the land owners around the pond about the fishing and try to get permission to fish it. Do NOT take their word on whether there are fish or not. They are often wrong. I can?t count the number of times people have yelled at me ?there aren?t any fish in there? as I was fishing my favorite hole. Even small ponds can contain fish if they have a stream running through them. I fish in a ?drainage ditch? that is 20 yards across and a hundred yards long that produces 10 pound carp, nice crappie and lots of green sunfish. It does not winter kill because a stream keeps a small supply of oxygenated water flowing through all winter long.

    Drive by the areas that look good on the map and bring your rod. Often the best way to scout is to fish a bit. Look for fish in the same types of structure you would normally. Small nymphs are almost always a good bet for blind surveys of unknown waters. Undercut banks, deep pools, current breaks and seams, log jams and such all offer habitat for fish in these types of streams. If you cannot fish the water, look for signs such as surface feeding, minnows in the shallows or dead fish on the shore. All of these things point to the fact that something swims in those waters.


    While I enjoy still-water fishing, stream fishing seems the perfect use for fly fishing. There is something very pleasing about standing knee deep in a cool stream slinging a fly line, even in the city. The techniques are tailored to moving water and you can make presentations that are not possible with other gear. Add the fact that you can support a lot of fish in a small space due to the constant flow and you have some fine fishing. The first trick is to find a spot in an urban or suburban area. The other trick is to find waters that most people do not know about, fishing piers and other well known spots can get very annoying at times.

    Look for small streams that have a lake somewhere in the system or empty into a lake or larger river. This keeps a source of fish available if the creek runs dry or freezes solid in the winter. The mouth of a small feeder creek into a larger river is always a good spot but the pools upstream will also offer good fishing.

    If there are any major creeks in your area, investigate them first. Look for the same sorts of structure you would if you walked up to a new trout stream. Keep in mind that there may be secluded spots that are not obvious at first. Search for small patches of woods or stretches of stream that wander away from walking paths. This can mean some bush whacking, but the idea is to find wild spots in the city so bush whacking seems like a good thing given the context. Be ethical and respectful in your exploration but be willing to go a bit off the main trail.

    Most importantly, always look for fish. As I mentioned earlier, I found the first population of fish in a ?dead? stream by accident in a very busy area of the city. Now I always look for fish and often find them. Polarized glasses are essential and I wear polarized sun glasses all the time, not just when fishing. You never know when you will come along some great water.

    Man made objects like bridges offer a lot of structure and often dig out a pool below them. These are an excellent place to start. I have caught a lot of fish out of a small pool caused by a water main crossing the stream and my favorite hole on Minnehaha Creek in Minneapolis is just downstream from a foot bridge. Often you can find holes ten feet deep or more in streams that are a foot deep in the riffles and runs.

    Mind Set

    There are several ways to approach this type of fishing. Many people like fishing because it takes them to wild or beautiful places. This can be a bit difficult in the center of an urban area. I have found that a change in expectations and attitude can make urban fishing more of an adventure. Some of my goals and mindsets follow.

    Find wild fish in non-wild places. Regardless of how they got here originally, carp are wild fish and the idea of wild animals downtown or in manmade ditches can be appealing. I look at it with the idea of seeing how resilient wildlife can be, bringing the wilds to the city. Sort of like the Whitetail Deer that hang out in my back yard.

    Find an oasis of wildness. Often you can find a small patch of woods or a hidden pool on your local stream. I have found dozens of areas that you could easily forget that there are giant buildings on the other side of the trees. Sometimes this can be a secluded part of an urban park other times just a patch of woods around a drainage ditch. It takes a mind set of ?look what is here? vs. ?I know what is over there?.

    Reasons for Urban Angling

    To approach the idea of urban angling in an appealing manner, one must look to the reasons we fish.
    Few of us fish strictly for food anymore. When I was a kid we ate everything we caught, now I kill perhaps less than 10% of what I catch. I eat everything I kill. If I am going to eat fish from urban settings, I stick to small panfish only. They have the lowest concentrations of bio-accumulating toxins and it helps the fishery to cull some medium to small fish.

    The reasons we fish may vary, but it tends to boil down to a few things. Fishing is fun, you can benefit from improved skills and the surroundings are often beautiful.

    The last bit I will deal with first. I hear many complaints that the city is dirty, over crowded and lacking of natural beauty. I say it is in the eye of the beholder. You may not find hundreds of acres of woodland or scenic beaver ponds but there are small treasures to be found. I know of several fabulous pools on Minneahaha Creek in South Minneapolis. (There is actually a beaver living in one of them too.) I have several pictures that you could not tell that I was in the city because of the setting. Small green spaces can host a huge variety of wildlife. I live in a first ring suburb, just miles from downtown, and we have foxes, tons of deer, woodchucks, raccoons, mink, field mice, eagles, owls, ducks, wild turkeys and, my personal favorite, crows.


    Roughfish is a dirty word in the Midwest (and most of america). I don't think this is true if you remove the food-only aspect of fishing. If you take the idea that catching fish is fun, regardless of size and that technical fish are even more rewarding, then you can find great sport in the vast variety of warm water fish regarded as 'roughfish'.

    Many like trout fishing because you can 'match the hatch', make good presentation, understand trout habits and behaviors and make stealthy fishing the norm and this will often lead to catching a few trout. Trout are swell and they got me into fly fishing but they are a bit small and a little hard to locate for my tastes. I like to fish on the way home from work or at lunch. It is hard to do so if you have to drive two hours to trout streams (although I did so one summer).

    This is why I switched to other species and have specialized in carp on the fly. Warm water species are plentiful and surprisingly wide-spread. I have found populations of fish that will take a fly in nearly every body of moving water I have looked in. Not every pond or creek is perfect but you can often catch creek chubs out of tiny streams and they act just like small trout. They are great sport on very light tackle and make great bait if you bait fish for walleye or northern pike. I have spent the week before a big fishing trip catching bait with my fly rod, thinking about the monster lakers I was going to catch with the chubs.


    Carp have a bad reputation in America. They are viewed as evil fish who destroy the lakes and streams they live in and are worthy of nothing better than a slow death on the bank. I happen to feel quite differently. While I would never suggest stocking carp in waters where they do not occur, if they are already there, they are staying there. No effort to eradicate them has worked. Therefore, we should look to them as the great sport fishing resource that they are. I view carp as my top target these days, regardless of the setting.

    I fish carp with mostly nymphs, wooly buggers, elm and cottonwood seed patterns and bonefish flies. There are many good articles about fly fishing for carp so I will not go into detail here. The main tip I would give is this. They are smart, they are spooky and they are HARD to catch (most of the time). Use extreme stealth at all times, make good presentations and try to match the hatch if they are keyed in on one particular food such as cottonwood seeds.


    Suckers are another great stream fish that have adapted to urban dwelling. They are quite hard to catch on the fly (I have yet to pull it off myself) but I have nothing against bait fishing so that is not a problem. If you do try to catch them with a fly, the best technique I have heard is a nymph dead-drifted right on the bottom. They will not rise much for a fly, instead they tend to scoop up insects and such directly off of the bottom. This is why I had success with a small bit of nightcrawler rolled along the bottom. There are many different species of suckers in the Midwest but the most common in small streams is probably the white sucker.

    If you fish walleye, small mouth bass, northern pike, bowfin, panfish or even muskies, you can find these fish in urban small streams. Just use your understanding of their nature and translate it to the types of waters you find around you. If a spot looks fishy, it probably is.

    Time of year

    Spring is the best time to start looking for good fly waters, especially as the spring flooding starts to recede. Fish are often spawning at this time of year and nearly all fish are hungry after a winter of hard times. Because of the marginal nature of many of these bodies of water, there may be fish present in the spring until the water gets too warm or goes down and then they return to bigger pools or larger bodies of water.

    Where to go

    I will provide you with a few not-so-secret spots and some general advice to get you on your way.

    Minnehaha Creek ? Minneapolis Minnesota and its western suburbs.

    This creek is a gem. I am not sure if they have been trying to improve it but it is vastly improved over just a decade ago. Not every foot of stream has fish but nearly every mile has at least one good hole. Focus near the dam at Minnetonka, near the small lake created by a dam in Edina or anywhere near Lake Hiawatha. I have had my best luck just up or down stream from Hiawatha. The mouth of the creek where it flows into the Mississippi is one of the best all-around fishing spots in the state but it is often crowded. Move upstream to the first or second pool and you will have less company.

    Basset Creek ? Western Minneapolis Suburbs

    This is a classic example of the ability of waters to come back to good health, given the chance. There has been extensive cleaning of Basset (or Basset?s) creek and it is full of fish. The source is Medicine Lake and anywhere near that should be good. It runs through several golf courses and parks on its way to the Mississippi and crosses lots of roads so you can get good access. My favorite spot in the city is on this creek but I am going to keep that one a secret, for now anyway.

    Nine Mile Creek ? Another mid sized stream flowing in the southwestern metro area of the Twin Cities. I have not fished it myself but it looks to have all of the same qualities as the above streams. There are even rumors of trout but I have not heard this from a source I can trust.


    Get out there and fish. There are opportunities for great sportfishing in your own back yard. If your local waters are polluted and littered, try to get help cleaning them up. It is worth it. If you do find fish, please practice ethical fishing, these small fisheries are very easily over fished.

    Tony Erickson Copyright 2004

    Posted on Sunday, March 28 @ 14:40:58 UTC by admin

    Associated Topics

    Fly Fishing Tips

    Sorry, Comments are not available for this article.

    All logos and trademarks in this site are property of their respective owner. The comments are property of their posters, all the rest
    (c) 2002 - 2008 by Selser Media - The Michigan site for the fly-fishing enthusiast.