Changing water flows, temperatures, and hatches can dictate your spring success, and knowing how to effectively adapt to the volatility of spring fly fishing conditions is the key. Here are eight tips that will help you catch your dream trout.
Don’t Ditch Your Winter Tactics
Just because the weather is getting nicer doesn’t mean you have to ditch all the tactics that worked during the winter. No matter how anxious you might be to throw on some dry flies, winter tactics can often be the most effective way to catch trout in the spring.
Keeping your flies and presentation deep in the water column is an effective tactic in early spring because of the colder water temperatures and limited dry fly action, fish tend to stick near the bottom of the river. Setting your nymphing rig just a foot or two deeper could result in a blockbuster day!
Understand What Trout Eat In Spring
Once the trout start to become more active in the spring they will start to feed on anything that they can. The most abundant source of food in the spring is aquatic insects and fish eggs. The aquatic insects of early spring tend to be small like a midge, but larger flies can work too.
As the water starts to warm up the trout will become more active and more aggressive and they may start to target larger faster-moving food sources like mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis. Trout will also feed heavily on insects which will be more abundant as the season progresses.
Since water conditions are generally too cold for consistent insect hatches, trout will key on food sources that are available all year long. These resident food sources include leeches, minnows, scuds and immature nymphs. If trout come across these types of food sources, they will greedily devour them. If the weather does happen to warm, keep a keen eye out for an afternoon hatch to secretly come off the water.
Keep an Eye on Water Temperatures
Water temperatures are more variable in spring than at any other time of year. Unstable weather, heavy rainfall, and snowmelt are all factors that will dictate the temperature of the water.
If water temperatures are creeping above 50 degrees, you can expect most trout to start to exhibit summertime behavior. The fish will be more active, feeding closer to the surface, and they’ll start to move into oxygenated riffles to feed aggressively.
If water temperatures are still in the 30s or 40s, most trout will still be sluggish and hesitant to move much for food. In these cases, keep your presentations on the edge of slower water, where trout will most likely be hiding.
Hug the Edges
The high energy flows of run-off force the trout to look for cover. Some of the best cover to be found in any river is going to be along the shallow edges of the streambank. It’s not uncommon during Spring to find the majority of trout holding within 3-5 feet from the bank of the river, so hug the banks with your cast. If you find a slower pocket of water or back eddy, get your fly in there! The fish like the slower moving water since they don’t have to use up too much energy to stay in their spot.
Give Fish a Flashy Presentation
When water levels are high and muddy due to spring rain and runoff, show fish as much flash as possible. A bright, flashy fly can often make the difference between getting skunked or catching that perfect trout. Don’t be afraid to fish flies that are flashier than you would normally use.
The water usually will be pretty dirty or murky so it makes it a bit more difficult for the fish to see food. I’m sure you’re wondering why you would fish with a darker colored fly when the water is darker. Darker colors are often easier for the fish to see because they can identify the silhouette of the fly. Dark brown, dark green, and purple fly patterns maintain a sharp crisp profile that makes them pop out to feeding trout. Give it a try, you’ve got nothing to lose; many times, all you have to do is make sure the trout can see your fly!
Bigger is Better
Fishing big flies in the spring relies on the same logic that’s applied when you fish flashy flies. You want to make sure trout see your presentation, and big flies are one of the best ways to do that!
If you traditionally would fish a size 18 or 20 pheasant tail, try a 12 or 14 this spring. However, this is a rule that should only be applied if the river you’re fishing is higher and muddier than usual. If it’s low and clear (rare for spring but still possible), keep your presentation small and light.
You’ll need to assess the situation before you decide to supersize your fly, but you’ll see success if the conditions are right.
Fish the Tailwaters
Tailwaters often fish better than any other rivers in the spring, as their dam-regulated flows are less variable than the volatile levels of freestone rivers.
Tailwaters will also typically have excellent dry fly hatches in the early spring while other rivers are just starting to defrost. Mayflies, midges, and blue-winged olives dominate early-spring tailwater hatches in much of the United States.