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Early Spring Fly Fishing

February 12, 2010

Nymph Flies

Early spring fly fishing, or as we call it here in Montana, late winter fly fishing, is not for everyone.  You pretty much look for a break in the cold, wintery weather, say temps above freezing, and no wind…good luck.  Starting in Feb. we begin to see signs of insect life on our local rivers. If there are insects moving around, figure there are fish that haven’t eaten much all winter looking for a meal, even if it’s a bug the size of a pin head like a midge. Midges show up in good numbers towards the end of Feb. and early March, and then the Baetis show up in early April. If you can handle the cold, early spring can offer some fantastic fishing opportunities.

Deep nymph fishing, or indicator fishing is the ticket in the slower, deeper sections of the river when there are no insects crawling around or hatching. I like to tie on two nymphs below an indicator with some split shot.  First, I tie on a big attractor nymph size 8-12, like a copper john, then a little midge imitation size 14-20, like a black zebra midge. Once the water temps warm up a bit, the hatches increase in intensity and duration.  The fish will start to move out of the deeper wintering holes, and get closer to the source of the hatch. Riffle corners will be loaded with fish eating both on the surface and sub-surface. A dry- dropper is killer in these situations, as is a single dry on those perfectly calm days.  When fishing a dry dropper, I like to fish a high-vis Baetis pattern, like a size 14-18 olive parachute hare’s ear.  For a dropper, add 12 inches of 5x tied to the bend of your dry fly hook with a beadhead midge of choice, like a size 18 zebra midge. This combo will get it done about 90% of the time if fish are looking for midges or Baetis in calmer water.  In flat, shallow water, a single dry might be the way to go since the splash or plop of a beadhead nymph could spook that steadily rising trout.  Once the Baetis start hatching, usually in late March, or early April, the dry dropper is still the preferred method.

Observation and stealth is key in early spring fishing when the trout have moved out of the deeper water and are keyed in on midge or Baetis activity.  The fish are not real spooky this time of year, instead, you will notice that the midging trout want to eat those small insects without wasting any energy.  So look for fish in shallow, slow water next to good holding water.  There are many days where I’ll never get my boots wet because I recognized that the fish were feeding just inches off the the bank, lazily sipping midges off the surface of the water.  If the fish are in just inches of water, use a dry fly of choice, like a size 18 Griffith’s Gnat, or Baetis  pattern of choice if the blue-winged olives are hatching.  Look around the river and at different types of water.  The fish seem to pod up this time of year, and all eat in certain types of water.  Look for rising active fish in riffle corners, slower current seams and boulder seams, wind protected banks, and the edges of tailouts.  If you see one active fish, there should be others close by.

I think the observation game is my favorite part of early spring fly fishing. It’s more of a sneak-and-destroy type of fishing.  Small flies, low gin-clear water, and happy fish are what you’ll get if you play your cards right. This is the best time of year to be able to catch some nice trout inches off the bank in the middle of the afternoon with dry flies.  Once the weather warms up and the not so die-hard, less than hard core, smart fisherman start trampling up and down the bank, wading out in knee deep water  (purely out of habit), slapping the water with giant bobbers, pushing those happy bank feeding fish out to depths unknown… where was I…

Anyways, grab those gloves, a couple pairs of thick wool socks, long-johns, a thick fleece sweater, jacket and your beanie and go wet a line. By the way, put a little Ginks on those guides before you go out, this helps slow down the process of your guides freezing when that wind does decide to pick up right in the middle of the best midge hatch of the year.  Let me know how it goes.  Hope to see you out there, just not on my river!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2010 4:58 am

    Hey Eric,
    Have you heard of this type of fly fishing?
    Is this the european style you were talking about?

  2. October 8, 2011 11:38 am

    I like the hopper the beat! very good site. I will have tell my dad about this site. He will love it. thanks you.

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