By Zach Lazzari
The ice will melt soon and some of the most productive trout fishing of the year will arrive. The spring is fickle with weather and flow swings, especially in the west but it also turns out some very large trout. Stock your boxes now and get ready to seek out the big ones.
It sounds simple but the spring season can deliver freezing blizzards and hot sun, sometimes on the same day. Dress in layers and always be ready for absolutely anything.
I always stuff a puffy coat in a waterproof backpack and have a wading jacket for full protection. The wading jacket combines with waders for complete protection when things turn really nasty but I can still strip off layers when the sun is shining.
Stock Your Boxes
Variety isn’t an issue and a few basic patterns will turn big trout. Having plenty in stock however is important because you are likely to lose a few along the way. The fish are not always highly selective during spring and dirty water calls for dirty patterns.
I run a rubber-legged wooly bugger with either a San Juan worm, prince nymph or pheasant tail dropper. A few zebra midges are also good to have on hand but I still drop them off the big point fly.
The buggers I fish typically have yellow or orange legs combined with black or yellow body colors. Many anglers prefer Pat's Rubber legs and while they work great, I still think the hackle and marabou from the buggers makes a big difference in the early season.
Drift vs. Strip
The beauty of this down and dirty system is the ability to make adjustments in the presentation style. When the water is really cold, dead drifting under a bobber is a great approach. I also focus on high-sticking with split shot to get on the bottom when the fish are not moving to the fly.
When they are a bit more active, altering between a strip retrieve and dead drift presentation is great, even with the nymphs in tow. In fact, you will often pick up more fish on the nymphs by swinging and stripping the flies.
Experiment and play with different presentations while using the same flies during the spring months. The flies are rarely complicated but finding where the fish are laid up and figuring out the right depth and pace will make all the difference.
Sudden Hatches Happen
While fishing dirty is the best approach for many river systems, sudden hatches do bring trout to the surface. BWO’s and midges both can create feeding frenzies that require precise imitations. Zebra midges and flashback pheasant tail nymphs both do well subsurface or in the film while parachute Adams or other cripple style emerger is great on top.
You still won’t need many patterns to match spring hatches but always carry a box with small midges and mayflies for hatch situations. Overcast days with temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s can create a great hatch situation. Any hotter and the snowmelt will raise water levels, calling for the buggers and dirt snakes down deep.
Don’t Overlook the Stillwaters
While the spring fishing is an absolute blast on rivers, don’t overlook the lakes. As the ice comes off this spring, trout patrol the shorelines, searching for food within easy casting range. Always check the seasons to ensure the lake is open for fishing but many are fairly unrestricted and have great spring fishing opportunities.
Try casting and retrieving buggers or damsel style patterns with hot beads from the shore or from a float tube. I like finding deep drop offs where a sink tip will get down quickly as well. A floating line with a chironomid on a slow retrieve is also a killer way to catch trout in the early season.
For the down and dirty technique, you can’t beat the Mystic JXP. Fast yet responsive, this is an awesome rod in 5-weight or 6-weight for throwing versatile nymph and light streamer rigs for trout.
For those sudden spring dry fly hatches, have a Mystic Au Sable 4-weight or 5-weight rigged and ready. These rods were designed for delicate, light line presentations to picky trout. That makes it a perfect option for those spring dry fly opportunities.
And for those stillwater situations when the ice comes off, rig up a Mystic M-Series 6-weight or 7-weight fly rod. These rods can handle the windy lakes. And the extra length is perfect for long mends and the extra reach often required in stillwater situations.