Tips for Successful Early Season Fly
Eugene P. Macri Jr.
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© 2017 E. P. Macri Jr.
Catching trout in the spring is as much mental as it is using proper methods or techniques.
However, once you get the right equipment then a practiced technique is necessary. One of the major reasons why
these techniques fail is that most anglers cannot read the water. If a stream is high and the fly angler cannot
read the water properly most of the time on the stream may be wasted. This is especially true on larger waters.
When most anglers look into a stream they see the whole stream. Fly anglers who read water well do not! They see
many small streams. This is one of the secrets of successful fly fishing and especially early season fly fishing.
Break the streams down into a little sections. Then analyze where the trout are most likely to be. What do you see?
Did you see that back current against the bank? Do you see the change in current speed and the holding water where
Unfortunately most anglers do not. Most fly anglers do not observe the stream; they just step in it
and start flailing away hoping their expensive equipment will make up for their lack of knowledge and stream savvy.
Now let's talk about the methods and flies and where to fish in the early season.
Dry Flies and Early Season Fishing
Believe it or not there is dry fly fishing in early season on most streams if you are observant.
There are some caveats which we will discuss but it's there if you only look. First, I preach this all of the time
but most fly anglers laugh at me: use a small monocular or small pair of binoculars to scan the water. You will be
amazed at what you are missing without the glasses. You will see things on the surface of the stream that will
change the way you fish. You may not get a ton of fish rising but you will find some fish against the banks or in
some slower areas of the stream where fish will be looking on the top.
The secret to early season dry fly fishing is water temperature. You usually need water temperature
near 50 degrees (f) to get a hatch. Furthermore, it may take a number of days at these temperature for the hatches
to occur. In the spring on most streams the best time for insect activity is usually from 1:00 to 5:00 p. m.
However, I've seen Blue Winged Olives (Baetis sp.) emerge in 42 -44 degree water temps. They may not
emerge from all over the stream but in certain sections along the edges (Blue Winged Olive Nymphs live along the
edges of the stream at certain current speeds). These small mayflies are hard to see and this is the reason for the
binoculars. I've watched many anglers just walk by these areas in the stream while they had fish rising right in
front them but never knew it.
What are the caveats of this type of fishing? Well, you usually must cover more water to find a
number of these areas on a stream. Also, you may not get too many big fish. Small to medium size trout can be
reckless and these are the ones usually rising at this time but there are exceptions especially in areas where
anglers haven't pounded the waters. On limestone spring creeks these rules do not apply since you are liable to
find large fish rising for at any time.
Nymphs and Wets and Early Season Fly Fishing
If you want to catch a lot of fish and larger fish in the early season you must use nymphs and
wets, and you must use weight. Too many anglers scoff at using weight because they believe it ruins the esthetics
of fly fishing. Get over it! I love fishing dries but you are limiting your ability to catch fish by around 80 to
90% especially in the spring. Using nymphs and wets in the spring calls for an more methodical approach than
regular nymph and wet fly fishing.
First you are using a short line. A 9 foot rod with a 9 foot leader and 6 feet
of line from the tip gives you about 20 to 25 feet of reach. You should not use much more than this or your
success rate of hooking the fish will be limited.
Your fly fishing will consist of high rod nymphing with upstream casts. Remember break the stream
down into little sections and thoroughly cast until you have covered the area. Use the proper amount of weight (and
we recommend round shot) and drift the fly back deeply following the line with the rod. Try starting at the rear of
the pocket you are fishing and progress slowly to the front. You want to take as many fish from the pocket as
possible. In slower sections the same methodical approach is used but remember the fish will be spookier in such
sections so wade carefully.
Which flies should use and how many of them? We like two or three on droppers. For early season wet
fly patterns we favor the flies in our article: Early Season Killer Wet
Fly Patterns. These patterns work very well. For nymphs use two types of patterns: 1) flies that would be
active at that time and 2) suggestive patterns. For example in the Early season patterns would include, Hendrickson
nymphs, sulfur nymphs, blue quill nymphs, blue winged olive nymphs etc. For suggestive patterns we like the Hares
Ear G.R., Muskrat Nymphs, Early Season Dark, Early Season Light, Stonefly Patterns and Caddis worm patterns.
The secret is to get the flies down and keep them there without killing the action of the fly. The
practiced technique of high stick nymphing is deadly. It will take a while to get the hang of it but the rewards
are for lifetime of fly fishing success.
Streamer Fishing in the Early Season
Streamer fishing gets a bad rap. That's too bad because it will catch many and large fish at any
given time on a stream. In the spring make sure your rod is stiff enough to set the hook. We like short casts
upstream with weight. You can fish the streamer just like a nymph or you can retrieve it by varying the speed. If
fishing the streamer like a nymph keep the rod tip up. If stripping and retrieving have the rod tip down. Our
favorite patterns for the early season are Wooly Buggers in light, bright and dark colors (bead head versions are
fine). Yellow, Red, White and Black Maribou Patterns. Matukas in a variety of colors of light, bright and dark.
What size should you use? Try patterns in size 6 -12. Some days they want the large ones and other days they want
the smaller ones. We use the same techniques in the upstream nymph of slowly covering the water.
For downstream streamer fishing we like the casts across the stream with the traditional downstream
swing and retrieve. Your hooking success rate will be less and you must usually add more weight to keep the fly
We use mostly floating lines for early season fly fishing. Match your leader to the conditions.
When fishing streamers you can usually get away with larger tippets. Learn to read the water to be successful.
Don't allow another season to evaporate because you think this is too difficult because it's not. Best of luck as
they say and tight lines!