Spring has sprung!
Well, it's that time of the year, bugs are hatching, fish are eating and hopefully you've dusted off those waders. And, if you're trying to figure out which fly box to grab, you'll have to know what you're imitatating, so here's a quick guide to spring hatches that may help you out.
What to Use this Time of Year
Always present and hatching throughout the entire season, midges are an available and abundant food source for trout. And, while they may not be such an important source of nutrition in the summer with the abundance of larger insects, they make up a large part of a fish's diet in the winter and spring. For below surface, zebra midges, black beauties and a number of other, smaller, subsurface midge patterns can be effective. 16's - 18's are fine, you can go 20 if you really want ... Exact imitations are not as important here, both because of the size of the naturals as well as the lack of fishing pressure. In fact, since the naturals are present in such large numbers, fishing a fly larger than the naturals can help it stand out and get more eats.
The same applies if you see some rising fish; just cause their rising on 20's, don't be afraid to tie on a sz. 16 or 18 and see what happens. And again, just like the nymphs, you don't have to be super specific with your fly selection - we're not in Colorado! A Parachute Adams should do ya just fine. Or any variety of, for example, Purple Haze, Split Wing Adams, etc ... in the really calm, almost still bank water and the back eddies for noses coming up on those tasty little treats. For tippet, 4x on your dries will be good unless they are really spooky and you may have to go to 5x (I sure hope not!) For your nymph rigs, 3x or 4x will be fine depending on the size of fly you are fishing and the willingness of the fish.
Read More Tips for Successful Nymph Fishing
Right now, it's all about Blue Winged Olives. These are the first mayfly's to start hatching and the only insect larger than a 22 that a fish has seen in the last six 6 months. You're gonna be looking for classic mayfly water here. Shallow to mid depth, gravelly bottomed, slow to medium paced runs. Mayfly's love overcast, drizzly, "I don't really wanna go fishing" kind of days, and Blue Winged Olives are no different. Lucky for us, there's plenty of those kind of days in a good 'ol Montana spring. So grab a rain jacket and quit being such a weenie. Fly selection will be a little more important with BWO's than midges - not much more, but a little.
The most tried and true Blue Wing (and general mayfly) nymph is the Pheasant Tail (there are so many variations of this fly, there aren't enough websites to list them all.) The standard bead head flashback P.T. is always a good bet. I tend to prefer a little curve in the hook or even a little bubble of Antron or similar material right below the eye of the hook. This gives the look of an emerging BWO and may fool a fish that doesn't want to let his food fly away. A little tip - everyone has so many bead head this, flashy that ... try fishing a non-bead, non-flashback P.T. the next time you encounter some pickier fish eating Blue Wing nymphs. Even try putting on a non weighted Pheasant Tail if you see noses just breaking the surface in still, foam back eddy's. They'll eat it as an emerger or cripple it, just to see it when it gets eaten. Hmm, maybe if I tied it below a Parachute Adams?...🤔. However, if these pickier fish decide that a Pheasant Tail isn't the fly du jour, try tying on an RS-2, Micro Mayfly, Lightning Bug or a Delektable Beatis Spanker in sizes 14-18. And, if that doesn't work, I've got a Rapala around here somewhere...
Read More The Fly Shops of Ennis, Montana
While we do have a while before those big mutant Salmonfly's start hovering around like hummingbirds, we start to see the Skwala around the middle-to-end of March. Usually, size 6-8 brown or dark olive imitations such as the Girdle Bug or the Delektable Hurless nymphs, may be well suited for this spring Stonefly. Even a larger prince can come in handy this (and every) time of the year. Even though we won't see adults for a while, Salmonfly nymph's are starting to wake up a little, so don't be afraid of fishing a sz. 4 black Girdle Bug.
This is where the classic big nymph to small setup come in handy, regardless of which type of Stonefly nymph you are fishing. Put your indicator 1.5 to 2 times the depth of water and attach a Stonefly nymph with either 2 or 3x. Tie an improved clinch knot off the hook shank of the Stonefly nymph and use an improved clinch knot to attach 18-24 inches of 3-4x tippet to a smaller Midge or Mayfly pattern. However, if you do decide to fish that sz.4 Girdle Bug, drop your indicator down a little extra, since that's a heavy bug! Now, if you are lucky enough to see some Skwala Dry's in the air, get some darker colored Chubby Chernobyl's out and give them a whirl.
Spaghetti and Meatballs -
But what if they don't wanna eat a Girdle Bug or a P.T.? What are you gonna do? The worm to an egg should do it. Sounds easy enough but these fish will get fairly picky about their annelids (that's what people who are trying to sound smart call worms 😝). So, have a good variety of worms in your box. Different sizes, colors and materials. Everything from sz. 4 to sz. 14, purple to pink, chenille to wire - that way, you (and the trout) have options. As far as your egg goes, go to the bead store and then get some nail polish. Seriously.
It's Time to Get Out On the River (But Stay Off the Reds)
So, get out there while the river is empty and the fish are hungry!! REMEMBER, it is spawning season. Stay off the Reds!!! (A red is a stretch of river bottom used for spawning. Red's can be located by looking for stretches of smaller, colored, "pea gravel".) if you are walking on reds you are stepping on eggs and ruining productive spawning habitat. And, if you are fishing to fish who are laying on these reds, they will most likely die of exhaustion and your fishing karma will be done forever.
DON'T STEP ON THESE!!!!!!