From a trout fisherman’s perspective, spring is a long and changeable season, not one thing but many. Before and after runoff, rivers and streams pulse with insect hatches and offer excellent action. Spring creeks and tailwaters, which rarely suffer high-water conditions, remain clear and calm and loaded with hungry fish throughout the season. And just after ice-out, lakes and ponds consistently produce some of the biggest bruisers of the year. Where you decide to fish is your choice, but we recommend the following 50 tips to improve your results-and your appreciation of spring fishing.
Freestone Rivers & Streams
Because these waters are fed by tributaries, snowmelt, and runoff, they are most susceptible to fluctuations in speed, depth, temperature, and color. But for much of spring they offer enjoyable and productive fishing.
**1. Fish now. **Early-season (the middle of March in some regions) weather can be less than balmy, but often the current is clear and stable and midday hatches (Baetis and midges) provide exciting topwater fishing.
2. Go ultralight. For spinfishermen, the clear water of early spring is a perfect time for a 5- to 51/2-foot ultralight rod with matching reel and 4-pound-test line. Diminutive spinners (sizes 00¿¿¿1) are often the top producers, especially in brass, dull gold, and baitfish colors. Cast to specific cover and current cushions, such as the pockets in front of and behind boulders, along banks, and in pools.
3. Watch the weather. One or two days of warmer weather and bright sun at the start of the season will raise the water temperature and activate trout; so will warming rains, which also wash terrestrial insects and bait into the current. Conversely, any weather pattern or event that lowers the water temperature, even by 2 or 3 degrees, often results in a poor day of fishing.
4. Drift beneath the hatch. If adult flies are hatching but no trout are rising, drift an emerger pattern just under the surface, or a nymph near the bottom. Often trout ignore adult flies while feeding voraciously on the easier pickings below.
5. Master the “swing-around” presentation. Position yourself upstream and to one side of a visible fish or prime lie. Toss a spinner, spoon, or streamer on a down-and-across angle, reeling or stripping line to adjust the drift path so that the lure swings around in the current just as it enters the prime lie or the fish’s line of vision.
6. Tumble a slab-style spoon. Cast upstream and across, dropping the lure into a seam or edge where deep, fast water meets a slower flow. Let the lure sink but don’t retrieve. Simply tighten the line, raise the rod tip, and allow the lure to tumble near the bottom on a downstream drift.
7. Go deep. Between hatches in the rising waters of mid- to late spring, try bigger, heavier streamers: Sculpins, Marabou Muddlers, Woolly Buggers, Flashabuggers, and Egg-Sucking Leeches in sizes 1¿¿¿6, natural and dark colors. These should be weighted, preferably with a beadhead, so that the fly gets down quickly. Dead-drift the streamer along a seam or run to imitate a drifting stonefly nymph or bottom-hugging sculpin. ** 8. Try two nymphs rigged in tandem.** When no adult flies are hatching, a beadhead Pheasant Tail, No. 16¿¿¿20, will imitate the many Baetis naturals. Rig more than one fly, and vary the sizes. Use a long (12- to 14-foot) tapered leader, with 2 to 4 feet of fine, supple tippet material to encourage deep sinking and a natural, drag-free drift. Make short casts (15 to 20 feet) upstream and slightly across, well above prime lies. Let the flies sink near the bottom. If you don’t feel the flies ticking bottom periodically, you aren’t getting deep enough.
9. Be a “super” man. Mid- to late spring-when water begins to rise and darken from snowmelt-is when many oof the so-called super hatches occur: green drakes, Hendricksons, Mother’s Day (Grannom) caddis, salmonflies (giant stoneflies), and more. Surprisingly, darker water actually offers some advantages. You can approach visible fish and prime lies more closely, and fly patterns need not be as finely matched to the naturals. Basic attractors such as Wulffs, Humpies, Stimulators, Trudes, and Elk Hair Caddis will entice plenty of fish.
**10. Take a spin. **One of the best lures for high-water trout is a crappie-size spinner-jig, with a 1/4-ounce fluorescent red or green leadhead, a small silver blade, and a plastic grub tail in pearl or black. This lure has flash and instant action and sinks quickly, which makes it perfect for dropping into small pockets and current cushions.
**11. Tie on a rodent. **Big trout everywhere-not just in Alaska-often throw caution aside when they spot a swimming mouse or vole, a hearty item of prey that few Lower 48 anglers think to imitate. Find a comparatively calm piece of water near a grassy bank-a place where a cut or irregularity in the bank creates a small or large cushion from the current. Next, cast a full-size, deer-hair mouse pattern right up on the edge of the bank. As soon as the mouse plops into the water, begin stripping it slowly back. Hang on.
** 12. Know the hatches. From early to mid-spring, hatch lore is much simplified and easy to comprehend. In March and early April, the bluewing olive, or Baetis, mayfly is common throughout trout country. Baetis hatch on overcast afternoons, often during a drizzle or spitting snow. A No. 16¿¿¿18 Parachute Adams (A) matches this fly nicely. Another important and widespread early-spring mayfly is the larger March brown, which hatches from late morning to early afternoon. This fly is easily distinguished from the bluewing olive by its larger size, brown mottling, and raked-back wings. Imitate it with a (B) No. 14¿¿¿16 March Brown Thorax, (C) Hairwing Dun, or (D) Brown Wulff. **13. Search with streamers. Before and after hatches in cold, clear-water conditions, explore by dead-drifting a streamer along banks, seams, and the edges of runs. If that fails, activate the fly with flicks of the rod tip and short strips of the line. Good patterns include: (A) Woolly Bugger, (B) Clouser Minnow, (C) Muddler, and (D) Zonker, sizes 4¿¿¿8. Black, brown, and olive are productive colors; but when in doubt, choose something that matches the tint of the streambed.
**14. Slow down. **To fly cast large, weighted flies and multiple-fly rigs without difficulty or tangling, slow down your casting stroke and open your loops by allowing the rod tip to describe a slightly wider arc. Accomplish this by simply dropping the rod tip a little lower than usual on the back and forward casts.
15. Get stout. In high and darkening water, a 6-foot fast- action rod with a light or medium-light strength rating and 6- to 8-pound-test line will give you the muscle necessary for working larger, heavier lures and for handling big fish in the current. Use thick, 1/4-ounce-plus spoons and heavy-bodied spinners, sizes 1¿¿¿3, that sink quickly and stay in the fish zone. Bright finishes- gold, silver, and fluorescents-are especially productive in murky waters.
16. Bank on it. To find trout in high water, cast anywhere the water pools. Above all, fish the banks. During peak runoff, that’s where most trout will be.
**17. Make a move. **When a freestone stream is at peak runoff, all muddy roils and flooded banks, often the smartest tactic is to leave. Let the river do its thing and head for more congenial lakes, ponds, tailwaters, and spring creeks-places where the torrents of spring have less impact.