Spring can be a difficult time for the fly fisher. The season may start with high dirty water and a complete lack of hatches or it may come in with low clear waters and excellent hatches. As fly fishers we need to be ready for anything and everything and now is the time to start getting ready for just that.
High dirty waters spell nymphs and long flies-streamers bucktails and other big fish flies. Generally in high and off-colour streams I go for bigger nymphs simply because they are easier for the fish to see and represent more energy per mouthful than smaller imitations. The particular imitation is not as critical as its size 6 to 12 and the fact that it generally represents food items that would be found in the stream in early spring. Another couple of imitations that I am never without are: the San Juan Worm and egg flies. Juan is usually tied on curved size 10 or 12 scud hooks and the 8 or 6 mm diameter eggs are dressed on size 14 and 16 scud hooks respectively. Long flies that do very well are those that suggest minnows sculpins and leeches are all go-to flies.
Generally I fish nymphs eggs and long flies slow and deep in the cold high waters of early spring. The nymphs and eggs are typically dead drifted under an indicator bouncing along the bottom like a dislodged natural. The long flies may be fished in exactly the same manner or perhaps fished deep on a sink tip or full sinking line with a slow retrieve.
One spring fishing Austria's Traun I found the water up about two meters due to rapid snowmelt in the Alps and consequent heavy runoff. Though clear (the river originates in Lake Traun and so runs clear all year) it was plenty swift. I used a minnow imitation fished on a full sinking line. Standing on a bank-re-enforcing wall of stone only a foot or so above the surface of the swollen stream I cast as far as possible and then stripped out the rest of the line and allowed it to run into the heavy current. Shoving the tip of the 9 foot 6-weight Hardy Zenith nearly to the bottom I stripped the fly back in short 6-inch pulls as tight to the stone wall as possible. On the third cast the line jerked tight and I set the hook with a strip strike. A robust 20-inch plus rainbow shot out into the main river and jumped fighting the power of the rod all the way to the net. Others came to the same tactic that day.
In heavy flows where bigger nymphs or long flies are the choice I prefer to use the Hardy Zenith 9-foot 6-weight or the 10-foot 5-weight. These rods are powerful enough to drive the big flies and nymph rigs (with a split shot or two attached) into the wind if necessary and have the needed strength to fight even larger fish in the high fast water.
But then too I've encountered wonderfully mild weather low waters and heavy hatches on the spring opener. And so it's necessary to be ready with the imitations that match the nymphs larvae and / or pupae of the early mayfly caddis and midge hatches. One spring here in Wisconsin everything seemed as if we would open with good hatches of the Hendrickson mayfly. On the day before the opening of the season we travelled with friends to a stream that was well known for these insects only to awake early the next morning to an Arctic blast that brought six inches of snow cold temperatures and no hatch. Good thing I'd brought along heavy nymphs and long flies because they were the only imitations that brought any Trout to net.
But a couple of days later the snow had melted the early spring flowers were popping through the winter's litter and the Hendricksons were on the wing. While I carry the necessary rods reels and lines to fish the big stuff slow and deep the rod tube and reel bag also harbor my Zenith 9-foot 5-weight and 10-foot 3-weight plus the reels and lines needed for just such an emergence event. One just can't plan accurately in the fickle weather of early season so having a ‘spring assortment' of big nymphs long flies and imitations of the early hatches plus all the gear necessary to fish them is absolutely essential.
Based in the USA Gary Borger is a member of the Hardy ProTeam and an avid fly angler.