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Spring Hatches by Scott Sanchez

3/24/2020 | Author: Clare English | Category: News | 0 Comments

Spring fishing - Scott Sanchez

On area waters, pre-runoff may be the best match-the-hatch dry-fly fishing of the year. Other advantages of early-season fishing are the solitude and the trout’s relative naivety. They are less wary of larger tippets and flies than fish that have been cast to for a few months.
For wade anglers, the lower flows make these rivers more manageable and it’s easy to move below the high-water marks. Depending on snowpack and air temperatures, you can float later in the spring just before runoff, but make sure your takeout isn’t gated or blocked by snow. Also, in lower flows fish congregate in slow, deep areas and feed in pods. Consider planning shorter floats than you would in the summer and concentrate on fishing to these pods.
Timing early-season fishing can vary with altitude and weather patterns. In general, the spring season lasts from mid-February through mid-April or mid–May when runoff begins. The weather can vary from 50 degrees F. to brisk, snowy, windy days. Dress in layers to stay comfortable. Most spring fishing revolves around banker’s hours. Drink coffee, eat breakfast, tie flies, or run errands, and then head to the water. Radiant heat is important to water temperatures, hatches, and fish activity, and the best fishing is usually in the afternoon on relatively warm and overcast days. Don’t be afraid to go out if it’s snowing or softly raining, light precipitation bothers anglers more than the trout.

Midges hatch through winter and consistently in spring. As February days become warmer and longer, there is increased invertebrate and trout activity. Initially, nymph fishing with a pattern like a Zebra Midge in #16-20 is the most successful technique. Super long tippets help get better drifts and a deeper one. A Euro nymph type leader is good for this. Yarn indicators are more sensitive to subtle takes. Although I have never found red naturals, at times, red pupae patterns work well.
As the season progresses and temperatures rise, consistent dry-fly fishing begins. Concentrations of rising fish are a welcome sight after a long winter of frozen waters and nymph fishing. Look for trout eating midges in slow, deep currents. Trout expend less energy in these areas than faster, summer lies, and midge activity seems to be heavier in these flows. These areas also accumulate insects pushed into slack water areas by spring winds and currents. Inside corners, back eddies, slow troughs, and tailouts hold the most insects and fish. Some trout move into very shallow water to take advantage of this food source, but the largest ones will be closer to the comfort of deeper water. It takes a watchful eye to spot subtle rise forms.
Midge clusters, parachute midge emergers, and black F Flies work well. A midge pupa six inches below a dry is good for “bulging” fish. Make sure you don’t fish the pupa too deep; it may drift below the fish where they won’t see it. If a fish is feeding below the surface, you will a back not a nose.
Foaming back eddies can hold pods of fish, but they constantly move. As currents shift the foam’s position, the fish move with it to follow the collected food and to keep a roof over their heads. These fish are tough to catch, but they are often large. It is difficult to keep flies floating in foam and I recommend cluster patterns that are easy to see like my MX Midge Cluster or Hi Vis Griffiths.
Midges can hatch with other insects. Baetis and small, black stoneflies frequently emerge during this time, and as the weather warms, they become more important. Rainbow trout get more active prior to spawning and can be caught in riffles and runs as they feed before they spawn. 

Dark Stones
As spring rolls on and temperatures increase, small stoneflies will hatch with midges and it is easy to overlook them. Stoneflies are not as widespread as midges, but fish key on them and they can be locally important.
The small, brown/black stoneflies hatch between January and May, though they are most often seen crawling on snowy streamside banks. Consequently, a nickname for them is “snowflies.”
Another spring stonefly revered by anglers is the Skwala. This olive-brown insect hatches between March and May, but usually peaks around late March and mid-April, and is best imitated with #10-12 patterns. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until runoff. Don’t expect Skwalas to hatch in huge numbers. You may see only a few adults along bankside vegetation but know that fish are keyed on them.
When fishing stonefly nymphs, look for riffle sections followed by slow, deep pools. Stonefly nymphs prefer rocky, riffle areas of streams and are often dislodged in faster currents and drift downstream until they regain their footing, presenting a perfect feeding opportunity for trout. Stonefly nymphs crawl out of the water onto rocks and vegetation to emerge. This can draw fish into the shallows, so be sure to look before stepping into the water in case fish are feeding close to the banks. Dark Stone Biot Bugs, and Pheasant Tails are good patterns.
Stoneflies are as clumsy flying as they are swimming and often fall into the water. Look for fish feeding on adults falling from bankside vegetation or females depositing their eggs. Black Caddis patterns, and adult midge patterns are good dry flies. As with many stones, sunshine doesn’t seem to bother them.

Baetis – Blue Winged Olives
Around the end of March Baetis appear. The hatches are widespread with flies in the #16-18 range that vary from gray to olive and colors in between. Generally, overcast days produce the largest hatches but once the hatch gets going, sunlight doesn’t seem to slow it down. Riffles, inside corners, and tailouts seem to hold the most fish.
Most afternoon Baetis hatches are preceded by midges and continue until dark. Nymph fishing is productive before a hatch starts. Size #16-18 beadhead Baetis nymphs, Beadhead Pheasant Tails, and March Brown Biot Bugs are my favorites.
Baetis nymphs are good swimmers and active emergers. Swing a nymph or a soft hackle to mimic their rise to the surface. When fish are feeding on adults, I switch to a parachute Blue-winged Olive pattern like an Adams. Sometimes when fishing to pods, the first fish can be easy, but after this you may need to fish more imitative patterns and finer leaders. If you get refusals on a parachute, an olive Sparkle Dun, Everything Emerger, or Quigley Cripple are good bets. I have also had great luck dead-drifting and slowly swinging a soft hackle. Since overcast conditions and Baetis hatches go together, expect a glare on the river and use black or hot-pink wings on your patterns to help you follow the fly.
Fishing a #14 parachute with a smaller beadhead Baetis or Pheasant Tail is a good bet and provides more flotation and visibility. As with midges, don’t fish the nymph too deep. The Yellowstone and lower Henry’s Fork have particularly good Baetis fishing.

Brachycentrus Caddis
The Mother’s Day caddis hatch is probably the most famous Yellowstone area spring hatch and justifiably so. The number of Brachycentrus, or Grannom Caddis, is astounding and the fish gorge themselves. This insect is endemic across the West.
It is usually a mad race between runoff and the hatch. The best conditions are when it is warm enough for the bugs to hatch but not so much that the river floods. Some years the fishing is great for three days while other years it lasts weeks.
In the mornings, prior to adult activity, a Glass House Caddis, a Prince Nymph, or any cased caddis imitation will fool fish feeding on drifting larvae. The olive glass bead on the Glass House Caddis is a good imitation of the natural’s body, acts as an attractor, and makes it visible to the fish.
Work the riffle water. Brachycentrus often attach their cases to rocks or plants in medium to fast currents. A pupa below a large dry, like an olive or brown Convertible, is a good way to search the water. While there may be adult caddis in the bushes, the best dry-fly fishing isn’t until emergence or egg laying puts adults on the water. Depending on the temperature, emergence is in either mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
Egg laying is primarily an early-evening event. Patterns like Dennis’ Sparkle Caddis, Peacock Caddis, Olive Elk-hair Caddis, and Sanchez Foam Wing Caddis in #14-16 are good flies. At times a Coachman Trude are highly visible flies that you can pick out from the rafts of naturals. My theory is the orange tippet tag on the Trude may be mistaken for an egg sac. It may be the trigger that causes the trout to take the fly instead of the natural.
Everything Emergers or X-Caddis are perfect for emerging pupae and work throughout the hatch. Soft hackles or wet flies swung down and across in runs and tail-outs can be deadly and are realistic imitations of emerging pupae or egg-laying adults. On years when the hatch is short lived, larger flies and attractors work well, but when the hatch lasts for a while, fish get selective.

March Browns
March Browns usually start appearing in mid-April and vary in quantity from year to year. The nymphs are clingers and eat the diatoms on the rocks. Prior to emergence, the nymphs migrate from the riffles to water with a slower current. This is the best time to fish nymphs since many are swept from the rocks and tumble helplessly downstream.
After emerging, the duns float for several feet until their wings are dry enough for takeoff. If the air is damp or cold, expect the duns to ride on the water even longer and the trout to be looking up for an easy meal.
Trout seem to go out their way to eat March Browns. A #12-14 March Brown Parachute or Parachute Hare’s Ear works as well as any dry, while a Hare’s-ear Nymph is a great imitation of the nymph. Fish the dry flies on a dead drift, but like the Baetis, March Browns are active emergers, and swinging a nymph at the end of a dead drift is worthwhile.
It can be fun to fish light rods, but I like to use an 8½- to 9-foot, 4- or 5-weight rod for most of my spring fishing. The length helps with mending, and the heavier weight helps with spring winds, especially when nymphing or fishing streamers. In spring wind, I sometimes us my 6-weight. Nine- to 10-foot leaders with 4X or 5X tippet is adequate for most of the fishing.

Scott Sanchez is a manager at JD High Country Outfitters. He is a columnist for American Angler Magazine and wrote the books; Introduction to Salt water Fly Tying, A New Generation of Trout Flies and The Never Ending Stream. He contributed the Teton Park chapter of The 25 Best National Parks to Flyfish


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