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Springing Into Action

As the snow begins to melt and the temperatures start to rise, many fly fishermen eagerly await the arrival of warmer weather fishing. Spring is an excellent time to head out to the rivers and streams. With the changing weather conditions, however, come changes in the behavior of fish, which means fly fishermen need to adjust their tactics accordingly. Here are some of the best spring fly fishing tactics to help you make the most of this season:

1. Know the Water

The first step in successful spring fly fishing is to know the water. Study the river or stream before you go just throwing a line into it. Look for areas where the water is shallow, deep, fast, or slow. Depending on temps, you'll find fish in different depths. If it's colder outside (and the water is cold relatively speaking), the fish will generally be in deeper, slower pools. As the temps (air/water) rise, fish will begin moving into relatively faster and shallower water. Pay attention to the water temperature, as it will affect where the fish will be located.

Also, you’ve got to be ready for quickly rising water levels. When the “flush” comes, many rivers become too dangerous to wade and/or float. Some rivers may blow out (look like chocolate milk) and become un-fishable anyway. Some may still run just off-color because of a dam or the bedrock is larger/more firm. Know your river and exercise caution!

2. Nymphing

In the early spring, fish are often still hunkered down in the deeper pools, so weighted nymphing is a great way to target them. Use weighted nymphs to get them down deep or pinch on a split shot or two, and look for slow-moving water where the fish are likely to be. Focus on the edges of riffles and seams, where the fish will be holding.

3. Be Ready to Switch to Dry Flies

As the temperatures warm up, pay attention to the surface action. Switch to dry flies, such as a midge or BWO pattern. Look for areas where the water is calm, and fish the edges of pools, riffles, and runs. Skwala stones are about to go off too!

4. Pay Attention to the Weather

Spring weather can be unpredictable, so it's essential to pay attention to the weather forecast and check the USGS streamflow data. When it's cloudy or overcast, fish are more likely to feed on the surface. When sunny, they may retreat to deeper water or under cover, so nymphing may be more effective. Be prepared for the wacky stuff too... it may be in the 50s and the BWOs are hatching everywhere one day and the next it's a driving snowstorm and only deep/slow nymphing is producing. You might even find yourself in a heavy snowstorm but the midge are popping off and trout are sipping like crazy.

5. Fish Early or Late in the Day

The water can still be quite cold in the early spring so fish may be more active in the warmer parts of the day. As the season progresses, however, fish will become more active in the early morning and late afternoon. Plan your fishing trips accordingly.

6. Try Streamers

Spring is a great time to try streamer fishing. As the water begins to warm up, fish become more aggressive and start chasing baitfish. Use streamers to imitate baitfish and target the deeper pools and runs. In a lot of rivers, this is your best chance at the bigger fish in the system. Big fish don't get big by being dumb. Most of the year, they're hunkered down hiding in the daytime and feeding stealthily at night on big food. But in the spring, they become a lot more willing to hunt and chase in the daytime as they try to catch up on a wintertime calorie deficit.

7. Be Patient

Spring fly fishing can be challenging, so as's essential to be patient. Fish may be slow to take the fly, so it may take some time before you get a strike. Don't be discouraged if you don't catch something right away. Keep at it, and eventually, you'll find willing participants. Nymph takes can be really subtle too. Your indicator may barely move or it might not even register at all!

8. Don’t Mess with Redds

Rainbow trout cutthroat trout spawn in the spring. You’ll find redds (egg beds/nests) in shallow, gravelly riffles. You’ll either see trout sitting grouped up on these areas or you’ll see ovular-shaped areas of bright, clean gravel. These areas are beds where trout have cleaned the gravel, deposited, and fertilized eggs. Targeting trout on redds isn’t sporty and is detrimental to the fish themselves. Stepping through these gravel areas can kill thousands of eggs in an instant.

If you’re the type who wants healthy, fish-loaded waters, stay clear of these areas and find other fish to target. The browns (and other fall-spawning trout) will be in the deeper pool just downstream from the shallow gravel feeding on eggs the current is washing down. As long as you’re not wading on the shallow gravel areas to access these holes, I say go to town on these browns!

Early spring bows in Idaho. In these mountains, the rainbows won't spawn until late April or early May.

Spring fly fishing can be a rewarding and exciting experience. By using these tactics, you can increase your chances of success and enjoy the beauty of the natural awakening. The better you know your water, the better your chances. Things (water, insects, and fish) are still slowly warming up so make sure you bring your patience with you too.

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