Early Season Trout

by Steve May - April 29, 2010

Every winter here in Canada we dream of opening day. The outing we imagine usually involves a beautiful warm day with eager rising trout and no crowds.

The usual reality is a cold, dirty river swollen with spring runoff with less than willing fish. To be prepared for opening day commonly means having tackle and techniques ready for these less than ideal conditions.

Early season is the time to break out the big ugly flies and sink tips. It may not be the most elegant way to start the year, but pulling streamers and down and dirty nymphing are my most effective early season strategies. Dredging the bottom of good holding water can result your best fish of the season.

During the first weeks of the season the cold water slows most insect hatches that will get cooking with warmer temperatures. There are just not that many bugs around and finding them in cold, high coloured water is not something that excites big fish. The most available food at this time is baitfish and larger insect larvae like stoneflies that have multi year lifecycles. With leeches and worms washed into the river also on the menu, you see why using meaty flies can help your odds.

Add on sink tips that loop to the front of a floating line are something I commonly use when I am looking to get to the bottom of things. A variety of lengths of lead core or the tapered tips are very handy. I keep the tippet attached to the end of these leaders shorter than four feet long so I don’t lose the ability of the sink tip to get the fly deep. Use heavy 2X-0X fluorocarbon tippet. It sinks well and is abrasion resistant. This may seem a bit heavy, but, early season fish clamping down on a juicy streamer are not leader shy.

Favorite flies for deep work include chunky sculpins, streamers, woolly buggers or stonefly nymphs. I have a preference for dark patterns that cast a large silhouette. It helps if the fly is weighted to help get it deep. Offerings incorporating bulky heads to create a sonic imprint and flowing materials like rabbit strips and marabou to add natural swimming action definitely attract the attention of winter hungry fish. The cold water slows fish down making them less interested in chasing flies very far, unless it is worth the effort.

Getting your fly down in the face of the fish is important. To accomplish this you may not want to use your delicate dry fly rod. A rod capable of handing a sink tip line is in order. A bit heavier rod with some backbone is also helpful for slinging a strike indicator and some split shot. Working deep current seams, cut banks, pockets and pools will put your fly in front of big early season trout. The goal is to probe the deepest parts of the stream that have fish holding cover with a slow and vulnerable retrieve.

Hopefully, your opening day dreams come true. Mine opening day dream now includes feeling a deeply swung streamer stop mid current, followed by a few strong, deliberate head shakes before a giant trout peels line downstream… be ready and hang on!

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