Baker’s Dozen Edition by Head Guide, Zach Ware:
Springtime fishing in the Rockies tends to get a bad rep. Most people think of it as “mud season”, runoff, and blown out rivers, however, this is hardly the case if you know how to effectively fish this time of year.
Before runoff cranks up the fishing can be lights out with midges, caddis, and small mayflies starting to hatch. On any given day there’s a chance you’ll luck into a hatch and find some amazing dry fly action. The stonefly and salmon fly nymphs are also starting to move around a bit this time of year and nymphing on the days the fish aren’t rising will produce many fish. Rainbows spawn in the Spring, making some of the streams that dump into the various reservoirs prime targets for big bows.
Once runoff starts to ramp up look to tailwaters as better fishing options, as our tailwaters will have better visibility and more controlled flows. In higher flows focus your time on eddies and any slower water you can find. Chances are most of the fish in the river are concentrated in the few spots they can find relief from the heavy flows. For those with a raft or drift boat (or even better, a buddy with one that does all the rowing), the Upper Colorado can fish well through runoff. This is the place to be during the salmon fly hatch, producing the best dry fly fishing you can imagine.
Springtime Top 12 Flies:
1) Salmon Fly Foam sz. #6: If you don’t have some salmon fly dries in your box you’re doing something wrong. The salmon fly hatch is one of the most coveted hatches on western rivers and can be extremely difficult to time. The dry fly fishing is phenomenal when everything lines up right, and when it does you should be ready to drop everything and get out on the water. Our guides have call lists of clients from all over the country that are just waiting to get the call saying “it’s on, get out here!” This hatch is very short-lived, but if the conditions are right we can follow it up the river for a week or two of extremely good dry fly fishing. Look for the hatch to begin somewhere between mid-May to mid-June depending on the year.
2) Pat’s Rubber Legs sz. #12-#6, AKA The Pickle: Stonefly and Salmon fly nymphs begin to become more and more active as spring progresses. This makes a Pat’s Rubber Legs a very effective nymph all throughout spring and into the summer. I like to carry a wide variety of colors and sizes ranging from size #12 through #6 in olive/brown, tan/brown, orange/brown, black/brown, solid black, and solid brown. This allows me to “match the hatch” no matter what size and color are crawling around. Salmon flies crawl out onto the willows and rocks on the banks to hatch instead of hatching up through the water column. This makes a twitched, stripped, or swung pickle a deadly presentation when they are really active. If the fish aren’t eating them on the dead drift, or you notice you’re getting more strikes on your mend, don’t be afraid to give them a little action.
3) Squirmy Worms sz. #12: Worm patterns are generally worth a shot year round, but in the spring when the water is rising and the runoff is coming in from the banks they can be very productive. I tie these up with or without beads on a size #12 or #14 hook. You’ll want to have a few in pink, red, and purple in your box.
4) Egg patterns: With Rainbows spawning in the spring, fish will chow down on eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I start fishing eggs right at ice off and continue to have success with them through the spring. Any old egg will do sometimes and I tie a lot of eggs with Mcflyfoam, but the hard egg (shown here) is a highly productive shop secret. We carry these in the yellow and orange. I always keep some chartreuse glo-bugs on hand just in case.
5) Jujubee Midge sz. #18 – #20: Midges hatch almost year round, but throughout the winter and into early spring a lot of times they are the only bugs hatching. When the midges are hatching my go to is always a size #20 jujubee midge in blue. It is hands down one of the most effective patterns in my box. Dead drift it, fish it under a dry, or swing it.
6) RS-2 sz. #18 – #22: The RS-2 has been around for a while, and for good reason. It is a highly effective emerger when any midges, tricos, or mayflies are popping. In the springtime you’ll want to have plenty of these in gray, olive, black, and chocolate. In spring I like olive in a size #18 with a dun-colored wing to mimic BWO’s, gray anywhere from #18 -#22, and black or chocolate in size #20 – #22 for the midges.
7) Barr’s CDC Case BWO sz. #18 – #20: If the blue wing olives are hatching, but an RS-2 isn’t getting it done I’ll tie on a Barr’s CDC case BWO. This fly tends to hook finicky trout and is a killer pattern on the Fraser River. Fish this the same as the previous emergers. If the trout are porpoising but not breaking the surface with their snout you’ll want to fish it just below the surface under the next fly on my list.
8) Para-Wulff sz. #16 – #20: The Para-Wulff Adams and Para-Wulff BWO is a great pattern for springtime dry fly fishing. There is just enough flash to attract fish in off-colored water, and the double parachute makes it visible to the angler. When the fish are sipping BWO’s off the surface tie this bad boy on.
9) Pat’s Breadcrust sz. #14 – #16: Caddis start to get active sometime around mid-April to May depending on the stream and the weather. The Breadcrust has become a shop favorite for trout willing to munch on caddis. Fish willingly take a breadcrust through runoff, so fish it deep below a Pat’s Rubber Legs.
10) Elk Hair Caddis sz. #12 – # 18: The elk hair caddis is another pattern that has become a staple in most fly boxes across the U.S. When the fish are picking caddis off the surface they won’t turn down an Elk Hair Caddis. I like to have these in sizes #12 through #18 in brown, olive, and tan. Try to match the color and size to the bugs that are flying around, and if you’re getting refusals go down in size.
11) Psycho Prince sz. #14 – #16: Psycho princes are a go to attractor pattern that just flat out get the fish’s attention. They don’t necessarily mimic one specific bug so its a good bet when nothing is hatching or you’re having a slow day. The sparkle and flash make it a highly visible fly in off-color water so fish it through run-off. Grab a few in purple and green.
12) Mysis Shrimp sz. #18 – #20: Mysis Shrimp are freshwater shrimp that thrive in many of our large reservoirs out west. Big, wily, tailwater trout will gorge themselves on these tasty little shrimp cocktails so mysis patterns are a must have for any tailwater fisherman.
We promised you a Baker’s Dozen… here’s Zach’s #13 pick:
13) Home Invader sz. #6: I couldn’t imagine showing up to a river without a box full of streamer patterns, and the home invader is deadly. Streamers work in clear water, muddy water, tailwaters, freestone streams, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, hell they probably even work in aquariums for all I know. Right after ice off or in clear water white streamers are hard to beat, but when the water starts rising I quickly switch to a black home invader and rarely look back. Fish these on 0x or 1x tippet so you don’t lose them (they’re pricey little guys, I’m convinced they tie them with woolly mammoth hair and the krystal flash is 24 karat gold), and a versi-leader so they get down quicker and stay in the fish’s zone.
Tags: flies, flyfishing, spring fishing