Fly fishing during the Spring time months can be spectacular. Still, it has it's challenges. With gradual warming temperatures, trout begin to move around. After a long and cold winter, trout are ready to start filling up on larger insects that are not available in the winter months. Here in the southeast, particularly North Carolina/Virginia/Tennessee/and northeast Georgia, early March marks the emergence of the first major hatches of the year. The Epeorus pleuralis, commonly know as the quill gordons and the Paraleptophlebia adoptiva, or the blue quills, are two of the most pronounced spring-time hatches here in NC. I've heard that generically speaking, a trout stream needs to reach 50 degrees for at least 3 or more consecutive days before the quill gordons start to really make a move to the surface. I tend to agree with this. It doesn't have to be blazing hot to trigger a spring time hatch, but warmer water temperatures are needed. If there is a warm spell that lasts for a week or so in February, the quill gordons/blue quills sometimes arrive early. We've seen this numerous times in NC. During a hatch, the insects are swimming from the bottom of the stream, riding with the current, while propelling themselves to the surface. Trout will take these helpless bugs with reckless abandon. When you start seeing quill gordon's on the water, tie on a quill gordon wet, let it sink to the bottom, and slowly inch it up to the surface when it nears your intended fish. This sometimes results in vicious strikes, so hang on.
As Spring rolls on, May brings with it a plethora of insect hatches. Hatches during the month of May include the Ephemerella Subvaria (Hendricksons), the Stenonema Vicarium or March Brown, and the Stenonema Ithaca (Lt. Cahill). Other hatches worth mentioning include the Gray Caddis, Gray Fox, Yellow Midges, Sulphurs, Black Caddis, Green Drakes, Giant Stone Flies (Pteronarcys), and the BWO's (which never seem to rest). If you look at a NC hatch chart, you will notice that May is the outlier in terms of how many insects hatch. Straying from aquatic insects, late Spring (usually June) marks the beginning of terrestrial season. Hoppers, ants, beetles and eventually inchworms make their appearance in western North Carolina.
If there isn't a hatch occurring, the best thing to do is tie on a nymph such as a Pheasant Tail or a March Brown Nymph. The absence of a hatch doesn't necessarily mean that a hungry trout won't tackle a lone dry fly, it just means that you will have more consistency catching fish nymphing. It's a fact that roughly 85-90% (or more) of a trout's diet consists of sub-surface food items (i.e. nymphs, emergers, baitfish, etc).
A few helpful tips for fly fishing in the spring...
- Be aware of water levels. This time of year yields more rain, thus more water. Spring time in NC means severe thunderstorms. If you hear thunder or see lightning, stop fishing and wait for it the storm to pass. Often, thunderstorms that occur well upstream will send water downstream.
- Fish the seams (where moving water meets slack water.) Trout are often found waiting in seams for passing food. They sit in the calm, slack water, adjacent to the faster water, we're food concentrations are higher.
- If the water is stained or muddy, use heavier tippet (2-5x depending on clarity of water
- 90% of a trout's diet consists of nymphs, so you are more likely to catch a trout on a nymph vs. a dry in most situations.
- Try a new fly that the fish have not likely seen yet.
- In high, stained water during and after spring rains, use big #4 Zonkers, Woolly Buggers, and Zoo Cougars.
- Most rainbow trout spawn in the early Spring, so try using an egg pattern. Spring in NC can be spectacular to say the least. Fishing is usually excellent with abundant hatches, warm temperatures, and plenty of hungry fish. Take advantage of the optimum weather conditions spring commonly offers.