Early Spring Fly Fishing

By: Levi Opsatnic


Before all of springtime hubbub, hatches, and rising fish, Pennsylvania is granted what I’d consider to be one of my favorite times on the stream, which is early spring. Usually hitting our area just as the harsh winter temperatures seem to finish chilling us to the bone, and lasting only about a month before warm weather kicks in; the early spring season gives fly fishers some pretty awesome and successful time on the water.

This is a time whenever the water is usually nice and high, but not always muddy. The high water can be a result of a few different things. Either early season rainstorms, all of the winter’s snow melting, or a combination of the two. Now, those days where the temperature creeps around forty degrees or so may seem like an ideal day to spend casting a fly to most anglers, but that’s not always the case. Whenever there’s snow on the ground and the warmth of the sun (or rainfall) makes the snow surrounding the stream melt, this causes a decline of water temperature. This idea is similar to an ice cube melting in a cup of water and cooling your drink. What does all of that do to the fish in the creeks and rivers? Well, the rapid decline in temperature makes the fish’s metabolism lower, which in turn can give them a case of lockjaw.

Okay, now to stray away from the one negative aspect of early season fishing, we can get to some of the better things about fishing this time of year. The first would be that the sun warming the water makes the fish a lot more active than they were in the winter. At this point, it’s not uncommon for fish to move out of their deep winter lies and into the more shallow and riffled water. This generally spreads the fish out and allows you to successfully cover more water without having to stick to the same hole all day long.

Not only does the slight increase in temperature put fish on the feed, but at this time, most of the trout’s underwater diet is pretty close to being fully matured. This means that we can fish larger nymphs than in the winter, and with a lot more success.

In terms of choosing a fly for this time of year, I find that I have quite a bit of success fishing really any generic nymph in natural shades and in the sizes of 10-16. This is the time of year whenever your Pheasant Tail Nymphs and Hare’s Ear Nymphs will be your best friend, especially considering that they imitate a large portion of the nymphs in the water. Also, if you get really lucky this time of year, you may run into a hatch of insects that gets the fish rising. I find that this is a particularly fun treat for this time of year because it grants you the first opportunity to fish a dry fly after months of dredging the bottom of creeks.

Whenever the cabin fever really starts to set in, the early spring period is the perfect cure. I’ve had some of my best days on the water at this time and cherish the short period each year where I get to take advantage of these conditions. With all of that said, if you’ve never had a day out in the early spring, I’d certainly consider giving it a chance before the consistently warm weather sets in.


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