Early Season Trout Fly Fishing Tactics

Trout Fly Fishing
The first day of the trout season invariably marks the arrival of cartloads of anglers roaming the riverbanks eager to bag an early fish or two. We’ve waited patiently all winter to stretch our legs and feel our rods bend satisfyingly as we lean into those first fish. There will be moments of magic, but these are more often overshadowed by lows and even blanks. The important thing is to plan carefully and be patient!

Don't Just Thrash the Water
Keen as ever to be on the water, many trout fishermen turn up at first light. Tackling a lifeless stream or river with few clues to follow, they put on a team of heavy bugs and embark upon a full-on assault, leaving no stone unturned.  This is admirable, however it can be a tiring business and many early birds will wear themselves out long before the trout think about moving to feeding areas.

With fish safely tucked up in resting lies, those intrepid fishermen are merely covering barren water. By 11am, having thrashed the river, they tramp back to their vehicles with the reply “Nowt doing” when asked how they’ve done. However, to be successful, you need to really tune into the river's ecosystem and look closer.

Pay Attention to Insect Activity
Pretty much what drives it all is heightened levels of insect activity. Even trout that mooch about snaffling grubs concentrate their efforts when ascending nymphs are most active, and generally, this occurs between 1pm and 3pm in March so those who throw in the towel at lunchtime are missing out. Counterintuitively, during the early part of the season, it is not always best to fish first thing in the morning.  Ask yourself, are the fish switched on?  Can I spot any rises or flies coming off?

Look out for hatches
At 11am, you may well see the odd dun trickling off now, but rarely in sufficient numbers to tempt fish from their lairs. Instead, they’ll hang fire until the hatch is in full swing. Records have shown that for the past several seasons, many early season trout have fallen to dry-fly tactics – and in some cases, the rewards have been handsome. Late morning might be deemed a bit early to arrive at the river, but given mild weather, large dark olive duns may be streaming off by midday. Still, with sufficient time for setting out your stall, you’ll be ready to meet the first wave of flies.

Colder Temperatures Delay Hatches
Conversely, a cold snap often delays the anticipated hatch. You might need to wait until late afternoon, illustrating the need to be none too hasty when it comes to packing up. In these conditions, if there was a general time, then close to 2 o’clock is your best bet. There will inevitably be hatches of midges throughout the day, and it's still worth trying a few midge patterns, but the trout are not daft. They much prefer the duns and feed with greater ferocity when they are in abundance.

Impact of River Levels
March 15 usually dawns wet, windy and mild. While daytime temperatures of 5-10 degrees celcius are favourable for fly-life, there’s always the threat of high water. But don't let that worry you.  Weeks of high water prior to and on opening day is not always detrimental. Initially, a flood is bound to muddy the water, but constantly high levels flush out this sediment within days. Trout have time to acclimatise now, and sooner or later they will search out slack water to set up temporary feeding lies, for example the inside of a sweeping bend or pool tail being likely spots. If the water remains high, these trout may spend several weeks in their new homes.

Keep an eye on river levels
Dry Fly Tactics 
Flies have evolved to cope with spate conditions and will happily hatch even when streams spill into nearby fields. Such knowledge never guarantees you trout, but it gives us hope, even when the chips are down. Whatever opening day throws at you, and whether dry-fly or wet-fly tactics are your choice, it’s worth waiting until a good few duns are lifting off. Don't be discouraged if the water level is a few inches higher. Obviously take care if wading!  In addition to the March Brown, a couple of really good dry patterns to try include Deer Hair Emerger and Split Wing Dun.

Split Wing Dun

Deer Hair Emerger

Try Darker Colours
A very common approach used by many anglers is to focus on darker fly patterns because 70% of early season hatches are dark or black. Patterns such as the Skinny Black Gnat and Hi Vis Gnat are really effective in fast water.  If you do arrive a bit earlier than the hatch, a Shellback Nymph, Skinny Pheasant Tail Nymph or Camel Nymph can be effective.  Other good patterns to have include the Hot Spot Nymph, Greenwells Glory and the French Nymph.

When Fishing Terrestrials
When fishing near sheep, use dark patterns and when fishing near cows, use brown patterns.  Two early season terrestrials to be aware of are hawthorn fly and the cow dung fly.

Natural Dung Fly

Fulling Mill CDC Cow Dung

Natural Hawthorn Fly 
Fulling Mill Hi Float Hawthorn

Disturbing the Fish
Being too hasty can upset a whole pool. Prior to any hatch, trout will be moving to feeding lies and there’s bound to be a bit of jostling for pole position. Having just broken cover they’re jumpy, too, and need only the slightest excuse to bolt for safety. Some fish (usually the bigger specimens) often do a circuit of a pool close to their feeding lie, just to check that everything is OK before tucking into lunch. Finally settled on a station, a trout’s focus shifts almost entirely towards filling his belly. Once they’re into a rhythm it’s possible to slip into the water undetected.

Use a Stealthy Approach
If they do get wind of danger, then it is advisable to stand stock still for a few minutes. Don’t even be tempted to wade back to where you hooked the last trout as the chances are his friends will be doing a quick lap of the area, checking for potential danger. Hold fast until dimpling rises tell you everything is back to normal. Wade carefully and use stealth where possible.

Stay Positive
So don't be impatient when you arrive at your chosen venue during the start of the Trout Season.  If you don't see any fly activity until around 11am, chances are that the hatch is yet to kick off, so stay positive and stay patient. Pay attention to your wading and don't disturb the fish.  Keep on the move.

Jingler March Brown
Fly hatches are hard to predict on many occasions, but in early season they’re particularly fickle. Just as things get underway, all too often that flurry of duns dries up. You may have had only an hour of sport. At best, it might have lasted for two hours and even this seems woefully brief. In spring we’re going to pin our hopes on the appearance of fabled flies such as March Browns, but even when the last of these has hatched on a given day, our chances of sport are not over.

March Brown Fly
Don't Ignore Midges
Even when Ephemerides (an insect of the order Ephemeroptera, comprising Mayflies) numbers are small, their appearance is still enough to bring fish on the feed. And having made the effort to take up feeding stations, these fish turn to tiny midges. While Chironomids (midges) often trickle off from mid-morning until dark in March, what’s curious is that they remain very much an afterthought for trout. Clearly, some fish will take them, but the bulk of them switch to midges only after a main course of duns, especially those trout that have stationed themselves in pool tails or found a promising foam lane. And here they’re prepared to stay, sipping in fly until bad light stops play.

Fly Fishing for Trout
So don't be impatient when you arrive at your chosen venue during the start of the Trout Season.  If you don't see any fly activity up to around 11am, chances are that the hatch is yet to kick off, so stay positive and stay patient. Try to match the hatch where possible, pay attention to your wading, don't disturb the fish and keep on the move.  Remember, during early season, trout will feed on midge throughout the day but they much prefer duns and will gorge themselves.  Therefore, wait for that window in the day and make sure you have a good fly selection in your fly boxes that will match the hatch.

If you want to brush up on your fly fishing knowledge including tips on casting, choosing the right flies, fishing immitatively, and tips for fishing rivers and lochs, the Haynes Fly Fishing Manual is an excellent resource and offers step-by-step instructions on everything you need to know.

Haynes Fishing Manual
Alternatively, if you would like more help to ensure you have all the essential game fishing tackle for the Trout season, don't hesitate to call us on 0141 212 8880 and our friendly helpful staff can advise you.  Or, why not visit us in store at Fishingmegastore, Glasgow, where our expert team can help you fill your fly box with all the right patterns.

This article was brought to you in association with Trout and Salmon Magazine.