Snow! What a tremendous blessing the recent snow storms have been for the Absaroka and Beartooth mountains this past week. Despite the frigid temperatures when digging out driveways and parking lots, the fact the mountains gained 12%, or more, of much needed moisture made the inconvenience of shoveling out with frostbitten fingers, toes and faces worth the suffering. Let’s hope further storms hit the high country in the next two months.
As the days get longer and the sun shines higher and brighter with the coming of spring in five more weeks, many an angler’s thoughts turn to the early hatches of spring and the many days of fishing through summer and fall that lie ahead. We will get more snow and ice of course. The adage, “Hope springs eternal in the dark of winter,” is true. That’s especially after temps below freezing in the double digits have kept many feeding the fire and remaining cabin-bound.
That’s why fishing in the spring is such a pleasure. Not only can one romp through the outdoors without having to skinny ski or snowshoe to get wherever is most enticing as spring progressively warms up, one can also fish favorite tailwaters and freestone rivers and creeks, without much fear of frostbite. Correction: Some of the time, one can do these things during a Wyoming spring.
For all of you newcomers wondering when spring ends in the Cody area, I hate to be the one to break the news, but it usually ends around June 15 when we go straight to summer! Fortunately, there will be some very nice days between the cold spells to keep spirits bright.
Spring means great hatches of midges, tiny blue-winged olive mayflies and winter stoneflies. These hatches provide anglers who flyfish the chance to wade the margins of rivers, streams and lakes, or float the world-renowned tailwaters and the freestone rivers in Wyoming. We can enjoy the chance to fish dries, nymphs or streamers during a day, while obtaining Vitamin D and much needed exercise in the process.
Tailwaters are good bets when thinking spring fishing. Water temperatures are consistent most of the time, thanks to the dam upstream. Tailwaters are usually very fertile because they collect nitrogen, minerals and organic matter, which are then distributed downstream, feeding the bottom invertebrates and the trout fishery. This fertility and constant water temperature has trout feeding on something most of the time.
Tailwaters in Wyoming are noted for the abundance of aquatic invertebrates that inhabit them. Besides the insects mentioned in the hatches, other bottom dwellers such as scuds, sowbugs, cranefly larvae, mayfly and stonefly nymphs, as well as the larvae of midges and caddis are readily available. Aquatic worms and leeches round out the banquet table.
Imitations of these insects are simple and can easily be organized into two medium-sized fly boxes. Should you not know what flies are needed, or how to use them, let me share what I keep in my fly boxes for everyday consistency when fishing a tailwater.
My nymph, or wet fly box, contains San Juan Worm (orange, chamois, red, wine), Zebra midge (beaded and non-beaded, black, red, purple), scuds (olive, pink, orange), sowbug (gray, olive, tan, purple), woolly bugger (weighted and non, black, olive, purple, brown), pheasant tail (beaded and non), and North Fork Special (black, tan), hare’s ear (natural, olive, black). Midge sizes are generally 16-24, woolly buggers 4-12, and the rest of the attractor nymphs in my collection are size 8-22.
Nymphs should be fished dead drift under an indicator or behind a dry fly and set at a certain depth: 15 inches to 4 feet is fine in most nymphing situations. Presentation is made upstream into the current, giving the nymph time to sink quickly and get in the trout zone.
Trout can be lazy feeders in tailwaters. They don’t have to move to eat. If you understand there is ample food drifting by nonstop, then you understand the trout can lazily munch what attracts their attention and not expend many calories while eating. It’s imperative, especially when using smaller wet flies, anglers get into the zone right away, giving the trout residing in the zone plenty of time to suck up your offering.
Manageable casts when nymphing should be no further than three times your rod length.
The angler has to make line adjustments (mending) with rod and line as soon as the fly enters the water. Line management is used to avoid all drag on the leader system to allow the fly to retain the intended drift path through the zone. When the indicator or dry fly stops, spins or dips on its drift, set the hook. It’s a fish.
My dry fly box is comprised of dry and not-so-dry emerger and cripple patterns: Parachute Adams (gray, olive, hare’s ear, black, purple), snowshoe sparkle dun (black, rust, cream, olive, purple), sparkle dun (olive, gray, black, rust, purple, cream), Freaking midge, (red, black, olive, purple), Tim’s bow-tie midge (black), Griffith’s gnat and elk hair caddis (black, olive, brown), sizes 16-24. When late March or early April arrives, I add March brown mayfly dries, emergers and nymphs along with Skwalla stonefly adults and nymphs, size 10-14 for the latter two fly patterns.
Spring dry fly fishing comes in spurts and seems to occur on those blustery, cloudy days when winter refuses to yield to spring. However, the hatches can be unbelievable in numbers on the water and in the air. Trout are glutinous. Big trout will muscle smaller trout out of the way to gulp helpless pods of blue-winged olives or midges trying to emerge in the surface.
Fishing is unbelievable. This is why we endure December through March, to have not just one, but lots of “lost count” days to catch during these spring hatch episodes is a blessing.