Most of the dry flies in my guide box will match whatever spring hatch you encounter, from midges to winter stones, whether on a tailwater or freestone river. Match color and size, then present it the way you think the trout wants it.
No drag is good. Use the techniques discussed in the nymph section to assist your dry fly presentation. I use snowshoe sparkle duns in various colors most of the time during one of these blitz hatches and score well.
Spring would not be complete without the annual spawning runs of rainbows and native cutthroat prior to the flush of late spring snowmelt. Fishing over spawning trout or wading through their beds is not recommended – ever – and is highly frowned upon by ethical sportsmen.
It is okay to fish and catch a migrating trout in the process. Usually these trout come from reservoirs and have grown fat sucking up plankton, crayfish and smaller trout through the winter. When they enter the river systems, the chance to hook a huge rainbow or cutthroat for a picture mount improves substantially.
Catching fish while they are moving upstream prior to spawning is the Rocky Mountain version of Steelheading. Big nymphs or slinky streamers are used in the pursuit of rainbows that can weigh in excess of five pounds and cutthroat that are fat three-pounders. Just keep in mind, the larger fish need to be caught and released so they can successfully spawn. This is how Wyoming rivers continue to maintain wild trout fisheries, especially our native Yellowstone cutthroat found in many rivers and tributaries throughout the Big Horn Basin watershed.
While trout spawn in tailwaters, the experience isn’t the same unless it is on the upstream, undammed version of itself. Flies used in freestone rivers in the spring are generally much larger than those used below a dam and are tied to imitate stonefly nymphs.
Having said the above, there are also days when the sun is high and bright, or fishing pressure has educated the wild trout that one should have fly box of smaller flies just in case. Some days, it is the smaller flies that keep your rod bent.
Nymphs commonly used in Wyoming freestone waters – and also in my fly boxes – are: Bitch Creek (weighted), Halfback (weighted, beaded or non), Girdle bug, yuk bug (cone-head and non), North Fork Special, double-beaded stone, epoxy back stone, BH Prince nymph, BH Pheasant tail and BH hare’s ear. Bloody Mary’s, Copper John and Purple Prince’s work well as droppers. The new jig style nymphs are now replacing some of the old reliable patterns, like the Prince, Hare’s ears and copper Johns.
The new jig style flies ride hook up and do a great job avoiding sticks and debris that are often snag debris when fishing some of the former old style flies too deep and drags along the bottom. Something to think about for the future.
Fish the larger nymphs as you would on a tailwater with one exception. Leave no rock or still-water pocket unturned as you ply the water. Start close and work your way out into the river. It is not uncommon to find some of the larger fish in the most amazing places during the spring spawning runs.
Streamers run the gamut, but the ubiquitous wooly bugger gets the job done. It is tied in a hundred different ways and effective in most of its versions. It pays to carry plenty size 4-12 of this versatile fly. Zonkers, Zuddlers, Slump busters, Orange blossoms, Clouser minnows, Sex Dungeon and variations thereof and Bailey’s muddler minnow work well too.
Streamers are fished downstream and across, usually with a sinking fly line, then worked against the current to create a wounded minnow effect as the fly is worked back to the angler. They can also be dead-drifted under and indicator and jigged up and down as the fly comes back with the current.
Leadering up is also advised. Ten, even 12 pound tippet is not too heavy when using larger flies and hooking larger trout. Rods also break this time of year when “The Run” is on. Forget about light fly rods on the Platte and Bighorn Rivers, for instance.
Six weights and larger should be used to land these mature fish quickly and easily, so they can be released unharmed to spawn. The same is true on lakes that have monster trout swimming around.
As mentioned, most of these fish are returning wild trout, spawned in the river you are fishing and returning to spawn again. Wyoming is more wild than civilized, thank the Lord, and our trout, whether native or introduced, deserve the right to reproduce and remain wild. Gosh, I am so looking forward to spring.