Early Season Killer Wet Fly
Eugene P. Macri Jr.
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© 2017 E. P. Macri
Early Season Killer Wet Flies
Many fly anglers think spring fly fishing is just too tough. They seldom do well unless there are
major hatches even on hatchery trout. Most fly anglers are fishing for hatchery fish whether we wish to admit it or
not. Yet on both hatchery and wild fish certain techniques work well in the spring yet few fly anglers are aware of
them. Let's face it: it would be nice to fish to rising fish in the spring but that's usually not the case.
Most of the time the waters are high and cold.
What most fly anglers never learn that in order to consistently catch trout you must become a "technician." This is
especially true in the spring when a practiced technique can make all the differences in the world. I won't tell
you that trout in cold water are not sometimes very tough to catch. But I will tell you this, the techniques and
patterns in this story were tested over the years in open water not fly areas! With minnows, powerbaits, salmon
eggs, pikie minnows and spinners flying at me from all directions. Why do I put up with this? For a very good
reason: these fish are hammered and pounded to death. If I can get them to take a fly then I believe the same
techniques and patterns will work on trout anywhere.
I'm not bragging but I have consistently held my own against all bait anglers in open waters the first few weeks of
the season. I can assure you that you can do it too. It doesn't take a genius (which I am not; hell, I can't even
ship your packages correctly because I screw up the postal weights). But it does take some secret patterns and a
little technique. Yes, secret patterns. I'll bet you a cache of Dominican cigars that you won't find 1 fly angler
in 100 using the flies and techniques in the spring that you'll learn in this article.
Why not? Beats the hell out me. Perhaps because those fancy fly fishing magazines with those great articles don't
ever mention it. Really, many fly anglers believe it's too much work in the spring to go after trout. Well Ted
Trueblood said it best years ago. He said, "The best time to go fishing is whenever you can, any fishing is better
than work." Get my point. Don't give up 1 month of fly fishing because you feel you don't have a chance against the
hordes of bait and metal slingers. You can do it.
First, most techniques that work in May don't work in March and April. Why? Metabolism! A trout is a cold blooded
vertebrate. You are a warm blooded vertebrate (well most of us anyway)! When waters are below 45 degrees trout are
extremely inactive. They don't need much food to survive because their rates of digestion are slow. So what does it
mean. It means this there are basically only two ways to catch trout in such cold water: 1) hit them in the head
with the lure 2) excite or anger them into striking.
Just think about that for a moment. Successful bait fishermen in the spring do what? They bounce their worm or egg
right in front of the fish! They do it over and over again (practiced technique). What do spin fishermen do?
They throw a spinner in front of fish and excite them with flash and motion. Most of the time they are both
successful! What do most fly anglers do? They cast their flies in the high waters either never getting them near
the fish or snagging the bottom and usually giving up.
What do I do differently? First of all I learned something when I was young. Whether you like bait or spin
fishermen is immaterial. They must be doing something right or they wouldn't catch so many trout. What can I
emulate in their technique that will help me catch trout in the spring? Well, I've stolen from
First, there is technique. Rule 1: you must get your fly on the bottom and keep it there. Rule 2: you must use the
right equipment and technique in order to accomplish this. Let's start with the main problem: the rig. You should
forget about fancy leaders in the spring. Take a 7 1/2 foot leader tapered to 2x. Add a nymph indicator and 12 to
24 inches of 3x or 4x to this. You have a leader about 8 to 8 1/2 feet. At most 9 feet, no longer in the spring.
Next use round split shot. They hang up the least. Do not use split shot that have those little ridges which you
squeeze on. The son of bitches attract rocks like magnets. Forget about strip lead and everything else. It hangs up
You rod should be at least 8 1/2 feet for a 6 or 7 weight for most streams. Since graphite is so light it's no big
deal. Next your technique. Very simply put: SHORT LINE say it again SHORT LINE!
You should not be fishing more than 25 feet total. That includes your 8.6 foot rod, your 9 foot
leader and you 8 feet of fly line! Have you got that! If you have much more line out than this, the fish will need
to hook himself. You cannot compete with line control in the spring with bait and spin fishermen. Two reasons: 1)
trout will mouth a nitecrawler; this can be felt on mono at a much longer distance than a fly 2) trout usually hook
themselves on spinners or the reaction of line, rod, and angler. You don't have those luxuries. Even in coldwater
trout eject a fly quicker than a nite crawler or minnow.
Your technique will be this: short cast upstream, follow the line with the rod; keep the rod up at an angle. Keep
following the fly with the rod as it swings down stream. At any time you may have to strike. The line must be
semi-tight. Not too loose, not too tight. A quick snap of the wrist (sideways) or hand strike is all that's needed.
Another technique: cast the fly quartering downstream; following the line and fly with the rod; retrieve slowly
with a hand twist. You can also cast upstream and do the same thing. In all instances your fly must be on or near
the bottom. There arc many ways to accomplish this (see droppers in this issue for rigs). Remember if you are not
losing flies you are not doing this right. You must pin point your cast and read water well. That brings us to
another point that many fly anglers miss. Fish the easiest water in the spring. Pools, if you can reach the bottom; slow drifts, and deep runs. Stay away from
the heaviest water in the spring unless you can't fish elsewhere. You can take trout from these stretches but
until you get the hang of this type of fishing, you'll lose a lot flies and take few fish. Another point: most
hatchery trout can't fight such waters. These fish usually gang up in waters more suited to the environment
that they were raised in! Pick out stretches that you know hold fish. Position yourself for the best drift and
cast. You don't really cast such a rig, rather you pitch it. This technique has many advantages over spin
anglers. You can get many casts over a lot of fish in a short period of time. In fact, you can hold a cup of
coffee in one hand and fish with the other. It's sometimes cold in spring fishing.
Okay, now we have technique and methods down. What do we use? Forget about most of the patterns in your box. Yes,
some of them will catch trout but we want OPTIMUM PATTERN SELECTION PER CAST. What this means is we want a fly that
has a greater probability of being eaten. Remember I said these trout don't feed that much (except on eggs, worms
etc). So what about nymphs: fair to good. You can always catch few trout on these no matter what. But are these
fish feeding on nymphs yet? Some, but most are not. It takes them a while to feed in the spring. The best flies to
use are colorful deep patterns that I have listed for you. Why? First, you can get them down, and second, once you get them there, they excite the fish. These
patterns have worked in streams all over the country on wild trout and hatchery trout. Wait a minute. This
reminds you of steelhead fishing on a smaller scale. You got it! Those fellows are experts at cold, high water
fishing. But trout respond much better because most fly anglers aren't fishing such large waters and they can
keep the flies down on the bottom longer.
These colorful patterns can be used for steelhead fishing (and salmon too) and work very well. In fact, they work
better than many of the standard steelhead patterns. For spring trout fishing tie them on size 6 to 10 (you can tie
them smaller as the water clears and clean out some streams no kidding). The hooks should be lx long (3906 b is
okay). I do not like real heavy hooks for this type of fly. I believe they don't go in quick enough. Use thin wire
hooks in a similar size. Pinch the barbs down (you'll hook more fish, and few you lose aren't worth the trouble).
Tie the patterns in at least two different sizes. You can add a small amount of strip weight under the fly body if
you wish. But don't add too much because I believe it kills the action of the fly! You can use the dropper rigs
shown elsewhere in this issue. If you fish a single fly place the split shot 8 to 14 inches above the fly. Adjust
the shot to get the fly down. With a practiced technique of short line fishing and these flies I believe you can
give most bait and spin fishermen a run for their money. I've been doing it for years, and I am sure you can.