For most of us fly anglers, Winter is a time of preparation. Sure, you may fish a few times when the weather is nice but for the most part, we tie flies, organize gear, and research fisheries previously unexplored. However, when Spring rolls around it is game time. The Spring season is arguably the best time all year to fish. These three short months will often account for the majority of the fish caught in a year so it really pays to make the most of them. Of course, there are a few different types of trout fisheries out there: stockie streams, wild trout streams, a mixture of both, tailwaters, small local streams, larger rivers, and so forth. However, for this article we will focus primarily on stockies. Why? Because for most fly anglers they offer a great way to dust off the cobwebs, get some fish under your belt, and still have some great fly fishing while waiting for some of the other wild trout streams to warm up. Sure the crowds can be tough at times, but there is nothing wrong with going out and bending a rod on some fat hatchery-raised fish. Below are some tips and tricks on how to best approach these fisheries to make you more successful on the water this spring.
This could be the single most important factor when it comes to Spring fly fishing in stocked streams. If you want great fishing, you want to be there when the fishing is great. Pretty simple right? Well far too many anglers simply miss the boat and show up too late. They wait until the weather warms up, the birds are chirping, and the leaves have begun to show on the trees. If you wait that long you will be too late. You need to get out onto the water early. March 20th is the official start of Spring but you will really want to be on the water earlier than that. The last week of February/first week of March is generally when Connecticut starts putting fish into the rivers. While every state is slightly different, stockings typically occur sometime in March. Maybe April. There are multiple resources available to the public regarding where and when a particular state stocks their rivers. Find those and use them. They are as good as gold. Get familiar with these resources so you can get right on the water when the stockings occur. Another great thing about getting out early is that most rivers are catch-and-release only. That keeps the fishing good for weeks (unless the poachers move in) and keeps many spin anglers off the water too.
“Stockie bashing” as I affectionately call it, does not require the “best” gear. You do not need thousand-dollar fly rods or a custom painted Abel reel. Truth be told, you don’t even need a reel with a drag for the most part. However, you do need the right gear. Most stocked streams are smaller in width and depth and most of the fish are on the smaller side as well. 14” and under are most common so you will want rods that are suited to these characteristics. A 3wt or softer 4wt is ideal. A shorter rod is also advantageous, so my advice would be to go with something like a 7’6” 3wt or 8’ 4wt. 1 and 2 weights will work too. 9’ 5wts are too long and too heavy for most of these rivers, so you’ll usually want to leave them at home. These rivers are tight, with trees and brush in close proximity. You will need a rod that can make short, quick casts. A rod that can roll cast well is critical too. So, shorter, lighter, and softer rods are much more advantageous. You will also want a rod and line that mend well. Depending on the river, something longer than 7’6” will be better for indicator nymphing or swinging wets. But if the river is very small, a 7’6” rod will be plenty. What rod you choose will be part personal preference, part what rivers you are fishing. One particular thing that you will want to pay attention to is your leader, and a 5x leader with tippet that measures about 7’6” or 8’ is going to be the most versatile (there are times when a 4x or 6x will be more appropriate but if you had to pick one, 5x would be it). The reason for the shorter leader is because of the shorter rods and more technical casts that small streams demand. Keeping that leader about the same length of the rod will allow you to roll cast more effectively and keep the line out of trees when you do get the rare opportunity to false cast. For tippet 4, 5, 6, and 7x is all you need.
Flies and Presentation
Many anglers think that fly selection for stockies does not matter as much as it would with wild fish. And while there are times where that is certainly correct, there are other times when that could not be more wrong. When the fish are first put in, they will take an astounding array of flies. They will take a bunch of different sizes, colors, and silhouettes in the search for actual prey items. Because they are hatchery raised, they simply don’t know any better. This is when you can have a lot of fun with your flies. Bright colors, larger patterns, and wacky ties are all fair game. These fish will willingly give these flies at least one shot and you can do really well with flies you would never dare fish on a wild trout stream. However, as these fish get caught 5 or 6 times, they learn very quickly that large or bright flies are not food. They sometimes even associate larger or brighter flies with danger and will spook once they see them. So, smaller and more natural flies soon become mandatory. Lighter tippet and stealthier set-ups also become more important, as do perfect presentations with little-to-no drag. Over time it becomes much more of a finesse game and these fish can really test your abilities. Another factor that contributes to this is the limited amount of prey these fish have to survive on. These smaller streams often have far less for the trout to feed on as opposed to wild trout streams, which, ironically, can make stockies more selective than their wild counterparts. I often say that “if you can catch a stocked trout after 3 months of heavy angling pressure, you can catch a trout anywhere.” Drop down your fly sizes if you are struggling to hook fish especially if there has been a ton of angling pressure. It will make all of the difference.
One of the key factors in early Spring success is being flexible. Being familiar with multiple rivers and being able to hit these rivers at precise times is key. Once the stocking starts, it is anyone’s guess which rivers will get fish and which ones won’t on any given week. There are certain rivers that tend to get fish first, others that tend to get larger fish (broodstock) and some that get the most numbers. The only way you can learn that is time spent on the water or befriending someone who already has that information. However, sticking to one river and hammering it, which almost guarantees you at least one good day on the water will more than likely give you just that. One good day. Moving around and being strategic about when and where you fish will be much more advantageous. Stocking reports are where you can get some of this information. Other options are looking at flows, access road conditions, and opening day proximity. You do need to be careful as some rivers are closed during the winter. Always check regulations.
To sum it all up, the key to enjoying that first trout fishing of the season involves getting out there early and utilizing a thoughtful strategy. If you stay informed and time it correctly there should be plenty of fish around. And while fishing can be quite “easy” in those early days, taking the above into account will help pay dividends when things get tougher and we transition deeper into the season. Good luck!
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