The trout, in its various species and locations, is the single most sought-after family of fish in the sport of fly fishing. In fact, the mere existence and allure of these beautiful fish is why fly fishing evolved in the first place. From its origins of Dapping stillwater with live mayflies to its current form of casting artificial imitations of aquatic insects in moving water, fly fishing owes its very genesis to trout. While the sport now encompasses almost every conceivable species of fish in both fresh and saltwater, the trout is still the marquee fish of the sport, and the Northeastern US has played a significant role in keeping it there. This region, while perhaps not as “flashy” as New Zealand, Patagonia, or Russia, still has some superb trout fishing. If you know where and when to fish, and if you incorporate some technical proficiency, there are some surprisingly impressive fisheries right in your backyard. Of course, as with any trout fishery, the Northeast also has its own unique set of challenges. This Compleat Guide is a compilation of decades of collective experience fishing for trout in this region, and is designed to help make you a more successful trout angler on its waters.
It’s All About The Seasons
If there is one geographic thing that the Northeastern US is known for it’s that it has four well-defined seasons. Not surprisingly, which season you fish will dictate where you fish, what you fish, and how you go about it. For trout anglers, this typically comes down to one of two major seasonal considerations: water temperature and water flow. Understanding trout behavior in response to the factors will make you a far more successful angler.
Spring is arguably the best season for fly fishing in the Northeast. Across the board, the conditions tend to be ideal. Cooler water, great flows, and hatching bugs mean that the fish are generally very accommodating. Coming out of winter, these fish are seeking out warmer water, and their metabolisms speed up as a result. They are looking to gorge on prey items and so it is during these Spring months that a wide variety of flies will work. Everything from the smallest of creeks to the much larger rivers will fish well and have active and hungry trout willing to take a fly.
Broadly speaking, summer in the Northeast is generally a tough time to target trout. I say broadly here, only because, depending on the weather, early summer can actually be pretty darn good. But as mid-summer approaches, things ordinarily become quite challenging. The reason, of course, is heat, and as our smaller streams heat up it forces fish into a stress-induced response to warming water during which they hunker down and become inactive. In fact many of our rivers get too warm to ethically fish and so for anglers who want to fish through the summer, the action becomes all about tailwaters. These tailwaters are essentially the only rivers that will fish well during the summer doldrums, but that also comes at a price in that they tend to draw crowds. For intrepid summer trout anglers, some spring fed streams at higher altitude will also fish well but those are relatively few and far between in this region. In short, while summer will have its moments, it is the time of year when most fly anglers give the fish a much needed break to ensure the health of the fishery.
Things begin to pick back up in the Fall. As the water cools, trout become more active again. They will try to feed as much as they can in preparation for the spawn (with the exception of Rainbows) and the long winter ahead. The hatches will be mostly done for the year with the exception of some caddis, midges, and bwo’s, but that does not mean that the fishing tapers off entirely. Fishing small egg patterns can be extremely effective on non-spawning fish, and general sub-surface angling with proper technique can yield great results. As the season turns, smaller streams usually do very well as they tend to be in line with the air temperature, while tailwaters tend to cool down quite a bit faster and will slide more quickly into winter-like conditions.
Winter is arguably the toughest time to target trout. While winter will have its moments, in general the catch rates are the lowest as the fish tend to be hunkered down for the season. As their metabolisms slow, they will often only eat an insect or two per-day, never moving too far to grab the morsel. Not surprisingly this makes them very difficult to catch. That said, successful fishing is doable if you are cognizant of when and where to go. There are certain windows of opportunity that you will want to focus on, especially, for example, when you have an abnormally warm day with overcast cloud cover. These kinds of “weather windows” are my favorite and can turn the bite on and increase your odds of success. Even a few hours of good fishing in the winter is usually enough to take the edge off, as we wait out those typical cold, bright days that make for very long odds.
Wild vs. Stocked
Simply put, there are two fundamental types of trout to target in the Northeast: wild and stocked. While the difference may seem trivial, these two types of fish behave quite differently. Strategies for each type can vary dramatically and will influence not only fly selection but where and when you fish as well. Understanding which type of fish you are targeting will allow you to make more informed decisions on the water.
Stocked trout are the backbone of Northeastern fly fishing. With wild trout streams few and far between, the majority of fish caught by anglers will be stocked. These fish are grown in state-run hatcheries and then released into local waters to provide angling opportunities where there would otherwise be none. Depending on the state, trout are typically stocked in the Spring and Fall with Spring getting 70 to 90 percent of the fish. Spring is by far the best season to target “stockies” with April being the most consistent month for good numbers of fish. The stockie season is short however. Unfortunately, these fish are often quickly killed by spin anglers and poachers, making for a relatively short window of opportunity. As such, you will want to fish these rivers early and often before the fish are all gone. Short season aside, the benefit of targeting stocked trout is that they are very accommodating and can give the fly angler an opportunity to learn how to present flies correctly, fight fish, and locate them in the river. These fish are a lot of fun in the early Spring and tend not to move very much from stocking points for the first few weeks or so. Over time, they will spread out but tend to do so slowly and this makes them fairly easy to pin down. Once you do find a pocket of fish, stay put. It is often the case that an area a mere 50 feet away may be devoid of trout. If you do not know stocking locations, the best approach is to search with a streamer until you get a hit as it allows you to cover water quickly.
Wild trout are a different thing entirely. Highly sought after, they exist in a handful of key fisheries throughout the Northeast and are far more challenging fish to catch. A wild fish is a stream-born fish that exists in a river without any interference or manipulation from humans. Now, there are words thrown around like native, and sea-run that cause confusion for many anglers. To clarify, native species of trout are those that have evolved, adapted, and naturally exist in an area without introduction by humans. The only native trout species commonly found in the Northeastern rivers are the Brook Trout (there are others but they are extremely rare or extinct). Now, just because the Brook Trout is native does not mean that each one is wild. These can be wild or stocked depending on where you are fishing. In all reality if you catch a Brookie over 10 inches long, chances are it is a stocked fish. All other trout species are non-native in this region meaning that they were introduced at one point. That includes Browns, Rainbows, and Tigers. While these species can be wild, they are not native. Sea-Run means the fish spend most of their time in saltwater and run up rivers at certain times of the year. While Long Island has a decent population of “Salter” Brookies (as do a few other states) they are very rare in the Northeast. There are claims of sea-run fish in states like Connecticut and Rhode Island but in reality these are mostly stocked fish that work down to the estuaries. Even wild fish that do the same thing are not true sea-run trout as these fish will touch brackish water by mistake or design. That said, native or not, wild trout are very special in this area. They are far less common than stockies and far more beautiful. How do you tell if a trout is wild? It can be difficult to the untrained eye but the dead giveaway is that they will have intact fins. Stockies tend to almost always have eroded and damaged fins. Wild fish also tend to be leaner and more hydrodynamic in shape, with much more vibrant colors. They will also look much “cleaner” without any missing scales. In some rivers if the fish has an adipose fin it is wild, however that is not always the case as many states no longer clip them. Even in the same state, some rivers get fish with clipped adipose fins, while others do not. However, after you have seen enough trout, you can tell right away when you have caught a wild fish. They just glow. Because wild fish are quite rare it is a real shame to kill one. While not a huge issue in the fly fishing community as most of us release all trout we catch, if you must kill fish, please only do so with stockies.
Wild fish will act much differently than stocked fish. If you look at a stocked brown and wild brown in the same river, they are essentially two completely different species in terms of behavior. Wild fish in our area act like normal trout. They are a very wary and reclusive fish that are extremely in tune with what is going on in their river. They feed in response to the natural rhythms of the stream and aquatic life that is abundant during the different months. As such, they are much selective and difficult to hook than stocked trout. They also move a lot more and can cover miles of river in a single day which make them harder to locate. However, once you crack the code on a particular river, they can be quite predictable. Wild fish are also much stronger than their stocked counterparts. They certainly fight harder and smarter. Another distinction is their tendency to become nocturnal. Larger wild fish will almost certainly become Nocturnal once they reach over 20 inches. They will transition from a primarily insect-based diet; to a largely fish, mammal, crustacean, and amphibian- based diet. As such, many anglers will switch up tactics and target these larger fish at night because it is the only real shot at catching them. There are of course exceptions but the take away here is that you must be open to different approaches when it comes to wild fish.
Many of our customers who are new to fly fishing seem to be most intimidated by fly selection. The age old saying “match the hatch” is rooted in truth but I have often found that being precise is not necessarily the key consideration. That is doubly true if you go sub-surface. In order of priority, presentation is the single most important consideration. No matter how perfect the fly, if it is not fished properly it will not get eaten. It is that simple. So work on that drift because without a perfect presentation, the fly does not matter. When choosing what fly to throw but I like to put it this way: imagine that Sulphurs are hatching and a trout is rising on them. In all of fly tying, with all of the materials and style of ties, you could argue that there are over 1,000 different patterns that that fish would eat during that hatch. However, there are probably only one to two sizes that the fish will take. Trout tend to key on a size before anything else so keep that in mind. If a fish refuses your fly, it often best to thrown the same fly in a size up or down; rather than changing patterns completely. Next would be silhouette. Silhouette translates into the style of fly you are throwing. That could be a dun, cripple, emerger or spinner. Understanding what "shape" the fish are keying in on will get you more consistent hookups in conjunction with size. Last on my list would be color. While it is important-ish, as long as the color match is close, I have found color is very much a tertiary consideration in most cases. It generally doesn’t have to be exactly right. More important is shade and shine. Dark vs. light or flashy vs. dull tends to be my primary consideration.
Dry flies are the reason fly fishing exists. Fishing a dry is, without question; the truest form of fly fishing. Dry flies are a floating fly that is designed to mimic hatching/adult bugs. And while there are many of us who take this to the outermost limits of sanity in matching tails, colors, wings, eyes, legs, and so forth, there is another approach that is much less comprehensive. There are four basic types of bugs: Mayflies, Caddisflies, Stoneflies, and Terrestrials (sure there are more, but these will be the most prevalent). Within these four basic families are numerous species with their own unique attributes. Different species will vary in terms of when they hatch, how big they are, where they are found, and how they act. However you can get around that with five basic patterns. For mayflies, an Adams Parachute is about as good as it gets. This style of fly in various sizes and colors will imitate a wide variety of bugs and will work when mayflies are the primary forage. The Elk Hair Caddis in various sizes and colors will work for caddisflies as well. For Stoneflies, the Stimulator is a proven pattern, and having a few different sizes and colors will take fish just about everywhere even though stoneflies are not super prevalent in the Northeast. Lastly we have terrestrials. These are land-born insects that fall into rivers where they are eaten by trout. This family of insects primarily consists of ants and beetles. Ants will generally be the most productive and a size 16 black or cinnamon foam ant is hard to beat. For beetles something a bit larger in the 12 or 14 size range is more than enough. Black is probably the most productive color. If you get these five families in different sizes and colors, you will be able to imitate 80 percent of what you will see on the water at any given time. The mayflies tend to be the most varied and you will want the most of those. Mayfly patterns in sizes from a 10 all they way down to a 26 is not unreasonable. For the caddis, size 16, 18, 20, and 22 in tan and green will cover most of your bases. As I mentioned before there are a lot of options out there but keeping it simple is often the best approach. If you see bugs coming off, capture one, and match it as closely as you can with what you have in your fly box. Often, if the size is right, and the color is close enough, the fish will respond positively.
These are flies mimicking larval stages of mayflies, caddis, stoneflies, and other adult aquatic insects. They come in five basic types: Mayflies, Caddis, midges, stoneflies, and junk flies. These flies are fished sub-surface, often right along the bottom when trout are not rising. Nymphs are very productive for a few reasons. First off, trout feed predominantly below the surface. While they will regularly take bugs off the surface, this comprises only a fraction of their daily consumption. Especially during the early spring and late fall when very few bugs are hatching, their diet will be almost exclusively sub-surface. While often considered “not fun” or “cheating” by veterans, it is no secret that using nymphs is very effective. Nymphs are where you can get creative with your fly selection. Multiple colors and styles will take fish on any given day and experimenting with patterns will often surprise you. While there are thousands of options, there are a few you should always have.
The first is the Pheasant tail which will imitate many of your mayfly nymphs. It is a classic and will take fish globally. A Pheasant Tail in sizes 12 down to 20 will give you options for most of the Spring, Summer, and into Fall. I like to fish beadhead variations, personally, but regardless of variation, this is a fly you must have. It’s that effective.
The next “must have” is a beadhead caddis. Caddis can be a little more convoluted as there are lots of different types. However if you keep it simple with a tan variation and a green variation, these will tend to be more than enough to take fish almost anywhere. Again, have a good size range. I keep them slightly smaller and sizes 14 to 20 are typically all you will need. Finding good caddis nymphs is actually surprisingly difficult. I tend to tie my own, however anything tied on a scud-style hook with a bead head that is shaggy-ish should do just fine.
For Stoneflies, I keep things fairly simple. I honestly don’t fish them that often and while they can be very effective at times, they are not abundant in most Northeastern rivers. For that reason, I’ll often go with a Pats Rubber Legs pattern. Depending on the river I'll fish them as small as a 10 and up to a size 6. In tailwaters I tend to upsize the fly. The 3 colors you will want are black, brown, and golden. There are tons of color variations for stones but don’t get too caught up on that. Close is close enough.
On to the junk flies. Ah yes, the “junk” flies. A moniker well deserved as these flies are often ridiculous for a number of reasons and they tend to blur the line between fly and lure. They often don’t imitate anything specific and are designed to catch fish for anglers who have zero idea of what to throw. I think a lot of fly anglers hate them for that reason. But, love them or hate them, they do catch fish. Junk flies can be grouped into worms, mops, and to a lesser extent, eggs. Worms have evolved a ton over the past five years from the chenille-based San Juan to thousands of rubber Squirmy wormy variations. They basically like a rubber bass worms. But if you want to fish worms, a Squirmy Wormy is tough to beat. Get some in tan and pink and you are bound to catch a few fish on them. Mops are tied from a microfiber chenille originally found on car-cleaning mops, hence the name. Chartreuse is the original color and will work just fine but tan seems to be the hot color these days. These in size 8 or 10 will take fish all over the place. They don’t really look like anything at all but they catch a ton of fish. Lastly are the eggs. These are very effective in the Fall and on freshly stocked trout. Keep it simple when it comes to picking your patterns. Size 14, 16, or 18 in pink, cheese, and orange is all you need for most situations.
For most situations, smaller streamers will be all you will need. There are giant trout streamers out there and they have a cult-like following but for most situations these are not practical. Especially if you are only bringing one rod, it won’t be a 7 or 8 weight that can throw these monster flies. I have found that going the opposite direction, and downsizing your flies can be just as productive if you fish them correctly. I have the most success with streamers in the 4 to 12 size range. These can be casted on 5wts with ease and will be appropriate for most fishing situations. Now we have all heard that the Woolly Bugger has taken more trout than any fly and that could very well be true. I do like that fly. But it seems like a standard Woolly is a little lackluster given all the options now available to anglers. There are Krystal and Flashy Buggers that tend to out-fish the standard stuff. Rubber legged buggers are very effective as well. I also really like any zonker-style fly. Double bunnies, leeches, and sculpins tied with rabbit have incredible movement under the water. I like these flies when I am fishing the fly slower. For colors on buggers or rabbit flies, brown, black, olive and white are all you need.
These are probably the most underutilized flies out there. Very few anglers fish these anymore, but make no mistake these flies are deadly. When trout are very selective, wets can often be the secret sauce that gets them to eat. These flies are typically swung through moderate speed sections of stream to imitate emerging flies. I have found that over the years, smaller wets tend to out-fish larger ones. Sizes 16 to 20 seem to be the sweet spot. Now with wets, you can keep it very simple. You only need two fundamental colors. A brown and cream of some description. If you have those 2 colors in various sizes, you can typically catch fish in any stream in the Northeast. There are wets that have hot spots and other colors and while those will work, I think keeping it simple is often the better approach.
How to Target Trout Effectively: (Where, When & How)
As I mentioned before, it is all about the seasons. That is the basis for making informed decisions that will make you a better trout angler. That, coupled with knowing when to fish certain types of water, where to find these fish, and what the likely forage is, all contribute to success.
In the late Winter/early Spring it is all about stockies. I call it “stockie bashing” and that is exactly what it is. The fishing can be so good that double digit days are common and triple digit days are not unheard of. While numbers are not really what is about for me anymore, nor should it be, that gives you an idea of the quality of the fishing. It’s very good and who doesn't like catching a lot of fish? Depending on the state, stockie season starts at different times. As a general rule, mid-March is when you want to begin your season. Yes, March. The states will put fish in quite early to give the catch-and-release anglers some decent fishing before the spin anglers take them all. Some states do one stocking per location, others do multiple. So, be on the water early in the year to get first crack at these fish. With freshly stocked fish, the name of the game is streamers. These fish will literally try anything once as they are no longer being fed by hatchery employees. They will get hungry quickly and their competitive nature lends itself well to larger attractor type patterns. I always start with something fairly large and flashy. I fish a fly these fish can see from a long way off and fish it aggressively. There is generally a week-long window from when the fish are put in to when they become more educated where the fishing can be lights out. After about a week these fish will begin to realize that streamers mean trouble. At that point, it is time to transition to larger nymphs. Size 12, 14 and 16s are typically what I use and I’ll throw some color and flash in as well. Junk flies, Hothead Pheasant Tails, flashy caddis, or Copper Johns are a good starting point. I will fish these under an indicator and sometimes add some split shot to get them down. Any decent drift will get bit and this is a great time to experiment on those larger flies like mops and worms. After the second week, the fish begin to realize what is going on and start to become very selective. That means that it is time to downsize your flies. Midges and smaller nymphs will be absolutely compulsory. These fish will have been caught multiple times and as such, very wary of flies. 6x tippet and patterns size 18 or smaller will get you back on the fish. Most of the presentations for spring stockies will be subsurface however, there is one exception and that’s Stoneflies. For most of the Northeast, we get a great early season Stonefly hatch and it is a great way to get back into the swing of dry fly fishing after a long winter.
The Late Spring and Into the Summer will find the stockie action dwindle to a vestige of its former self. The rivers are typically picked clean of fish by the end of April or early May. It is a shame, but this is when some of the larger rivers come into their own. It is also the best time to transition to tailwaters or some select wild trout streams. The reason is that the temperatures tend to be perfect in May regardless of which of these rivers you choose or what state you are in. The flows are usually far more stable and wild fish really start to become active. This is also the start of the dry fly season as larger bugs begin hatching in earnest. A multitude of insects will begin coming off giving the angler some of the best surface action of the year. The Catskills are a perfect example. May into June is one the best months to be up there and the variety of insects hatching is quite amazing. That is mirrored throughout the Northeast. A multitude of aquatic insects begin to reproduce and the trout begin to target them, often on the surface. Regardless of where you decide to fish, if it is a larger and healthy river the fishing should be spectacular. Now, although the river may be teeming with life, the fishing itself can get very technical as the fish become very selective. There is no surefire approach due to the fact that each river will have its own variations. What essentially happens is that the trout will react to what the insects are doing. In response, you should try to become more in tune with what the insects are doing and how they affect trout feeding behavior. You do not need to become an entomologist, but being observant and having a decent selection of flies will pay dividends. You can always deploy the “searching with a streamer” technique if things are tough, however utilizing more deliberate flies and presentations is often most effective. This is where years of experience through time on the water is invaluable. The very best anglers are able to anticipate hatches and are prepared for them in advance. Spring is the best time to learn these ebbs and flows of activity on a particular stream and then use that information in a concise manner.
Summer is when things begin to get difficult. The smaller non-tailwater streams are often too hot to ethically fish. Hatches of the larger insects are mostly done and water levels tend to go down as rainfall tends to decrease. This is when it is time to transition exclusively to tailwaters. These rivers will be nice and cold and the trout should be very comfortable into August. The drawback with fishing tailwaters in the summer is that the fish will have become extremely educated. Couple that with dwindling hatches of larger bugs and the fishing can be extremely challenging. The advent and popularity of euro-nymphing and mousing does not help either. These fish rarely get a break from angling pressure and so you should expect to work for each fish. It’s not all bad though. There are a few ways to stack the odds in your favor. When fishing tailwaters during the summer months, I tend to focus on “B” and “C” water. Forget those big beautiful plunge pools with riffles up top. They get hammered every day. I’ll work the fringes in-between the major features of a river and often do very well. Only when the water gets really low does that become a challenge but you might be surprised at what fish you can find in skinny water away from the crowds. These fish are often far less pressured if at all. They act more like normal trout and are not too beat up to take a dry. Summer is the time to deploy one of two things. Smaller flies like midges or larger terrestrials. If you fish sub-surface, I tend to go very small. Zebra midges are a favorite of mine and what I tend to catch the majority of my fish on in the summer. However, terrestrials will take fish as well. While it is a lower percentage game, fishing terrestrials blind over good looking water will produce.
As Fall approaches things begin to pick back up. While tailwaters will cool down pretty quickly and tend to shut down earlier, smaller free-flowing streams will stay warmer longer and, as such, fish very well into the Fall. The hatches will essentially be over and sub-surface presentations will be the best method to deploy. Streamers can be extremely effective this time of year especially when the water goes up with Fall rains. Multiples states will also stock some rivers in the Fall for the catch-and-release anglers. While numbers and locations are significantly less than in the Spring, if you do find these spots the fishing can be great all throughout the winter as long as the poachers don’t get in there and clean them out.
Winter is when you want to fish low and slow. Using indicators and split shot, and fishing small nymphs is about your only option. While warmer days late in the Winter can have midges and BWOs coming off with fish rising on them, in the Northeast that is rare. I like to fish midges and other very natural patterns. That is in direct response to where the trout will be. They winter over in deep slow pools with slow to moderate current. They will congregate in the deepest sections of the pool and sit there all winter. Because of that, they have a long time to look at a fly. That means that having a small and very realistic fly is extremely important.
Locating trout on any particular stream can vary from river to river and from season to season. However, there are a few things to look for that can cut down your search time. If you are starting from scratch it can be a daunting task. However, for the sake of simplicity, there is really only one thing you are looking for: depth. Whenever I get to a new river I look for deep water first. Deep holes, cuts, or runs typically always hold fish. If you can find the deeper sections on any given river, the odds are that there are trout in there. Now if there is glare, or it’s early, or late in the day, it can be hard to see where the deeper sections are but there are tell-tale signs that will help. One of the best signs is when water transitions from riffles to smoother water. That often indicates a drop-off of some type. A bend in the river is also another good place to check. On the outside of a bend, the water tends to scour out the bottom creating depth that fish will congregate in. These outside banks can often be undercut as well and, while they can be challenging to fish depending on the situation, there will almost certainly be fish in them. Lastly I’d look for any large rock or log jam. Water moving around these obstacles will scour the bottom as well and create deep pockets that fish will utilize. Looking for one of these three indicators will help you locate fish on a fairly regular basis.
Now, once you have found a deeper section of river, you will need to figure out where the fish are in that deeper water and what they are willing to eat. What has worked for me in the past is starting out with a small streamer. Something in the size 8, 10, or 12 range. I use this streamer as a probe to judge fish activity. With a good pair of polarized lenses, I will watch the streamer very carefully as I fish it. I will throw downstream or as far upstream and across as much as 40 degrees and then work it back with a short jerky motion. I do not want to move the fly far with each strip, but rather very short 2 to 4 inch strips constantly with a few pauses. I will search the whole pool starting at the top and working my way down. More often than not I'll get a few reactions. Whether the fish takes the fly or not is irrelevant. Once I have located them, time of year and insect activity will tell me what I need to switch too. The only caveat to that is if is see fish actively rising I will never bomb a streamer out there as it can put the fish down. Once the fish are located I will throw a dry or nymph depending on what I think will work best. Knowing what to throw and when only comes with experience, however, if you had to pick one, a nymph or nymphs under an indicator is tough to beat. Using a combination of flies, indicator, and maybe some split-shot, you can normally get an unpressured fish to eat in short order. If there have been a lot of other anglers on the water, I will immediately fish smaller flies in sizes 18 and below. Midges are a go-to of mine. I use various sizes and colors but if you can't get a fish to eat, throw a size 20 black zebra midge out there. It is only a matter of time before it pays off provided your drift is good. Now, a lot of anglers do not adjust their depth before changing flies. This is a must. You could be too deep or too shallow the first time around so get ten or so drifts through the “A” water and if nothing, adjust. Also move your cast up and down stream covering different sections. Go in and out as well. Really try to cover every inch of that water. This also brings up another must, which is to always fish the near bank before you go wading into the water. Unless there is no obvious way a fish would be there, check the bank on the side you are standing on. I have caught a lot of fish walking up slowly and fishing the bank I have been standing on.
Now if you see fish rising, we circle back to sizes. If you know what is hatching from a fishing report or a buddy, then by all means, start there. However, if you are walking out there blind and see fish rising on bugs, take the time to observe. Really look hard at what the fish are taking. If the hatch is prolific and bugs are flying all round you, snatch one out of the air and match it to something in your fly box. Size is the most important, so whatever you decide to tie on make sure the size is as close as you can get to the natural. If you don’t have the exact size, then go slightly smaller or bigger. The fly does not need to be the exact same color either, it just needs to be close. Lastly, when matching flies, be sure to turn natural insects upside down to get a look at the silhouette and color of the fly. Do the same with the flies in your box for the best possible match. Once you have your fly tied on be sure to get a perfect presentation. I will often take a few practice casts and drifts away from the target fish just to be sure the fly is riding right and I’m comfortable with my distance. Many times, I have rushed a cast and blown a fish out of the pool with a bad presentation. The first few casts are generally the best shots you will have, with your potential hook up percentage decreasing after each subsequent drift.
There is of course much more that can go into fly fishing for trout and this is by no means a comprehensive guide on the topic. Far from it. This is just my take on the basics that pertain to the Northeast, with its unique rhythms and idiosyncrasies. Like many who have caught the bug, I’ve put a lot of time on the water in this region, trying to learn as much as I could along the way and help me progress into a more “compleat” angler. For experienced anglers some of what we’ve covered here may be well known, but for the beginner or intermediate angler, hopefully the information above will help set you on a path to success. If you apply what you have learned from this and take your own observations into account you will build a better knowledge base and be a far more proficient fly angler. At the end of the day, success in fly fishing essentially comes down to problem solving. That’s one of the reasons why I, and many others, enjoy it so much: it’s intellectually stimulating. I encourage you to always be curious, experiment, observe and explore. There is no substitute for experience and I have found that the best information is not found on Instagram, blogs, or even from fishing buddies. It’s found the old fashioned way – on the water.
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