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Tyler Legg
Charlotte, NC, United States
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It was mid April on the famed Davidson River. The Quill Gordons have been in full gear and the first hints of  March Browns were beginning to flutter about. Accompanied by the sounds of rising trout and the ambient noises of the surrounding cove hardwood forest, the river was gurgling and churning as it should this time of the year. Spring has sprung. Trout and anglers alike know it.
Big Creek, GSMNP in mid May.
Fly fishing during the Spring time months can be spectacular. Still, it has its challenges. With gradual warming temperatures, trout begin to move around. After a long and cold winter, fish are ready to start filling up on larger and more plentiful insects that are rarely available in the winter months. Here in the southeast, particularly North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and north Georgia, early March marks the emergence of the first major hatches of the year. The Quill Gordons and the Blue Quills being the major hatches. Generically speaking, a trout stream needs to reach 50 degrees for at least several days before the Quill Gordons start to really make a move to the surface. 50 seems to be the magical number. The Quill Gordons have been hatching for quite some time now here in WNC. During a hatch, the insects are swimming from the bottom of the stream, riding with the current, while propelling themselves to the surface. Trout will take these helpless bugs with reckless abandon. When you start seeing Quill Gordons on the water, tie on a Quill Gordon wet, let it sink to the bottom, and slowly inch it up to the surface when it nears your targeted fish. This sometimes results in vicious strikes, so hang on.

Mid May Davidson River bow.
As Spring rolls on, May brings with it a plethora of insect hatches. Hatches during the month of May include, bu are not limited to, Ephemerella Subvaria (Hendricksons), Stenonema Vicarium (March Browns), and the Stenonema Ithaca (Lt. Cahill). Other hatches worth mentioning include the Gray Caddis, Gray Fox, Yellow Midges, Sulphurs, Black Caddis, Green Drakes, Giant Stone Flies (Pteronarcys), and the BWO's (which never seem to rest). If you take a look at a WNC hatch chart, you will notice that May is the outlier in terms of how many insects hatch. Late March hosts far less hatching aquatic insects as opposed to May. Straying from aquatic insects, late Spring marks the beginning of terrestrial season. Hoppers, ants, beetles and eventually inchworms make their appearance in western North Carolina.

If there isn't a hatch occurring, the best thing to do is tie on a nymph such as a Pheasant Tail or a March Brown Nymph. The absence of a hatch doesn't necessarily mean that a hungry trout won't tackle a lone dry fly, it just simply means that you will have more consistency catching fish nymphing.

A few helpful tips for fly fishing in the spring...

Mid April Mitchell River brookie.
1) Be aware of water levels. This time of year yields more rain, thus more water. Spring time in NC means severe thunderstorms. If you hear thunder or see lightning, stop fishing and wait for the storm to pass. Often, thunderstorms that occur well upstream will send water downstream in a hurry.

2) Fish the seams (where moving water meets slack water.) Trout are often found waiting in seams for passing food. They tend to sit in the calm, slack water, adjacent to the faster water, where food concentrations are higher. When a food item passes, they dart out into the faster water to grab the morsel before it gets away.

3) If the water is stained or muddy, use heavier tippet (2-5x depending on clarity of water).

4) 90% of a trout's diet consists of what they find below the water's surface,. You are more likely to catch a trout on a nymph/wet vs. a dry in most situations. There are times when a dry fly works better, such as during a hatch.

5) Try a new fly that the fish have not likely seen yet. Also, try a smaller fly. If a #14 Parachute Adams doesn't work, switch to a #16 or #18.

6) In high, stained water during and after spring rains, use big #4 Zonkers, Woolly Buggers, and Zoo Cougars, large stonefly nymphs, etc. A bright red or pink San Juan Worm works as an excellent dropper in high water situations.

7) Most rainbow trout spawn in the early Spring, so try using an egg pattern.

Spring in NC can be spectacular to say the least. Fishing is usually excellent with abundant hatches, warm temperatures, and plenty of hungry fish. Take advantage of the optimum weather conditions spring commonly offers!


Les said...

Good article! Now we just gotta get out of work and go fishing....

Tyler Legg said...

Yeah, that's the only problem. Good thing it's been 49 and raining for the past few days!

nimrod243 said...

Here in Oregon the rivers tend to get "blown out" a lot during the spring rains. I appreciated your article and all of the information about different flies to use. I have been wanting to try a San Juan Worm for a long time, but have never got around to it.

Tyler Legg said...


We can sympathized with you guys on the west coast! Spring is usually our rainy season over here as well. Rivers are rising as I type.

You simply can't beat a San Juan Worm after heavy rains. Worms are being flushed into the river and the trout feast on them. Highly effective fly!


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