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Early Season Dry Fly Fishing


When most fly fishermen think of flies for spring they usually consider either large streamers or nymphs fished slow and deep. Dry fly fishing is usually a second thought and normally only if the angler sees a fish rise to a bug or, as often happens, hits their strike indicator. This happens to me usually once a year. That slap yourself in the forehead moment when you realize that if you would have been using a dry fly as an indicator, instead of a corky, you probably would have hooked a fish. Fish are hungry in spring and eager to put on weight after a long winter. Rainbows are preparing to spawn and need the energy to migrate to their spawning areas and build their redds. Anglers shouldn't ignore their dry fly boxes at this time of the year and if they are going to fish nymphs always use a big dry fly as a strike indicator. It's not unusual to have fish hit the dry. If you enjoy dry fly fishing, as I do, don't ignore it at this time of the year. You may not catch as many fish as with nymphs or streamers, but after the long cold winter we have experienced it’s a lot of fun just casting a dry fly and often you will be rewarded with an eager trout.

A spring day on the Bow

A spring day on the Bow

Some insects such as midges are available year round but due to their small size, #18 - #24, they are pretty much hit and miss as to whether trout are going to feed on them or not. Individual midges are often not substantial enough to get trout feeding, however, when there are large numbers hatching they will often end up in clusters allowing fish to get a mouthful at a time, making it very worthwhile. Tiny winter black stoneflies are also a winter and spring hatch that can provide some dry fly action. They will mainly be found while walking along the snow banks on shore as they do occasionally end up in the water. Stauffer Creek near Caroline and the Crowsnest River in southern Alberta both have good hatches of these bugs.

Midges are small but clusters of them make a meal title=

Midges are small but clusters of them make a meal

The first mayflies of the season on Alberta trout streams are Blue Winged Olives, a name given to the species by fishermen due to their olive coloured bodies and blue-grey wings. These mayflies start showing up in southern Alberta streams in May and are a size #18 or #20 dry fly. Although they are quite small in size their numbers provide an important food source for both fish and birds alike. In Alberta the blue-winged olives are the only mayfly hatch that we get twice a year, once in the spring (mid April through mid May) and again in fall (late August through October). While most anglers agree that fish seem to rise much better to the fall hatch, the spring event does bring some fish to the surface. After a long winter of nymph fishing, tossing a small dry fly is a pleasant way to spend a spring day. The other hatch that Alberta anglers see in the spring are the mayflies known as March browns. These are a larger mayfly and hatch in southern Alberta from mid May to mid June and are effectively imitated by a parachute Adams in size #14. This is a welcome relief after the much smaller midges and Blue Winged Olives.

Blue winged olives are the first Mayfly hatch of the season

Blue winged olives are the first Mayfly hatch of the season

Caddisflies start showing up on the Crowsnest and Bow Rivers in mid May and can get the fish excited with their skittering and fluttering water dances. The first caddis of the season seem to be more of a midday insect while late evening and night time hours seem to be favoured by the July and August bugs. This is a blessing at this time of the year when the morning and evening temperatures can be quite cool.

Seeing small flies can be difficult at anytime of the year but there are a few tricks the angler can use to keep track of his fly. If using more than one fly is legal where you fish (three flies are legal in Alberta), try tying a larger, more visible fly a foot or so from the small fly. This gives you a visual clue as to where your fly is, even if you can't spot it on every cast you will know it’s location within a foot. If a fish happens to rise close to your indicator fly I would suggest you strike as you may also pick up the occasional fish on the indicator fly. Parachute flies that are tied with the hackle wrapped parallel to the shank around a post or brighter coloured wing material can also help the angler keep track of the fly. The post sticking up in the air makes this pattern highly visible and combined with a body that sits flush on the surface film makes this my favourite style of dry fly. Cheater flies can also help. An example of this would be tying two midges patterns, such as a Griffiths' Gnat, on a single larger hook doubling the size of the fly while still looking natural as they often end up in clusters on the water.

Often in the spring rivers are very low prior to the run-off leaving less water for the fish and their food source to occupy. Feeding lanes become much more concentrated making it easier to identify the areas where the fish will be feeding. The water can be anywhere from clear, to murky, to downright dirty at this time of year depending on a number of things including spring rain/snowstorms, feeder creek thawing etc. Anglers should not, however, be put off by coloured water at this time of year as the fish are hungry and need to eat. In fact, the off colored water can be an advantage, especially with the lower water conditions. Water temperature also plays an important part at this time of the year. If the water temperature is in the mid forties (F) the fish will be sluggish and dry fly fishing will be slow. If the water reaches the fifties then things really get rolling!

Don't forget your dry fly box early in the season

Don't forget your dry fly box early in the season

There is no special equipment needed for dry fly fishing in the spring as versatility is the key. You will only need to carry your regular fly rod as you will likely be doing more nymphing and streamer fishing than anything else. Just make sure to match your leader and tippet to the size of dry fly you are using if you decide to chuck dries.

Spotting fish rising at this time of the year can also be a challenge. Rises are often sporadic at best and you likely won't find fish rising rhythmically like you might in summer or fall. You also won’t likely find groups or pods of fish rising, single fish are more the norm at this time of the year. Blind fishing can also be productive. If you see a feeding lane that has bugs floating by don't be shy about throwing a dry. Sometimes something slightly different will be all it takes, possibly a little larger or smaller imitation of the insect, or, something completely different. Patterns such as ants and beetles or attractors such as Royal Wulffs or Humpies will sometimes do the trick.

Pre run-off water levels can be very low

Pre run-off water levels can be very low

Last year the spring run-off hit the Bow River and its tributaries with a vengeance on June 20 and dry fly fishing was non-existent for a long time. Insect life in streams was altered severely, however, it seems that no matter how cruel mother nature is the fish and the insects find a way to survive even this type of flooding. This year's pre-runoff dry fly fishing should prove to be very interesting so get out and enjoy the next several weeks. Cross your fingers for a normal run off with a long and productive fly fishing season and lots of opportunities to catch trout on drys.

The Bow River in flood 2013

The Bow River in flood 2013

Previous Fishing Articles

(1) What to expect when fishing the West Coast

(2) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing

(3) There’s No Place Like Home

(4) A Golden Opportunity

(5) The Observational Trout Fisherman

(6) Un-matching the Hatch

(7) Alberta Super Bugs

(8) Glass is Back

(9) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca

(10) Speed Kills

(11) Entering the Twilight Zone

(12) Old Man River

(13) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(14) Small stream BT fishing

(15) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(16) In The Walleye Zone

(17) Zoo Trout

(18) Fly Selection for Beginners

(19) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(20) New Waters

(21) Big Bad Burbot

(22) Looking Back

(23) Out of Africa

(24) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(25) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(26) The Browns of Autumn

(27) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(28) Walleye Town

(29) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(30) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(31) Going With The Flow

(32) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(33) Swinging The Fences

(34) A View From The Aerie

(35) Dixieland Delight

(36) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(37) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(38) Montana's Cool Missouri

(39) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(40) Toothy Critters

(41) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(42) Top Ten Flies

(43) Northern Exposure

(44) Home Water Lessons

(45) Chicken Of The Sea

(46) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(47) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(48) Keep It Up!

(49) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(50) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(51) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(52) Hawg Holes

(53) Saltwater Salmon

(54) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(55) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(56) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead



(59) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(60) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(61) Fall Walleye

(62) Wet Flies

(63) Versatility the Key to Success

(64) Grayling of the Boreal

(65) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(66) Size Matters

(67) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(68) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(69) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(70) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(71) The Point Of It All

(72) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(73) Fall Fly Fishing

(74) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(75) Big River, Big Fish

(76) Bottom Bonanza

(77) Fishing Small Flies

(78) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(79) Four Seasons of the Bow

(80) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot


(82) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(83) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(84) Edge Walleye


(86) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(87) Four Corners – Four Waters

(88) Chasing Pothole Trout

(89) Springtime Stoneflies

(90) The Torrents of Spring

(91) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(92) Bust Them With Bait

(93) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(94) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(95) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(96) Terrestrials

(97) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(98) Rocky Mountain High

(99) Reading the clues

(100) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(101) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(102) Fly Fishing 101

(103) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(104) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(105) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(106) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(107) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(108) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(109) Trust Your Electronics

(110) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(111) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(112) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(113) Walleye can be Humbling

(114) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(115) Winter Flyfishing

(116) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(117) Hot Fall Pike Action

(118) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(119) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(120) Frequently Asked Questions

(121) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(122) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(123) Deep Water Perch

(124) Post Spawn Brookies

(125) A Fisher's Life

(126) The River's Last Stand

(127) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(128) Coho on the Coast

(129) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(130) Summer in the Mountains

(131) Peak Walleye Season

(132) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(133) Last Ice Rainbows

(134) The Burbot Event

(135) Tackle Matching

(136) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(137) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(138) The Lure of Brook Trout

(139) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(140) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(141) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(142) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(143) The Vesatile Plug

(144) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(145) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(146) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(147) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(148) Daily Fish Migrations

(149) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(150) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(151) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(152) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(153) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(154) The Fun in Ultra Light

(155) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(156) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(157) Never Stop Learning

(158) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(159) Jigging through the Ice

(160) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(161) Rainbows on Ice

(162) The Season of Ice Begins

(163) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(164) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(165) Facts On Cats

(166) West Coast Adventure

(167) June Walleye Frenzy

(168) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(169) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(170) "Northern Exposure"

(171) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(172) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(173) Man Overboard