Finally those long dark days of winter start to give way to the new beginnings of spring and the trout rouse themselves from semi-hibernation. They will be seeking to replenish the energy and weight lost through the winter and will feed voraciously on anything that moves - as long as you know where to look for them. You sit in your hired boat and look at perhaps several hundred acres of water, or stand on the river bank and look up and downstream. It would be so helpful if someone would put a big X on the water where the fish are! But in the absence of that assistance we are going to have to work it out for ourselves.
The warmth of the spring sun will have the greatest effect on the shallower areas first, warming it and kick-starting the life in it. The water vegetation starts to sprout and the insect life will want to feed on it and shelter in it. This plant life can only grow abundantly if there is a good source of light, so it is limited to about the first ten or twelve feet in depth of the body of water, depending on the clarity of that water.
The fauna that have hibernated through the winter are starting to move and the insect eggs laid in autumn are starting to hatch. These bugs and creepy crawlies hiding in the growing vegetation are an obvious source of food for the trout so this is where to start your search for them. So we are looking for the weed beds that edge some areas of the waterline. Parts may be too stony or have too steep a drop-off to create a useful weed bed, so it is necessary to do a little reconnaissance before wetting your line.
This area of a lake or reservoir is known technically as the littoral zone and describes the shallow areas around the edge of any body of water. The word also encompasses the sea shore between the high and low water marks but we'll ignore that description for our purposes. The area we are interested in is actually slightly larger than just the shoreline of the body of water, because we should also include any shallow areas that might occur elsewhere, for example a submerged hill or an island in the middle of the lake.
Having worked out where the food source is likely to be we should not forget that the trout will also require a safe means of escape from any predators. This flight instinct is very strong in trout and the safest place for the fish to escape to is the deep water where many predators are unable to follow. So we can expect the fish to want access to a piece of deeper water near the weed beds. This should narrow down our field of exploration quite considerably. A drop-off to deeper water next to a weed bed. That should do nicely and a little exploration and asking the locals should produce results. If we anchor with the wind blowing towards this shoreline we will be facing the right way to cast towards this shallower water - check out the section on Boating for more details.
With this in mind we need a fly fishing method that will give us time to explore these shallows and there are several techniques that we can use to achieve this. The easiest way is to use a booby and hi-d (high density - fast sink) line to get plenty of distance in the cast and a nice long retrieve. This method is made even easier when using the shooting head form of hi-d line instead of a full length line, as this method of casting is more forgiving to the novice. We explore these casting techniques in greater detail in the section on Casting. The exception to this preference for shooting heads (there always seems to be an exception!) is when fishing in high winds where the light running line of a shooting head will get blown about and a full line is more controllable.
The disadvantage to this technique is that you are only fishing a small depth variation. If you set the leader length at - say - four feet, you will fish from about twelve inches from the bottom of the reservoir up to about three feet off the bottom, depending on your speed of retrieve. Slowing the retrieve may allow the booby to ride higher, but at the expense of forward movement. While the booby fishing method is fruitful it does have this drawback in that it limits the depth range that can be fished without having to constantly adjust the leader length. In addition, there is a risk that the booby will get fouled by the weed growth that it is being pulled through, so the best idea is to try and fish this method along the edge of the weed bed rather than through it. Having mentioned these caveats, this method can be highly effective. I once took twenty eight catch and release fish in one spring morning session on this method!
There is no doubt that trout are conditioned to strike at prey when it starts rising in the water and this is a trait that can be taken advantage of to great effect. Remember this fact when using the booby method and stop retrieving occasionally to allow the booby to start rising in the water. This will often induce a take.
My next door neighbour, who had never touched a fly rod came fishing with me on one lovely spring day. Having taught him the figure of eight retrieve, he was busy getting the booby back into the boat as fast as he could when I told him to stop and relax for a second. He paused and immediately his rod tip buried itself in the water as a fine eight pound trout took the suddenly rising fly. Not a bad way to start your fly fishing career.
Another effective method at this time of year is using a slow sink line with a leech pattern fished down through the water next to the weed bed. With this technique we are utilising our counting system to present the fly at the correct depth. This idea of counting the line down through the water is discussed in greater detail in the section on intermediate lines but I cannot emphasise just how important it is to use the counting method when employing slow sink lines - it adds a degree of science to the operation and ensures that you can reproduce any action that results in a fish being taken.
While a leech pattern is very good, this method is equally useful with other patterns such as the Montana - a black and green combination is highly effective with this system, especially in the spring. Using this technique with a store bought Montana bagged me my eight fish limit on one water in just 45 minutes, while others looked on fishless. I went back to the lodge, bought a second ticket and bagged another eight fish in 45 minutes - just to prove the first time wasn't a flook!
The idea is to allow the slow sink line to fall through the water so that it is fully retrieved just before it touches bottom. This will mean that you will probably have to count it down through the water before you start your retrieve. I found that a slow sink line of 3 inches per second in about ten or twelve feet of water would require a count of about twenty or thirty before starting the retrieve. This would bring the line back so that the fly was turning and starting the ascent to the rod tip right under the boat and can induce some huge takes at the moment the fly changes direction and starts moving up in the water. You may even see the fish turn away right under the boat, having followed the fly up from the depths. It may pay to hold the fly in the water for a second or two before lifting it out. You might be surprised just how many fish will take this final opportunity to take the fly before it lifts off the water.
The only way to find out the correct count is to experiment each time you start using this method. The count will be different every time you start fishing a new piece of water, but you will develop a general feel for how long is required for your particular line at various depths.
Another method that can be used to good effect on these warming spring days is the floating line and team of nymphs or buzzers. Again we are aiming to present our flies along the edge of the weed beds, in around ten to twelve feet of water. You will need a leader of about fifteen feet or so to allow for the lifting effect of the retrieval and remember to keep your retrieve slow or you'll only succeed in pulling your flies back through the top three or four feet of water rather than down where the fish are. Any nymph pattern is ideal for this method and using a brass head nymph on the point will enable you to speed up the retrieve slightly as this added weight will make the fly fall through the water slightly faster and so will stay deeper. Try putting a buzzer pattern on the top dropper to emulate a fly on its way up to hatch.
Alternatively you can try using a floating line and a full set of buzzers and I like to put out a team of three buzzers arranged so the point fly - the one nearest the bottom - is a bloodworm pattern, followed by a black and white one on the middle dropper and finally a coral (reddish pink) one on the top dropper. But I cannot emphasize enough that these are only suggestions and nothing is cast in stone. Try these ideas to start off with and then be inventive. That's what this sport is all about, the satisfaction of catching your prey and being able to say it was all your own work.
Bright sunny spring days will see the fish staying in deeper water. They don't have any eyelids and moving into the shallows would mean they would be staring into the sun. You wouldn't stare into the sun and neither will they. By the same token, a misty overcast morning will see them right up near the surface, following the daphnia. These water fleas are light sensitive and move up and down in the water column depending on the brightness of the day, so an overcast day will see them up near the surface and the trout will be there too.
A big wind is likely to see the fish moving upwind towards the less disturbed water, while a light wind is likely to see them downwind to hide under the ripple to feed. Confusing, isn't it? But those big winds have another effect. All bodies of water have a current caused by the top water being pushed across the lake by the wind and the water underneath travelling in the opposite direction to replace it. The stronger the wind, the stronger the current and a really strong wind will cause that water movement to stir up the bottom silt - and anything else that lurks in it. Some of my very biggest fish have been taken in howling gales, when any sane person would be at home with their feet up! But I found a calm spot on the leeward shore and was often rewarded by the occasional monster.
In those strong winds the only safe place to fish is right upwind, where the blow will enable you to cast great distances. I would use a large booby, or even better, a razzler. Cast out and strip it back straight away. There is always the possibility that a fish will be cruising just under the surface. You may as well try for that fish before repeated casts have scared it away. Each successive cast is allowed to sink further in the water until your razzler is being pulled back along the bottom. Incidentally, a razzler is ideal to retrieve in a series of short sharp jerks. Each pull should be about six inches with a definite pause between each pull. This motion will cause a great deal of turbulence in the water which might just get a trout curious enough to investigate. I took a fish a little under twenty pounds like this and I am sure it took the razzler as a fry, even though it was early spring. Large trout will fry feed at any time of the year given the opportunity - that's how they got to be big trout in the first place.
So we have a variety of methods that will work well in spring and each technique requires you to find fish that are already feeding. There are always likely to be fish feeding, if you know where to find them. The point I am trying to make here is just this: use your eyes and use your imagination. Where would you be if you were a fish presented with the conditions that are prevailing at the time you arrive at the water.
There's no big X on the water - you have to work out where they are likely to be and the suggestions I have presented here are the ideas that should go into making the decision of where to fish. Think about the wind and its direction and strength, the light and how strong it is, the water temperature and the water clarity. Fish don't want to be too cold, too hot or vision impaired. Then decide where the food sources are and how you should try to emulate that available food source.
Just occasionally, a fish will make it all too easy. One lovely spring morning, having just anchored at a likely looking spot, I heard a fish make a splashy jump right behind my boat. "Great!" I thought "The fish are here - I'm in the right place". Thirty seconds later a fish - probably the same one - jumped right in front of the boat. And thirty seconds after that, it jumped right into the boat! I duly knocked it on the head and put it in the bag. I can only assume that my reputation had preceded me and that fish had already decided to surrender. What a great way to start a day's fishing! That doesn't happen very often so keep in mind the simple analysis I have set out above and put it into practice every time you arrive at the water because you can be pretty certain the fish have probably moved on from where you caught them last time!