In order to be successful on the water, anglers who fly fish must have a basic knowledge of insects and baitfish and the flies that imitate them. For trout anglers, this is even more important since aquatic insects make up a significant portion of a trout’s diet over the course of a season. Trout will also prey on minnows, crayfish, and worms.
For every part of any season there are different food sources that trout key in on. While the trout creeks and streams of the Southern Tier of NY and Northern Tier of PA have many similarities, the aquatic insects prevalent on one stream as well as the timing of hatches can vary. For this reason, it’s always good to get local knowledge, whether from a book, guide, fly shop, or angler, before fishing a new area.
‘Early season’ in the Southern Tier is generally defined as March and April, but it’s not so much the months that make the early season as it is the weather and climate. This year’s spring weather is more atypical of early season fishing where cold nights, and cold to cool days reign: the snow pack is now gone along with the snow-melt swollen flows and it’s already late March. Water temps are in the low 40’s and more akin to mid-to-late April than late March. Dry fly activity has already started on the warmer days on some streams.
Early season trout fishing can boil down to a pretty simple fly selection. Remember to scale up or down in size depending on the water being fished, but in general, one can’t go wrong with the following basic patterns in hand:
- Stonefly patterns – ‘stones’ as they are referred to are the most prevalent insect in the early season. A selection of stonefly nymphs in black and brown are essential and for those days that are sunny and warming, make sure to have some stonefly dries. Sizes vary based on the size of the water fished but in general, sizes 10, 12, and 14 should work.
- Midge patterns – these little guys are always around. Midge nymph patterns such as the zebra midge or black beauty can be very effective but also be sure to bring dries for sunny days. A Griffiths Gnat in size 18 to 20 can be hard to beat when fishing the surface.
- Worm and egg patterns – aquatic worm patterns in red, pink, and tan can work well. Egg patterns can also work in a variety of colors.
- Streamers – ALWAYS have streamers for early season fishing. Wooly buggers in black, olive, and brown in sizes from 6 to 10 (or larger depending on the water) are absolutes. These can be fished dead drift, on the swing, or stripped to imitate everything from stonefly nymphs to dace or chubs. Other great patterns are the Mickey Finn, Maribou Streamer, and Muddler Minnow. Scale down or up in size based on the water being fished.
As water temperatures warm, be ready for mayflies and caddis. It doesn’t hurt to have some Hare’s Ear and Pheasant Tail nymph patterns on hand in case the water is warmer than expected. And remember to have a selection of colors that work well in stained and clear water – darker colors for stained water and lighter colors for clear.