Spring is one of the most exciting times to be an angler in the Intermountain West. Waters are warming and trout are becoming more active. The first hatches of the year are starting to appear. Snow and ice are melting, as many of our favorite lakes and rivers become accessible. But spring also presents its own set of challenges. Enjoy Chad Agy Presents: Flies for Spring
Water is frequently high, and sometimes dirty. Fish may become increasingly picky during prolific hatches of tiny mayflies. Other trout may be somewhat lethargic in water that remains only slightly above freezing point. What follows are a few fly suggestions that I find particularly helpful during the spring, and throwing few of these in your box may help you overcome the challenges presented by this season.
- Balanced Blue Pill –
All hail the mighty Blue Pill! I have a lot to say about this fly. I’ve probably caught more fish on this particular pattern during the past few years than any other. During the past decade, balanced leeches of various types became mainstream, and many such patterns have proven deadly in a variety of situations in both rivers and stillwaters. Balanced leeches offer a variety of advantages. Balanced leeches are tied on a 60 or 90 degree jig hook, with a pin extending beyond the eye to attach a tungsten bead that balances the fly. When tied correctly, they ride with a horizontal orientation in the water, more accurately mimicking the behavior of a squirming leech or small baitfish than a traditional fly hung vertically under an indicator. The point of the hook is therefore above the fly body. This results in fewer incidental snags on the bottom, and therefore, fewer lost flies. Additionally, this hook orientation results in an extremely “sticky” fly, as the hook embeds solidly in the roof of the fish’s mouth upon the hook set. I don’t lose a lot of fish hooked with balanced leeches. Additionally, the orientation of the hook usually strikes the fish far from dangerous structures like the gills and lingual artery, resulting in very low fish mortality. But why “blue,” you ask? Well, I could simply tell you that I’ve compared the blue pill with every other color of balanced leech, and it almost always outperforms the rest. From Idaho, to Pyramid Lake, to Alaska, and all the way to Jurassic Lake and other stillwaters of Patagonia, the thing simply dominates. However, the real power of the fly involves physics and wavelengths of light. Physics was never my forte, but I’ll explain my rudimentary understanding of the situation. Shorter light wavelengths, such as red and yellow, are absorbed quickly in water, and don’t penetrate the depths very well. The energy in these wavelengths of light is responsible for the heating seen in the first few feet of the water column, as they are readily absorbed. At a wavelength of about 500 nanometers, blue light penetrates water maximally compared to other wavelengths of light. Materials that reflect blue light (such as those found in the Blue Pill) will be more visibly prominent in deep water, and therefore will appear more noticeable to trout. Honestly, we should probably tying more of our deep water patterns like streamers and nymphs in blue. (Of note, green and blue have similar wavelengths and therefore green is also a good color choice for many deep water patterns. This likely explains why so many effective balanced leeches possess a green or chartreuse bead, even if the rest of the fly is designed in a different color). Whether hung under an indicator or stripped like a streamer, the blue pill gets it done. It is a simple pattern that is easy to tie. Several tying tutorials are available online, and the fly is sold commercially by Snake River Fly Shop in Pocatello (I believe one of their employees invented the Blue Pill). Although the blue pill is effective year round, I find it especially successful during the spring, when ravenous trout will annihilate a juicy leech after an arduous, cold winter.
- Missing Link –
Quite simply, the Missing Link is the best all-purpose surface mayfly pattern. It works for essentially any mayfly emergence, and is even an effective imitation for caddis and small stoneflies. But the Missing Link really proves its mettle during spring’s first mayfly hatch, when baetis make their appearance. The fly is designed to mimic two of the most vulnerable phases of the mayfly life cycle: the emergence and the death of the insect. With a fluffy head built from elk hair and synthetic dubbing that easily stays on top of the water, but a sparse body that sinks below the surface, the Missing Link effectively represents a baetis stuck in the surface film; a place where fish like to look for vulnerable insects. Additionally, the fly also works great during a spinner fall, as its somewhat sloppy design mimics a dead or dying cripple. The Missing Link will catch fish during any phase of a mayfly hatch, and it usually outperforms other adult mayfly patterns, particularly when baetis are around.
- Squirmy Worm –
It’s no surprise to see this venerable fly on the list! Love ‘em or hate ‘em, fish eat a lot of worms, and the squirmy worm out-produces almost all other flies during the spring. This upcoming spring should be a particularly good one for the squirmy. This year’s robust snowpack in the western US will produce high flows throughout the region, and millions of worms will be displaced in to the water of every overfilled stream. Even in muddy water, trout will be gorging on annelids. I’ve had success with the squirmy worm during muddy runoff situations when the fly is fished right up against the bank. The main drawback with this particular pattern is a durability issue. No matter how I tie it, the squirmy worm seems like it’s only good for a few fish at best. Sometimes the fly falls apart just by bumping in to structure and rocks on the bottom of the river. If anyone has found material or a strategy to make these more durable, please get in touch with me!
- Gristle Bug –
The Gristle Bug is a simple tie that can also produce buckets of fish. Have you ever pumped a trout’s stomach in the spring, or seined the river? Rather than big chunky earthworms, you’ll often seen dozens of tiny blood worms. This is what the Gristle Bug imitates. When paired with a sow bug or a chironomid, the Gristle Bug often dominates during the early season. It does seem like the success of the Gristle Bug varies significantly from year to year. And it also attracts whitefish like no other fly I possess. I have nothing against whitefish, but it gets a bit tiresome when you can’t keep them off your line, which can be the case with the Gristle Bug. But as it only requires a few small glass beads and some red string, only an hour or two is required to tie a year’s worth of Gristle Bugs. It is certainly worth having a few of these simple flies in your box as we move in to spring.
- Sculpzilla –
A list of spring flies wouldn’t be complete without at least one streamer. I enjoy throwing many types of streamers during spring, but for the purposes of this list I selected the Sculpzilla. The Sculpzilla is a streamer I use frequently during the spring months, primarily due to its heavily weighted head. This attribute allows the fly to get down quickly during the high flows of spring. The Sculpzilla can be purchased or tied in a variety of colors, but I particularly like black and olive color schemes. It’s my go-to fly during ice off on local stillwaters. I cast it up on to the edge of the ice, and then gently let it sink at the ice edge before slowly stripping in. The stinger hook feature of the fly helps to hook lethargic spring fish, which may peck lazily at a fly in colder waters.