This is the season that most dry-fly anglers look forward to most. The warming days of spring allow us to get out there on our favorite rivers, and what’s better, many of the most prolific insect hatches—the phenomena that trigger trout to eat en masse—happen right around now.
It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. The river can seem completely still, and then in an instant, the bugs appear. Soon after, trout will start slurping from the surface, leaving behind distinctive rings on the water. If you have the right fly pattern that matches the natural insects—and if you know how to drift it through a run so it seems natural—you will find yourself in dry-fly nirvana.
Here are three “signature” hatch events that happen in the spring:
For eastern anglers, the main attraction usually revolves around a medium-sized mayfly affectionately known as the “Hendrickson.” Hendricksons can be tan, brown, or greenish-gray in color, and vary in sizes… but a size #14 or #16 parachute pattern with a light brown or tan body and white post is usually the best place to start. Hendricksons can be found from New England to the Mid-Atlantic states, extending westward to the Driftless areas of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Fish these flies on overcast or even rainy days. They should start popping in some places any day now.
The staple “trout chow” mayfly from coast to coast, and throughout all seasons, is probably the baetis, or what is most commonly referred to as a “blue-winged olive (BWO).” These have a greenish (olive) body, and dun blue wings. I like to fish a parachute pattern with a highly visible post in choppy water, but more traditional patterns with split wings (sometimes even no-hackles) in still water. The trick with BWO’s is matching the size of the naturals. If you know the hatch is on, and the trout still won’t eat your fly, try a pattern that’s a size or two smaller. That usually does the trick.
Another type of insect that takes center state in the spring is the caddis. Caddis can vary dramatically in size and colors, depending on the river system you are fishing. The bread-and-butter pattern is a size #14 or #16 tan body elk hair caddis. But green, black and brown caddis can be found many places in many seasons. Mix and match your colors often. And if you’re looking for the one signature caddis hatch in America, you should plan to visit the Arkansas River in Colorado for the “Mother’s Day caddis” hatch.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of Trout magazine, and an editor-at-large for Field & Stream.