Spring conditions bring about some of the best trout fishing of the entire year, experts say
Beginning around the middle of March and continuing through May, mountain anglers enjoy some of the year’s best trout fishing.
In the spring, when hatches occur frequently and in great variety, trout become veritable eating machines. Also in the spring, mountain streams are fuller because of frequent showers, which means more oxygen is in the water — another factor that makes fish more active.
James McLeod “Mac” Brown, a trout-fishing guide based in Bryson City, N.C., said he has more productive fishing days in the spring than any other time.
“Activity is narrowed to a couple of hours of the day in the summer and winter,” he said, “but in the spring, you have good fishing from daylight to dark.”
Brown has become very familiar with trout streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the adjoining Nantahala National Forest and he’s collected valuable data about life cycles on mountain streams.
“Everything has a cycle,” he said. “Most insects come off the water in the early morning. They migrate upstream, mate in the trees, and the females return to the water in the evening to lay their eggs.”
It’s a cycle
By observing these cycles, Brown said, a trout fisher can greatly increase his or her catch rate. Brown has compiled a chart that shows the different hatches that occur each month. In April and May, 20 different hatches occur, and for each hatch, he said, there are at least two types of dry flies, nymphs and emergers. You don’t have to become an expert in entomology, though, to have good success with fly fishing. Brown said three flies — two nymphs and one dry fly — will serve you well.
In nymph patterns, Brown suggests using a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear or Pheasant Tail. A beadhead will add extra weight to get the fly to the bottom where nymphs usually are found.
Go big early
“The best rule,” he said, “is to use larger patterns such as 12s and 14s in early spring and switch to smaller patterns as the weather gets warmer. You’ll catch a lot more fish that way.”
Dry flies, Brown said, don’t have the versatility of nymphs.
“You have to change more often, but if I had to choose one dry fly, I’d recommend a rusty spinner pattern — one with wings straight out at the sides.”
When a mayfly dies, it falls to the water, Brown said. It floats with wings spread flat on the surface and doesn’t move.
“Trout know that,” he said. “Color is important because most mayflies have a rusty color when they die.”
Fly fishing, of course, is not the only method of catching trout. While a few streams are limited to fly fishing, most mountain streams may be fished with flies or artificial lures. Live bait is limited to streams that are stocked with hatchery-raised trout and posted as hatchery-supported waters. Live bait also may be used in streams designated as wild trout/natural bait waters.
Put a spin on it
Regulations for wild-trout waters in the national forests and Great Smoky Mountains National Park stipulate that artificial lures, such as spinners, must have a single hook. A legal spinner can be made from a treble-hook spinner by clipping off the extra hooks. However, the spinners do not spin as well as those that are manufactured with single hooks.
Bright colors are best for spring fishing, especially yellow and chartreuse. Lure size depends on the type of water you’re fishing. Early in the spring when streams are full, a 1/8-ounce lure is very effective; later, when the water levels drop — or if you’re fishing small streams — switch to 1/16-ounce lure. Six-pound test line is recommended for larger lures and 4-pound test for smaller lures.
Many spin fishers say a spinner’s blade color should be keyed to the type of water being fished. If the water is clear, use a gold blade; if the water is slightly colored, use a silver blade.
Anything goes streams
Although rules are strict for wild trout waters, just about anything goes in hatchery supported streams. Night crawlers, earthworms, meal worms, wax worms, crickets and other live baits are legal. Lures can be either single or treble hook. With rare exceptions, these streams do not have size limits. Fishers should note that hatchery-supported waters are closed during March. The season reopens at 6 a.m. Saturday, April 4.
Night crawlers and earthworms have been traditional bait in the mountains for decades, but some artificial baits, especially Berkley Power Baits, catch as many fish as live bait. Dyed salmon eggs also do well, especially when fishing for big browns.
In normal water conditions, chartreuse and yellow Power Baits get excellent results. If the water is dingy, use fluorescent orange, red or pink.
Keep a variety of spinners such as Rooster Tails, Panther Martins, Mepps, Blue Fox and Joe Flies in a variety of sizes and colors. If one pattern doesn’t work, keep switching until you find one that does.
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