Anglers who fish for trout must have at least a basic knowledge of insects and baitfish and the flies that imitate them. And for every part of the season there are different food sources that trout key in on. Different regions of NY and PA also can see some differences in insects and the timing of hatches. 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 defined as March and April in general 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 typical of early season fishing: cold nights, and cold to cool days. Water flows are normally on the high side with clarity varying from heavily stained to green from snow-melt to clear. Water temps are usually anywhere from above freezing to the low 40’s.
Early season means 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 basics:
- 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 14, 12, and 10 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.
- 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 Mikey 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 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.