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To catch trout early, go back to basics


February 25, 2008|By BILL ANDERSON

Legend has it that when fly fishing for trout, one needs a precise presentation of floating flies to trout that are zeroed in on a particular insect hatch. This is true in April and May, but for the early season, underwater flies -- nymphs and wet flies -- will take the trout. In most cases, a well presented underwater fly can actually take more stocked trout that the favorite live and commercial baits.

All we need is a few warm days and the diehards will be out there dunking baits and flies. For the fly angler, this is the time for nymphs fished near the bottom and rigging the outfit to best present the fly to the fish.

If you are already a fly angler, you probably know there are thousands of recognized patterns and personal variations that all fly tyers like to make. Choosing only a few is hard to do, which is why most have fly boxes crammed with enough flies to stock a small tackle shop.


But you really do need just a few basic patterns. If I had to select a few nymph patterns for the early spring, I would stay with some of the classic patterns. The reason they became classics is that they catch fish in many situations. All of these are suggestive patterns, not imitative.

Red Squirrel Nymph, sizes #16-#12. This basic pattern is a Dave Whitlock creation and has proven to be one of the most popular and versatile ever. This is usually the first nymph I tie on.

Bead Head Brassie, sizes #12 and #14. One trade catalog says this is the top selling nymph pattern. This is a very basic, suggestive pattern, but experienced fly fishermen swear by it.

Bead Head Caddis Pupa, sizes #12 and #14. Caddis flies are a main forage insect in nearly every stream and this pattern is a proven producer all over the country.

The bead head design helps the Brassie and the Caddis Pupa sink and also add some action to the fly. The red squirrel pattern also should be weighted, or you can fish it with a small split shot ahead of the fly to keep it deep, which is particularly important in the early season.

Fishing a nymph correctly does take some practice. The usual presentation is an upstream cast, and then dead-drift the fly down through the holding waters. Many years ago, I learned to fish nymphs by watching the fly line near where it entered the water, and when it twitched you set the hook. Now most anglers use a floating strike indicator. It's not unlike using a bobber when fishing for bluegills. In other words, its fun fishing.

Early season nymph fishing can be a challenge, but can also be very productive. The key is to use fly patterns that the fish will react to, and using a presentation that that gets the fly down to the fish in a natural manner.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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