Anglers of all types anxiously await the first warm days of spring. Bass fishermen often catch their biggest fish during the pre-spawn days of early spring, crappie anglers fill their livewells during the spring spawn, and striper become much more willing to take topwater plugs as surface temperatures warm. However, the fly fisherman has the most to look forward to. Many species of fish are much more accessible to anglers using fly tackle during the spring. Here are the top 5 unique spring trips for fly anglers. Most of them are probably just a short drive from your home.
While shad are often more closely associated with bait than target species, the spring shad run offers fly fishermen a very unique angling opportunity. American and Hickory Shad are anadromous, like salmon. They live most of their life in salt water and make spring runs up freshwater rivers to spawn. Look for rivers on the Atlantic Coast that are unobstructed by dams that prevent shad migration. The spawn generally starts when river temperatures rise to 50 degrees and peaks around 55 degrees. During this time shad will strike small, brightly colored streamers. Size 4-8 Clouser Minnows fished with quick, short strips are a favorite of shad anglers. Check out our Monthly Salt subscription if you are looking for flies. Most any bonefish fly or smaller streamer will prove very successful for shad.
Walleye are primarily seen as a northern fish, although there are significant populations of them all across the country, even in my home state of Georgia. Most of the year they reside in deep, open water on large reservoirs where they cannot be practically targeted with fly gear. The spring spawn offers fly fishermen their only shot at these tasty fish. Walleye spawn in the rivers on the upstream side of large lakes. Target them at night with leech patterns and small streamers fished on the bottom at the mouth of the river.
3. White Bass
White bass are schooling fish and can be caught pretty much all year on fly tackle, but they are much more accessible in the spring. Like walleye they run up rivers from the large reservoirs that they call home. White bass are rarely selective, and if you find one you can catch many of them. Small streamers swinging in the current or stripped through slow pools will often produce fish. Although not huge fish, it is not uncommon to catch white bass over 2lbs. Dams or large shoals that stop or slow the movement of white bass upstream are a great place to find fish congregated together.
Crappie are familiar fish to most anglers, but they are also a very unconventional target species for fly anglers. Don’t let that deter you, as a fly rod is the perfect tool for catching shy pre-spawn crappie. Crappie overwinter in deep open water and move into shallow, timber filled covers to spawn. In the early parts of spring they will often congregate in 5-12 feet of water as they move toward spawning ground. During this time minnows can be very productive bait, but it is almost impossible to present an artificial lure slow enough with a spinning rod to catch them. There is where the fly rod shines. Slowly stripping small streamers or nymphs through schools of pre-spawn fish can be absolutely deadly. The key is a super slow presentation. Fish will often strike during pauses between strips as the fly slowly sinks through the water column. Crappie can be caught with pretty much any subsurface fly from our Monthly Subscription, with wooly boogers and hares ear nymphs being my favorites.
1. Striped Bass
Striped bass grow much larger than any of the above mentioned species, which is why they are #1 on this list. During the spring fly fishermen occasionally catch striped bass weighing in excess of 40lbs, with 10-20lb still being a trophy. Land-locked striped bass run up rivers just like white bass do, and you can find them looking for the same river structures that congregate white bass. Stripers take large streamers swinging in the current or stripped through slow pools and eddies. An 8wt is suggestion and 9wts are not overkill. Many of the large streamers in our Monthly Salt subscription are perfect for striped bass.
With the exception of striped bass, all of these species can be easily targeted with the same 9′ 5wt you use for trout! Just get out there and start fishing! Remember to check out our monthly salt and freshwater fly subscriptions. The flies are selected to match the hatch for your specific area! Spend your time taking advantage of these awesome spring opportunities and let us focus on filling your fly box!