3 Tactics for Early Season Trout Fishing
By the time the end of February arrives it could be 4-6 months since some trout anglers have wet a line. For most the Early Season Trout fishing can’t get here soon enough as cabin fever is at or near its breaking point. While most of the press around spring fishing in Michigan is focused on steelhead, there are some great opportunities for the trout angler.
Here are three tactics you can use for early season trout fishing success.
First and foremost the best method for early season success is streamer fishing. Streamers are a great tool for searching out and engaging aggressive fish. After a long cold winter trout will be on the search for food even while water temps are still on the cold side. Look for trout to sit in areas with darker bottoms trying to absorb any sort of thermal relief from their surroundings.
It’s not uncommon for trout so sit in really shallow water during the colder periods of the day. So if your wading or using a drift boat, make sure to pay attention to the bottom. We have seen trout in less than a foot of water on several occasions.
Another great spot to look for early season trout is on isolated structure, not so much the bigger log jams, but the single logs or man made objects midstream and in medium to shallow depths of water. It seems like trout use this as both ambush spots and warming areas during colder periods. Some of the best structures that we have found sit in the middle of the river.
Chasing early season trout with a streamer is not a numbers game and we usually don’t find a lot of giants early either, but a common trout at this time on the Upper Manistee is 14-18”. It seems as this size class of trout is the most active during the early season. Make sure to have a combination of conehead or dumbbell streamer patterns and fish them with a slow jigging action around structure.
While one of the hardest methods during the early season is Dry Fly fishing, it can be possible and very rewarding. With the largest BWO hatches of the season occurring in the early spring, along with little black stones and plenty of midges, there is always a chance of some trout rising activity on any given day the bugs show up. Now midges work best in the tailwaters, ie below Tippy Dam, but you can have a fun few hours in the afternoon midging for trout on bright sunny days on the tailwater sections or on a cloudy day when the BWO hatches show up in numbers.
Normally during the Early Season we carry two separate rods, one rigged with my streamer set up and one with an Floating Line set up. As we are drifting down the river, look for bug activity on the water and active fish feeding. On most days during the early season it is typical to only see a few heads rising per day within very short windows of activity on the surface. But if you capitalize on your opportunities it can be great fun.
The little black stone is probably my favorite early season bug. The Stonefly loves to lay it’s eggs in a fluttering almost tantalizing manner. Flying just above waters surface and even in the film of the current, the little black stones can cause some pretty explosive eats by trout. This doesn’t happen every day, but having the rod rigged and ready for action has brought a few nice early season trout to hand.
This little dirty word doesn’t come up too many times when you think about Trout fishing in Michigan, but spring time can be a great time to get out the nymphing gear. If I have to be honest here, nymphing is not in our every day program and while we tend to push the nymphing game on our migratory streams, nymphing for trout is often ignored. Nymphing for trout behind
spawning steelhead or spawning suckers can be great fun. With Spring Steelhead in the peak of their spawning run trout will gorge on eggs and dislodged nymphs behind active spawning areas. While we are big on letting steelhead spawn, fishing the dark water for trout can be very productive, especially on the Pere Marquette River where this has been a staple of the spring program for years.
Now if your thinking about nymphing for trout above the tailwater’s be ready to lose a few nymphs to all the wood that lines our Northern Michigan trout streams. With the amount of wood around keep your nymphs selection simple. Don’t spend lots of time either tying or buying elaborate nymph imitations. Instead try running nymphs like Pat’s Rubber Legs and smaller Squirmy Worms, espically in tandem with a small bead head pheasant tail or hares ear and you will do just fine.
When trout are not chasing streamers or conditions are not right for the bugs to hatch, trout will have to eat something. Nymphing the runs can be the most productive technique for the utterly slow times on the water. Here is an early season trout tip: while nymphing, focus on the gravel areas more than the deep sandy pits as aquatic life in the gravel runs is more active earlier in the season.
Early season trout fishing is definitely worth pursuing if you need a trout fix before the major hatches start. Be flexible with your techniques and happy with small successes as it generally is not a numbers game. However if getting out and having the river o yourself sounds like a good day try early season trout fishing.
Capt. Jon Ray