Orvis Fly Fishing
How Do I Fish Dry Flies On Spring Creeks?
Spring creeks are special places. Because they originate underground, they can appear in unlikely spots and stay can cool and fishable in the hottest weather. The water is crystal clear, and because it seeps up from the ground, it’s full of minerals that support a vast range of aquatic life. Mayflies and caddis flies love spring creeks almost as much as the trout that feed on these bugs and thrive in these gem-like rivers.
Spring creeks are also one of the toughest places to fool a fish. The huge amount of food available and the gin clear water make the trout super selective and spooky. Before you go and throw dry flies to some of the most discerning fish ever to swim, here are some things to keep in mind:
Mind your approach
Spring creek fish are as spooky as fish come. Before you make your first prospecting cast with a dry or even your first cast to a rising fish, consider how you approach the water. When you do it, do it slowly. Watch your step, and try not stumble on any rocks, branches or debris.
A lot of times, you’ll get to the edge of the water and see spooked fish darting from the bank to deeper water. These fish knew you were coming before you got close to the edge because they felt your movement through their lateral lines. A trout’s lateral lines enable it to feel minute movements in the water and banks. But with a little stealth and patience, you can avoid unnecessary movement and mishaps like spooked fish.
If possible, avoid wading, too. Wading send shock waves through the water. The trout’s lateral lines will pick up them up on these waves and either flee or go on high alert. Instead of getting into the creek, go back to your roots as a bank fisherman and try to get a bead on the fish without getting wet. If you see a likely run or pool downstream or upstream, try to make your way there by land (slowly). Stay clear—and out of—the water.
Start by studying
Once you’ve made a slow, deliberate approach to a spring creek’s bank, spend some time studying the water and trying to figure out what’s really going on with the fish. These fish are spooky, and they won’t tolerate any mistakes on your part. So before you even tie on a fly, figure out where the trout are feeding, what they’re feeing on, and how you’re going to tackle things.
Take the lead
The super clear water and slower, gentler currents found in spring creeks give fish have ample time to inspect your dry flies. That why spring-creek trout feed like scholars with advanced degrees in eating bugs. While truly large and exceptional fish do call these waters home and you’ll have to follow proven methods to fool them.
First, know that long drifts and long, light leaders are the norm. Make sure your leader is at least 9’ long. Keeping your leader this length lets you add as much tippet material as these gin clear waters demand. A 3x or 4X l fluorocarbon leader is a good place to start. Then you can continue the taper by adding smaller tippets to match your fly. Taper down the 4X leader with a length of 5X from 12-36” in length. If you need to use extra small flies, you can cut the 5X tippet down to about 12” then add 6X or 7X tippet material.
Small flies, big challenges
Fishing the kind of small flies spring creeks demand can be difficult. In other situations, you could fish these tiny flies as droppers behind a larger, more visible dry. On large rivers, plopping down a big hopper pattern with a size 20 BWO dropper will get the job done. But on a spring creek, a setup like this will only spook fish.
To fish small dries on spring creeks, your best bet is to stick to a single fly. Try “high vis” patterns (like neon parachute posts) and keep the fly as close to you and in sight as long as possible. Work on your positioning and keep your drifts 10’-15’ away. Watch where the fly lands, telegraph the drift, and set the hook any time you see a rise along the prospective drift path.
To find success, get creative with your casting and mending. This is all part of the game when stalking spring creek trout. The big boys love to live in hard-to-reach places. The bow-and-arrow cast is a perfect skill to learn and an ideal way to get a fly underneath a hanging tree or to present it in a place where you have absolutely no room for back casts.
You should always try to be inventive on the water with your casting and mending. There are many names and written techniques for casts and mends, but more often than not, we make “aerial mends” without consciously telling ourselves that we need to perform an aerial mend. But if your technique helps you catch fish, it’s working—and you should continue doing it.
Trout fishing on spring creeks is the big league for fly fishers. The fish are selective and at the top of their game, so it takes a lot of skill to put them on the end of your line. Don’t be disappointed if you strike on your first few tries—or even on your first few trips—to a place like the Montana’s Armstrong spring creek.
Instead, consider yourself fortunate to be able to play on this kind of field. And keep trying, regardless of how many times you fail. Eventually, you’ll be able to call out “fish on!”
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