Trout anglers divide aquatic systems into three types; still waters, tailwaters, and rivers. In the spring, fishing is most successful in still waters and tailwaters.
This statement should not be seen as an insult to fishing small streams and rivers, like the Logan or Blacksmith Fork, at this time of year. The challenge with these unregulated systems during the spring is they are often frigid and their flows are unpredictable. Furthermore, the pristine settings of these smaller more remote streams and rivers are best enjoyed during the summer.
There are several well-known to exceptional tailwater fisheries within a half days drive of Cache Valley. Stream reaches below dams on the Green, Snake, Provo, Weber, Beaverhead, Big Lost and Henrys Fork Rivers can all be great fisheries in the spring. Exactly when depends upon the timing and magnitude of the flow released from the dam and whether quickly melting snow is entering downstream tributaries and clouding the water.
The only meaningful tailwater fishery in the valley is on the Bear River below Oneida Narrows Dam. While this stretch of river can provide good fishing, on a nice weekend day it can be crowded. When you fish a stretch of river below a dam, these areas often have special regulations. So check for exceptions before you make your first cast. The reason these systems fish well in the spring is they have lower, clearer water that can be a bit warmer and more productive at this time of year than rivers with natural flow.
The first flies to hatch on these rivers in the spring are midges. While using small fly patterns can be a necessity later in the season when the fishing pressure is high, trout are often ravenous coming out of the winter and will hit anything that appears appetizing. Flies that represent a sculpin or a lure that imitates a minnow and retrieved slowly along the edge of the current or bounced along the bottom will elicit strikes during the spring.
Where eggs and worms are allowed, casting and leading these baits over drop-offs is a great technique. If bait isn’t allowed, then flies that represent eggs and worms fished in the same way can also produce hooked trout. The value of fishing these types of systems was validated last week in Montana where a new state record brown trout (32.4 pounds) was landed.
The period of time when ice is receding from lakes and reservoirs is one of the best times to fish these systems. Unlike tailwater fisheries, there are at least a dozen lakes and reservoirs within and hour in a half drive that are worth fishing. Last winter had a relatively short ice fishing season so the number of trout surviving to this spring should be above average. Fishing from shore early in the season can be great as the shallow water warms faster and fish move into these areas to feed.
Like tailwater systems, the first flies to hatch on lakes and reservoirs in the spring are midges. Normally you don’t have to match the hatch early in the season. Minnow imitations, spinners, and spoons retrieved slowly can often produce the biggest fish of the year. Soon after the ice disappears, fish will often hit large flies such as woolly buggers.
As the season progresses, however, patterns that are more representative of what the fish are feeding on will be more successful. The bulk of what I see come out of the stomachs of trout in lakes are chironomids (midges), scuds, and damsel flies. All these patterns can be fished below a strike indicator that is allowed to move with the wind. They can also be cast on a floating or intermediate sinking line and trolled or slowly retrieved.
The flies I use for lakes are different than those I use in streams, even when they are the same pattern. The big difference is the amount of weight. The majority of my river flies have tungsten bead heads and extra weight wrapped under their body. My lake flies have brass beads or thread for their heads and little or no added weight.
In lakes it is generally better to use sinking minnow lures while in streams it is better to use ones that float. There are tackle choices that should be similar for both these systems as well. Like using nymphs tied on jig hooks with soft hackle and spinning reel lines, fly rod leaders, and tippets that are fluorocarbon. While these might seem like slight adjustments, they can have a big effect on success.
With warmer spring temperatures just around the corner, it is time to break out the fishing rods. Have fun and be safe.