All it takes in Utah is a week of warmer weather and little sunshine to get people scrambling for their fishing and bike gear. Out come the road and mountain bikes, and rivers that have seen only die hard anglers the last few months are alive with people once more. Winter isn’t letting go easily and snow lines move up and down mountainsides daily. The wildlife begins to migrate back to the comfort of the high country and the elk herds again become the ghosts of the pine and oak brush.
So far this spring I have spent a few days on the water chasing the limited dry fly hatches of midges. When the conditions are right, the hatch may last a couple hours during the mid-day.
Fly fishing in Uinta Basin, UtahThe bug of choice for trout this time of year is the buffalo midge. This is one of the bigger midges and while a far cry from a grasshopper or green drake, it is prolific enough to get the fish looking up.
As the buffalo midge begins to wane like the snow on the western slopes, the blue wing olive mayfly (BWO) fills the void. The BWO is an elegant fly. Like all mayflies, it has a sweeping tail and sail-like wings, along with graceful flight.
Both the BWO and the buffalo midge go through a metamorphosis and are trapped in the surface film while they struggle to free themselves of their exoskeleton. They often attempt to find refuge on stones above the water level or vegetation. While safe from fish, these flies can still be easily blown into the water by wind. When they are in the water, it is an especially vulnerable time for the fly, and trout are eager to take advantage of the meal following a long cold winter.
Weather and temperature can wreak havoc on the early-season fly fisher. When fishing below a dam, the first few miles of water will be the most consistent as far as temperatures are concerned. The melting snow flowing into high-mountain rivers keeps the temperature low, even though the sun may be baking the unblanketed earth. Trout are most active with water temps between 45 and 55 degrees and grow more lethargic when the temperature of their home drops. Fishing this time of year is typically most productive during the middle of the day.
The hatches I have been fishing on the Middle Provo River start around 11 am and continue as late as 2:30 pm. The Provo River in general is a pretty busy, so I would arrive early and fish nymph rigs with Black Beautys, Cream Midge Larva (my own tie), RS2s, WD40s, and just about anything super small and black. When I say super small, read that as size 24-26. As the buffalos and BWO’s started hatching I would switch from the nymphs to a double dry fly rig. My fly of choice for the buffalo is the Mother Shucker. I typically pair this with Hackle Stacker in BWO or black or a Sprouts Baetis. I don’t like going to 6x tippet in most cases, however, the fish on the Provo see a lot of flies and it does improve the strike rate.
Seeing the dimples of the water where trout are sipping flies brings me immense joy. The challenge of a well-placed dry fly and a drift good enough to get a fish to sample it, are reason enough to venture out. When you hit it just right and the flies are hatching, the weather and fish gods aren’t fighting, and you have the right fly in your box, springtime dry fly fishing can be some of the least crowded and best of the year.
Travis Jay Vernon, Co-Manager, Jans Park Ave (our Flagship Store) & Fly Fishing Guide