April Fly Fishing
***This Article Appears in the April, 2023 Northwoods Sporting Journal***
For the vast majority of Fly Fishermen in the Northeast, April is a pretty special month. Most trout streams and rivers become fishable for the first time in months, and depending on the state regulations, opening day is somewhat of a holiday. Until a few years ago, VT trout season began on the second Saturday in April. It now
signifies the day anglers are able to keep a trout. For a catch and release fly fisherman and guides it does not have the same significance it once did, but that date still “feels” like opening day. Many anglers from VT and beyond celebrate opening day by participating in the annual Otter Creek Classic catch and release fly fishing tournament. The OCC as we refer to it is based out of the Middlebury Mountaineer fly shop. The tournament weekend is less about catching fish and more about seeing like minded anglers and friends again, getting back outside, and supporting conservation. All proceeds from the tournament benefit various local conservations organizations. All ability levels are welcome.
Fishing conditions in April are usually not very good, and catching a trout can be a real challenge and the ultimate reward. The good news is that it’s often a quality over quantity scenario and many of the largest trout of the year are caught early in the season. River anglers must deal with high water levels from spring run off and very cold water. Since fish are cold blooded, their metabolism is directly connected to the water temperature. The colder the water, the less active the trout, and less food they need to consume to stay alive. To fool a trout in April the angler must first find the trout by finding water types that match the fishes metabolic rate. Think deep and slow. Trout will not be found in the fast riffles and pocket water yet, skip that water until May or June.
Once you have found likely winter/ early spring holding water, the next challenge becomes the high flows of spring, specifically getting your flies to the fish. Peak runoff usually takes place sometime in April and can make fishing tough. The good news is rivers are dynamic and ever changing so there usually aren’t many days that are totally unfishable, but you will need to deal with high water. Inactive and lethargic fish will be found on or near the bottom. Getting a fly down to the fish is priority number one. Be prepared with heavily weighted nymphs and streamers and split shot. It is vitally important to adjust the weight of your flies to match the current speed and depth in order to get them in front of a fish. Remember, you will not catch anything if you are not able to put a fly in the strike zone and in April the strike zone is small, at times only a few inches off the bottom. Too heavy a rig and you will be hanging up on the bottom constantly, too light and the flies will drift over the fishes heads. To make matters worse the angler must deal with varying current speeds. The water at the surface will move much faster than on the bottom where friction from the river bottom slows the current substantially. This is why the fish are sitting on the bottom most of the time. You must watch for visual cues on your line/ leader/ or indicator that your flies have slowed down and are in the strike zone. A task that requires lots of time and focus to perfect.
The least important aspect of catching a lethargic trout in April is fly selection. Hatches in the Northeast during April consist of mainly midges and small brown and black stoneflies. Unless you see these bugs in dense numbers or you happen to get a day with lower water and warmer than usual temps, they will mostly be inconsequential. Instead, think larger or brighter attractor nymphs, worms, mops, stoneflies eggs, and streamers. I find that targeting rivers that hold Browns or Brook Trout to be the most consistent in April as rainbows are spawning and don’t eat as well until later on in the spring.
Lastly, remember to be safe when fishing any open water in the early part of the season. Cold, fast moving water and waders can make for a dangerous situation when wading a river. Always wear a wading belt and consider wearing an inflatable life vest, especially if fishing alone.
Ben Wilcox is owner of Maple Country Anglers, located in Northwest Vermont. He is a current member of the USA Fly Fishing Team. He is a registered Maine Guide and graduate of the University of Maine. He also owns a large Maple Sugaring Business, Amber Ridge Maple. These occupations allow him to be in the woods or water nearly every day of the year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.