How to get the most out of pre-runoff fishing in the Rockies

So Mother Nature has strung a few nice days together. It looks like winter just might not last forever. For ranch real estate owners, the itch to go fishing needs to be scratched.

But, technically, it’s still winter. Should you approach a fishing trip like you’re prepping for a winter outing? Or should you switch it up and use a more traditional approach? The answer is both.

Truth be told, some of the best fishing of the year can happen at the tail end of winter, before spring runoff really gets going. River levels near your ranch are low, water is clear and trout are hungry after a long, cold winter. Here are some tips to help make your first outing of the year a productive one. 

A nice ranch brown trout.

Start with nymphs

There are some very productive hatches in the late winter and early spring. But they’re sporadic, and often weather-dependent. In the absence of an obvious hatch, it’s best to start fly fishing with nymphs. Either high-sticking or Euro-nymphing can be very productive this time of year. Drifting nymphs under an indicator is also a dependable method. 

For starters, add about two feet of tippet to your leader and tie on a dependable attractor pattern, like  Copper John, a bead-head hare’s ear nymph or a colorful Prince Nymph. The fly should be size 14 to size 16. Then, from the bend in the hook on the lead fly, tie in two more feet of tippet (3x to 4x, depending on the strength of your leader). Finally, add a second, smaller fly that is more of a match for the midge larvae that are common this time of year. This fly should be smaller, like a size 20.

Attach a foam or bubble indicator about two feet above your lead fly, and drift the two-fly combo through likely holding water. When the indicator dips, lift your rod to set the hook.

fly fishing properties

Know your local river

If you know the river near your ranch, or you have a trout stream on your ranch, you likely know what hatches are common. For instance, rivers like the Gunnison in Colorado or the Henry’s Fork in Idaho have very strong stonefly hatches. 

Pre-runoff fishing using big stonefly nymphs, Girdle Bugs and other stonefly patterns can be really good. Simply replace the lead fly in the rig described above with a heavy stonefly pattern. 

For rivers that have great spring caddis hatches, like the Arkansas in Colorado, consider a lead nymph that represents a good caddis fly nymph. Draw upon your experience to choose the right nymph rig for you. 

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Layer up and wader up

Fly fishing before the runoff gets going later in April can be a lot of fun. But, protect yourself by wearing a few layers of clothes. If it gets too warm, you can peel off a layer. Too cold? Add another layer. 

Just as importantly, it’s a good idea to wear waders early in the season. The river near you ranch property is likely very cold this time of year, which is great for trout fishing. But a slip or fall might put you in the water. Wearing waders will keep you dry. Staying warm starts with staying dry. 

Be sure, too, that your wading boots have the appropriate traction. Many anglers have given up fishing with felt soles. Felt soles can transport aquatic invasive species from one watershed to another. So, if you’re not going to use felt, it’s best to wear boots with grippy Vibram soles or even boots equipped with spikes to improve traction on slippery rocks. 

Be patient

While late-winter fishing can be lights out, it’s best to manage your expectations when you hit the river near your ranch property. Before you start fishing, take some time and watch the water.

Look for obvious hatches, like midges or Blue-winged Olives that are common in the spring, especially on cloudy and blustery days. These small dry flies will bring hungry trout to the top, even when the weather is a bit chilly. 

A good imitation for the clusters of midges that often attract the attention of trout is a simple Griffith’s Gnat. And there are many Blue-winged Olive patterns to choose from. Both flies should be small, likely a size 20 or even a size 22. 

If you don’t see an obvious hatch, it’s best to start prospecting with your double-nymph rig. 

There’s no rush

There’s no need to start early this time of year. Generally, most insect activity starts when the sun hits the water and things warm up a bit. On most western rivers, pre-runoff fishing doesn’t really heat up until about 10 a.m. And most BWO hatches don’t start popping until after lunch. 

So take your time. Enjoy a nice breakfast and head to the river when the sun’s up. It’ll be warmer for you, and you’ll arrive when the bugs and the fish are ready to play ball. 

Looking for ranches for sale near rivers?

If you’re looking for a ranch for sale that offers great trout fishing, or is located near a great river, it’s best to go with a broker who knows the country. These real estate professionals are often anglers and hunters, too. They know the rivers that boast the best fishing, and they represent ranch owners who are selling property that has good fishing on the ranch. 

Final word

Fly fishing before runoff gets going can be very productive. But to enjoy fishing this time of year, you need to prepare. Layer up and make sure you wear waders and good wading boots. 

Understand the river you plan to fish. It helps to know what insects are present and what hatches you might see. In the absence of obvious hatches, prospect likely holding water with a standard double-nymph rig. 

Be patient this time of year. There’s no need to be up at the crack of dawn. Plan to arrive to the river after the sun has had some time to warm things up and get bugs and trout moving. 

Finally, if you’re looking for a ranch for sale that might offer some good fishing, get in touch with a broker who knows the area. They will be able to help you find the right ranch real estate. In time, you’ll be on the river enjoying one of the many reasons you purchased ranch property. 

We have over 30 years of experience throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and New Mexico. We know these states well, including some “undiscovered” places. We are offering best hunting ranches for sale along with other premier properties
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