Running around the country chasing incredible hatches is par for the course among fly fishermen. We still talk about the Mother’s Day caddis on the Madison River because it’s just that amazing. To see a river come to life with trout rising in seemingly each pocket and seam is to see nature working in a plane of understanding beyond our own.
It’s sobering to watch the hatch start and realize an entire world exists on the river that not only doesn’t care you’re there, but doesn’t even acknowledge your presence. Perhaps that’s why fishing a hatch is such a profound experience.
With spring finally making a long-awaited arrival to the Rocky Mountains and their storied trout streams, bugs are hatching in earnest. The fishing is predictably spectacular and it’s time to get your share of the action.
What’s Hatching: Blue-winged olives and midges
When to fish: All day is productive on the Green, but a cloudy day is best for dry fly action
Difficulty: Moderate to Expert. The trout on the Green can get pretty picky.
The Green River houses some absolute monster trout. Big browns and rainbows are the big draw for the section below Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the northeast corner of Utah.
Due to an incredibly wet winter in the Colorado River drainage almost every river is running high. Most freestone streams and spring creeks are muddy and will remain that way until at least June. Tailwaters like the Green, though, provide crystal-clear water and surprisingly great fishing.
This section of the Green is flowing at 8,600 cubic feet per second – well above the average of 1,500 cubic feet per second. The high water makes for very interesting hatches and fishing conditions. Wade fishing is possible just below the Flaming Gorge Dam and above the first take out at Little Hole. The best fishing will be from a drift boat, though.
You’ll want to pack plenty of size 16-20 BWO duns, emergers, and cripples. The fish seem to really key in on the cripples later in the day, and emergers will do wonders in mid-morning before the duns come off in earnest.
Nearest Town: Dutch John, UT (a couple miles east of Flaming Gorge Dam)
Who to Book With: Trout Creek Flies
Where to Stay: Red Canyon Lodge or Flaming Gorge Resort
What’s Hatching: Blue-winged olives, midges, yellow sallies
When to Fish: Mid-morning to evening
The Green River below Fontenelle Reservoir in Wyoming, where it flows through the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, is the place to head if you’re searching for monster trout. Where the Green below Flaming Gorge has nearly 12,000 fish per mile in the first seven miles of river, this section in Wyoming is more sparsely populated.
What it lacks in amount of fish, though, it makes up for with size. Without fail, this river produces multiple 23+ inch trout every season, and spring is one of them.
Like the Green in Utah, this section of the Green is flowing high, and is nearly impossible to fish without a boat. The key is to fish each bit of river thoroughly, and once you find fish, stay at that hole until the bite disappears. The fish tend to be clumped together in thick pods right now, and it makes for more of a “hunting” experience than most trout anglers are used to.
Since the fish count is lower and this river is just so massive, it’s trying for dry fly anglers. It’s not an easy river to begin fishing, and even at an expert level it’ll test your patience. When the usual Wyoming wind picks up, you’ll learn very quickly not to throw tailing loops or else you’ll end up with flies in the back of your head.
Make sure to bring a box stuffed with BWO nymphs, in addition to stoneflies and zebra midges. If the fish aren’t breaking the surface, or only their dorsal fin shows when eating off the top, you’ll want emergers like an RS-2 that sits right in the surface film. Yellow sallies in sizes 10-16 are a must, and Griffith’s gnats in sizes 16-20 are required as well.
Nearest Town: Green River, Wyoming (52 miles southeast of Fontenelle Dam)
Where to Stay: Green River, Wyoming or camp along the river
What’s Hatching: Blue-winged olives, midges, and red and orange Annelids
When to Fish: All day
Difficulty: Moderate to Expert
You’re hard-pressed to find an angler who hasn’t heard of the famous stretch of the San Juan River in New Mexico. The section just below Navajo Reservoir is renowned worldwide for its high population of huge trout. Some claim it’s the best trout fishery in the world, though I bet Patagonia or Kamchatka have something to say about that.
The San Juan is bumping up to 1,000 cubic feet per second the first week of May, and according to local guides the higher water will make for better fishing. A guided trip is pretty par for the course if you’ve never fished the San Juan before, though wade fishing by yourself is a popular option as well.
The BWOs are thick on the river, as are the midges and Annelids. You’ll want red and orange Annelid patterns, in addition to an enormous collection of midges and BWO nymphs. Sizes 20-24 aren’t uncommon to use on the San Juan, though you can pack along some leech patterns if the dry fly game turns out to be more difficult than expected.
As is par for the course with most world-famous rivers, the San Juan isn’t exactly easy fishing. It’ll test your patience almost as much as the Green below Fontenelle in Wyoming, though with a higher fish count you have more room for error on the San Juan.
Nearest Town: Turley, New Mexico (12 miles west of Navajo Dam)
Who to Book With: Duranglers, out of Durango, Colorado, are some of the most knowledgeable and high-quality guides in this corner of the country. They know the San Juan incredibly well and can show you a great time when you make a trip to this unique area of the Western United States.
Where to Stay: Bloomfield, NM, Farmington, NM, or Durango, CO
What’s Hatching: Blue-winged olives and Mother’s Day caddis
When to Fish: All day
Difficulty Level: Beginner to Expert
The Eagle River, tucked in Vail Valley amidst ski resorts and the towering Colorado Rockies, manages to get overlooked because the Frying Pan, Roaring Fork, Yampa, Blue, and Colorado Rivers are all in close proximity.
The Eagle is home to incredible brown trout fishing, and right now the flows are up but it’s in pre-runoff conditions. BWOs are popping consistently, and when the conditions are just right you’ll get into some Mother’s Day caddis. Some stonefly nymphs are working as well, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for golden stones and yellow sallies while on the Eagle.
Your box should have an ample collection of BWO and Caddis emergers and nymphs. Pheasant tails are a must, as a hare’s ears. Emerger patterns like an RS-2 will make or break your early-morning fishing.
You can wade the upper section of the Eagle, which is fast-flowing pocket water and great brown trout habitat. However, outfitters are starting to float the river, which gives you the opportunity to cover more water and see more of the river.
Nearest Town: Avon, CO
Who to Book With: Fly Fishing Outfitters, spearheaded by John Packer, is a great outfit that provides excellent memories while on the water. Make sure to pay them a visit when you fish the Eagle, as they’ll readily give pointers on where to fish and help with your fly selection.
Where to Stay: Avon, CO, Vail, CO, or Glenwood Springs, CO
Spring hatches bring out the big trout and help hone your skills as an angler. The art of fishing dry flies is perfected during hatches like these, and it’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with fishing dries on the big waters in Montana or the lonely high-country plains of Wyoming. It’s such an aesthetically pleasing experience that brings far more joy than it ought to; after all, it’s just a bunch of bugs hatching and having sex while trout eat as many as possible.
As with most things in life, though, it’s the simplicity of the event that shows its significance.
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