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Early Season River Fly Fishing Tips and Techniques

Published: 12th March 2018 | Author: Simon Robinson

As we move into March rivers around the UK begin to open for the forthcoming brown trout season, Simon Robinson reveals his river fly fishing tips and techniques to help you catch more fish.

For many, it’s the end of what feels like a long wait to get out fishing again after the grayling fishing slows down. This is especially true if, like me, you opt to take a break after Christmas! river fly fishing tips

Early season is a unique time of year and as I have written about in the past, it is about making the most of often short-lived opportunities, particularly if you like to match the hatch and catch fish with dry flies. Below are my top river fly fishing tips for early season trouting.

Choosing the correct water

Early season fishing often finds the fish holding in certain types of water, and you need to target these areas to be consistently successful. Unless it has been a very mild spring with lots of early insect activity, the fish are unlikely to move into the fast/shallow water where they were found at the end of the previous season. The trout will still be recovering from a long winter and will usually seek shelter in the slower water. Whilst fish will often move into shallower riffles to feed on hatching insects, in my experience, they still like to have the security of deeper slower water nearby. For this reasons alone, my early season efforts are often spent concentrate on areas of the river which has a shallow riffle running into deep water.


Time of day

This may sound obvious, but if you want to be successful it is important to time your fishing sessions with the peak of the insect activity. This is usually  the warmest part of the day, between 11 am and 2pm.

The main food item at this time of year will be olives (mostly large dark olives) which hatch over shallow riffles, so try to be in right place when the hatch starts and don’t forget that these areas will appear devoid of fish earlier in the day. It is not uncommon to see the hatch start and fish begin feeding in the slower deeper water before moving up into the shallower faster water as the hatch progresses. Make sure you are ready as this feeding burst can sometimes only last an hour or so.

What Tackle?

Early season fishing does not require any special equipment and the usual standard 9-10ft #3-4 rods are perfect. I like to use a rod I am comfortable fishing dries and nymphs with so will usually opt for a #4 as the slightly faster action is better suited to dry fly fishing. If you are comfortable carrying 2 rods this is a good time to do so, as you can change between dry fly and nymph/spider setups quickly and use the perfect rod and leader for each method.

A floating line is all that is required on smaller rivers and make sure that you have a good tapered dry fly leader such as the Fulling Mill copolymer tapered leader. During the early part of the season, fish tend not to be leader shy so a 0.10- 0.12mm copolymer tippet is perfect for dry fly fishing, especially in moving water. For nymphs and spiders, I like 5x and 7x Masterclass Fluorocarbon.

river fly fishing tips

Fly Selection river fly fishing tips

During early season you need to be prepared to fish nymphs, dries and spiders to get the best results, below are my favourite early season patterns for each method.

Dry flies

Olive patterns dominate early season dry fly fishing by a long way, these two patterns are a perfect copy of the adult insect and fished correctly are almost never refused. I like the CDC pattern in slower water for fussy fish and the poly-wing paradun in faster water.

Fish often become preoccupied with emerging olives, particularly during a large hatch when they can afford to be selective. When you see fish rising but allowing fully hatched adult olives to pass over them it is time to reach for this emerger!


The waterhen bloa is a great early season pattern and the addition of a small weighted bead makes it especially effective as a point fly or as a dropper pattern in its own right with a weighted nymph to anchor a French leader rig.

An unweighted spider which suggests a hatching nymph or drowned adult olive. This pattern, like all spiders, is best fished as part of a team in slower water where nymphs are too heavy to drift naturally, or when fish are taking just subsurface.

Nymphs river fly fishing tips

This pattern is a perfect match for the active olive nymphs which are always on the trout’s menu early season. It is probably the most versatile early season pattern in my box. It can be fished as a dropper on a French leader setup, under a large dry fly as a duo or even as point fly when fishing spiders.

When the trout are not actively looking for hatching insects they will be spending most of their time feeding close to the riverbed, they also tend to be very inactive in the morning before the hatch has started. This pattern suggests a variety of bottom-dwelling food items such as caddis larvae, stonefly nymphs, and even shrimps. It is ideal as an early season point fly on a nymphing set up with a French leader and it is often worth using this pattern in larger sizes (size 12 or even 10) to induce inactive fish into feeding. river fly fishing tips

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