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Early Season on Spring Creeks

Published: 16th March 2021 | Author: Josh Miller

As winter slowly loses its grip in Pennsylvania you’ll find me on a spring creek. I have been fishing for trout in spring creeks for a long time now, but there is something special about this time of year. Spring style streams – especially the infamous ones in Pennsylvania – hold a special place in my heart. 

What Sets Spring Creeks Apart?

Luckily, there are spring creeks nestled in rolling valleys throughout the country. These range from the famous spring creeks in Pennsylvania like the Letort and Falling Spring to California’s spring creeks. The popular driftless region holds some of my favorite spring creeks. That area has countless miles of fertile trout water.

There are two things that make fertile spring creeks different than other rivers around the country. These are stable temperatures and the quality and quantity of bug life. If you’re looking to find active fish—especially coming out of winter—spring creeks can be a great option because they tend to be slightly warmer than freestone streams.  

A stunning spring creek brown trout.

Nymph Tactics

With cold overnight temperatures, fish will congregate in slower and “softer” spots. This is what I would call a resting spot. During the morning hours, focusing on the slower softer water would be a good place to start. During this time, sometimes fish will react and move to a slightly bigger attractor fly.

Bug life starts to become active as the temperatures warm and the sun hits the water, which changes things. Aquatic life like Stoneflies, BWO, Caddis and Midges will slowly become active as the water temperatures rise. These bugs will become dislodged from the bottom of the stream and get swept through the current. This will draw trout from their “resting” position from the soft water. The fish will become active and move into the skinnier and faster water eating those bugs pretty regularly. These are the magic moments of the day when numbers of fish can quickly come to hand. 

Are you interested in learning more about fishing nymphs? Check out this recent video by Josh on Euro Nymphing Strategies.

Temperature is Key

During the colder months from winter into early spring, water temperature is important. Fluctuations in water temperature can really slow down fish at times, so water and temperature stability are important to me. What I mean here is that often a stream would fish better if the air temperature was fairly consistent over a few days. Dips in overnight temperature can really slow down the morning bite. 

By this time of the year, everyone has cabin fever. However, the season’s first warm day might not be the best day to fish if there is leftover snow. That quick warm up will melt snow only to drop the water temperature quickly.  

As temperatures climb and remain consistent, trout start to feed more actively.

The Gear

While fishing, it is most important to take your time—make each cast count. Fish tend to scare easily on most spring creeks, so a delicate approach can be key. I like to fish a euro nymphing setup – a 10’ fly rod with long leaders – while fishing spring creeks, alternating between tight line and dry dropper “ suspension” methods. The dry dropper method will give the angler a static and vertical in presentation at a distance.

In glassy, clear water the technique of dry dropper on a euro setup can be fished at some distance. Sometimes fish will take the dry, but mostly I would be focusing my efforts on fishing the dropper. In average sized streams – most spring creeks in PA are on the smaller side – a 2.5mm to 2.8mm tungsten dropper under a dry fly would be a good place to start. 

The Flies

Most spring creeks are loaded with aquatic life. From mayflies & caddis to scuds and crustaceans, fish always have something to eat. With so much food in the system, this can often turn fish into picky eaters. The walt’s worm— created by Walt Young from Pennsylvania—is absolutely my confidence pattern. This fly can easily be taken as a scud, shrimp, caddis or cress bug. These streams usually have areas of watercress, aldea, and other vegetation that help clarify water, give refuge for fish and hold loads of aquatic life. 

Small mayflies are usually present early in the season. A trout can easily mistake a simple pheasant tail for a Baetis nymph.

Want to learn how to tie the Walt’s Worm? Josh gives a great tutorial here.

The Tippet 

Thinner tippet is required when fishing for technical fish. My go to sizes of tippet are 6x and 7x on these streams. The benefit to fishing thin tippet is more than just fish seeing the line. Thin tippet will help sink nymphs faster to depth. It will also allow the nymph to “swim” more freely in the water. Thicker tippet is more rigid – this restricts the flies natural movement. If you’re worried about breaking off, a longer rod will help to protect the thinner tippet.

Fishing a spring creek has a special place in my heart. Enjoy life and get out on the water! 

Interested in learning more about nymphing? Give our recent article on euro nymph patterns a read!

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