Ah, spring in the northern hemisphere.  

If you’re an angler, spring means one thing: hungry fish. 

You’d be pretty hungry, too, if you were a fish and spent the last few months avoiding the ice and snow , hunkered down in a deep hole in a stream, slowing your metabolism and occasionally expending as little energy as possible to catch an invertebrate drifting by. After a winter of what is essentially dieting, freshwater stream fish, like trout, are as eager to eat as anglers are to catch them. 

While ravenous fish are the big factor, there are many reasons that might make spring the king of all fly fishing seasons.  

Jake Wells, the U.S. Domestic Program Director for Yellow Dog Flyfishing, a Global Rescue Safe Travel Partner that offers angling experiences all over the world including in the United States, says “springtime is one of the most overlooked and underrated times to fish for a few different reasons. For starters, there are fewer anglers out on the water and freshwater stream fish have yet to see a lot of angling pressure.” 

That last point is an important one. The best fishing spots, especially public ones, get crowded and quickly fished out during peak season. 

Brian Hodges of Double Haul Travel, another Global Rescue Safe Travel Partner that also hosts fishing trips around the world, agrees. “There aren’t as many people out fishing in the spring for a lot of reasons,” he says. “Which is too bad because the trout are waking from their long winter slumbers and are looking for some serious groceries.” 

[Related Reading: What’s in Your Fishing First Aid Kit ]

Hodges is a fan of early spring fishing in particular. “In early spring, the water is slower, before warmer temperatures make the snow melt rapidly and cause high, muddy water, which is an unfishable condition,” he says. “Some years, April and even May are incredible fishing months because you’re getting to the water before the flows increase.” 

Timing Your Catches With Insect Hatches 

Water flows and crowds are important considerations, but when it comes to outsmarting the fish, it’s all about the fly. An act of pure deception, every fly is an artifice, designed to imitate the appearance, motion, and light reflection of the things that fish eat. Dry flies – the bait resembling a real insect that rests on the surface of the water – or wet flies – bait that mimics underwater insects – are imposters. Which is why understanding what insects are hatching and when is fundamental to fly fishing. 

One of the best ways to improve your chances of catching fish in the early weeks of spring is to “nymph,” or use a wet fly that’s designed to look like the pre-adult stage sub-aquatic insects that comprise a large part of a fish’s diet in the very early season.  

“The fish are hungry right now in early April and will be eating a variety of insects in their nymph stage beneath the surface,” says Hodges, speaking specifically about the trout native to his home in Montana. “Few insects are flying yet, so we need to fish where fishes’ current food source is, underwater.” 

Typically, it’s not until early May when warm, overcast days bring the first flying insect hatches to the water’s surface, and shift anglers’ bait of choice from wet to dry flies. 

What kinds of insects? “Depending on the river, spring hatches consist of midges, mayflies such as Blue-winged Olives and March Browns, as well as caddis appropriately called Mother’s Day Caddis,” says Wells. “And select rivers in western states can also have a spring Skwala (stonefly) hatch. So, anglers will want to select flies that look like those insects.”  

Not into entomology? You could attempt to find the right selection of flies among the thousands of books and websites out there dedicated to such information. Or, you could just ask your guide. 

Close up of a fly fishing hookTime Is on Your Side in the Spring 

They say the best time to fish is when the fish are biting. In the spring, that’s the afternoon. Which means that you don’t have to set that alarm clock. In fact, taking your time to get out the door will probably improve your chances of catching fish.  

“You can expect to see better fishing from around 12 -2 p.m. as water temperatures encroach on the magic 50°F mark, when fish become more active.” says Hodges.  

Wells agrees that there’s no rush. “You can sleep in, have a leisurely morning, and then head out around lunchtime without missing anything,” he says. “If conditions are right, most spring insect hatches won’t start until the warmest part of the day, which is usually around early to mid-afternoon.” 

While a midday start is normally the best time, Hodges is quick to point out that weather and water conditions are just as important. “Depending on the style of fishing you’re doing, a sunny bright day between 1-3 p.m. might be the best time to fish, while other days if air temperatures are warmer, you might want a cloudy day so the waters stay clear.”  

Spring 2023 Fly Fishing Forecast 

So, how will the fish bite this year? Snowpack and forecasted average air temperatures are two of the biggest indicators when trying to predict the fishing. In the western U.S., near record-breaking snowpack in some places could mean that high water conditions persist well into the season which, on paper, doesn’t bode well for ideal spring fishing conditions. A lower-than-average snowpack on the east coast, however, could result in better waters into the meat of the spring fishing season, when insects are starting to hatch. 

But if you’ve got your heart set on that classic western fly fishing experience, all is not lost. You just may have to wait a couple more months. “The majority of river drainages throughout the Greater Yellowstone area are above their snow water equivalent percent of normal,” says Wells. “This is great news for the upcoming summer season.” 

Angling for Fly Fishing Advice During Spring 

Both Hodges and Wells agree that using a guide or outfitter is your best bet for springtime fishing. Not because they’re guides (they are), but because they’ve been on the client side themselves many times, and didn’t have the knowledge necessary for a successful trip.  

“Don’t book a trip and then expect to find a guide when you arrive,” says Hodges. “Plan well in advance and make sure the guide has a plan B and even C in case the weather or conditions are not good for fishing that specific water.” 

Also, fishing regulations can change from year to year, and from river to river. It’s always a good idea to check online before going to fish somewhere for the first time each year. 

And just because the sun is out and the wind is fair one minute, doesn’t mean it’ll stay pleasant the whole day.  

“Be prepared for whatever Mother Nature might throw at you,” warns Wells. “Just know, however, that some of the best fishing can also be during the worst weather.”  

Safety Tip: Pack for Remote, Even If You Are Local 

Fishing isn’t as high risk as some sports. “We do not see many fishing injuries,” said Jeffrey Weinstein, medical operations supervisor at Global Rescue. “I would say the most frequent are hook-related or falls.” 

Weinstein, with training and experience in austere medicine and wilderness rescue, likes to be prepared for all possible situations. 

“People may be on prolonged fishing expeditions, possibly at sea or in remote areas,” he said. “Minor injuries can become big issues if left uncared for while trying to get out of a remote area.” A Global Rescue travel protection membership includes emergency rescue, evacuation and medical advisory.  

Global Rescue Safe Travel partners, like The Fly Shop in Redding, California, know what anglers need to stay safe. 

Patrick Pendergast is the director of international travel at The Fly Shop, a leading fly fishing outfitter, travel agent and retail store. He always carries the Northwest River Supply Paddler Medical Kit with him while fishing. 

“It comes in a waterproof dry bag and has most of the essentials you would need,” Pendergast said. 

Amy Ray, president of The Sisterhood of the Outdoors, a company dedicated to creating opportunities for women to hunt, fish and learn to shoot, also brings something sharp with her on fishing trips: “Wire snappers if you have to push a barb through your finger.” “Where we go, you can’t walk out,” Ray said. “Although we’re most often dealing with cuts and scrapes — a slip of a knife is the most common injury — it’s important to have the basics with you at all times.” 

Weinstein recommends vacuum sealing different modules within your fishing first aid kit to protect it from water exposure. 

“I would vacuum seal a medications module, a bandaging module, etc. You can cut a little triangular notch in the side to make it easier to rip open when needed,” he said. “Then I would vacuum seal the entire bag. This way if you open one module for something everything else is still protected. I would also carry extra zip-lock bags to seal an opened module.”