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Five Spring Escapes

By Elena Moon - March 15th, 2004

It's never too early to plan your first rendevous with the river. With winter closing in, you can still daydream about the months ahead and mark your calendar for next spring's runoff. Here's a little knowledge of where to go and when the hatches start; the fishing will be phenomenal. Another option is to avoid the high water and escape to southern latitudes or tailwater fisheries (rivers below high dams). Pull up a chair and be on your way.

Dip a Worm in New Mexico's San Juan River
This rich tailwater fishery is home to both large trout and one of fishing's most unrefined yet effective flies - the infamous San Juan Worm. Fortunately, the San Juan River offers more than vernille and thread. The SJ's legendary waters hold over 5,000 trout per mile below the Navajo Dam (some reports claim 10,000 or more). This river is a fine choice for escaping the silted rivers and cold weather typical of many regions this time of year. March and April's flows are usually low (about 500cfs) allowing easy wading as well as early season dry fly fishing. The flows increase significantly in May (up to 5,000 cfs) and temporarily wash out surface hatches. Despite the increased flows, the river remains nymphable. The river is accessible by wading and driftboating. Bring the bifocals and be prepared to tie on pepper flake-sized flies. Effective patterns include scuds, midges, emergers, annelids, RS2's, Adams, WD 40's, Brassies, Palaminos, and a rainbow assortment of the river's namesake worm. An overcast day will bring on a morning Blue-Winged Olive hatch, offering lovely dry fly and emerger fishing. Anglers convene in the midge-sized community of Navajo Dam that is located 52 miles from Durango, Colorado, and only 35 miles from Farmington, New Mexico. Both Durango and Farmington offer a major airport. And remember, when packing leave the small landing net at home.

Gear List

  • 4-6 weight fly rods that are 8 1/2 to 9 feet long
  • Floating lines
  • Neoprene or breathable waders
  • Thermal underwear for beneath waders
  • Wool or synthetic socks
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Light rain jacket
  • Warm clothing for cool desert evenings and nights
Steelies on Michigan's Pere Marquette River
Intimate, gentle, and scenic describe the Pere Marquette. It features supreme wild salmon and steelhead fishing in a not-too-shabby setting. The strongest steelhead run takes place during spring spawn from March through April. Unlike the Northwest where steelheading often seems like an exercise in futility, the PM flyfisher can hope to land several chromers a day; the powerful steelhead here range from 8-15 lbs. With this year's early spring run-off, the fish are heading upstream earlier than usual. The peak of the run should arrive around April Fool's rather than the traditional second week in April. Bring plenty of egg patterns as well as some smallish dark stonefly nymphs, #4-8 Hex nymphs to imitate the enormous Hexagenia limbata mayfly of the region and green caddis larva in size 8. Try the "flies only" stretch between M37 and Gleason's Landing. Lodging, guides and flies are available in the small hamlet of Baldwin which is about an hour-and-a-half drive north from Grand Rapids. The Pere Marquette also features trout fishing worth writing home about so pack the trout rod if you have space.

Gear List

  • 7-8 weight fly rods that are 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 feet long
  • Intermediate sinking fly line
  • Fingerless gloves
  • Neoprene waders
  • Thermal underwear for beneath waders
  • Wool or synthetic socks
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Warm hat
  • Rain jacket
  • Warm underlayers
Virginia's Smith River
Mid-April, May and early June bring some of the best fishing on the Smith. Blue-Winged Olives, March Browns, Hendrickson's, Sulfurs and terrestrials bring the river's surface to life. Verdant rolling hills backdrop this clear and cold tailwater that is known in for its wild browns. Fish average 6-14 inches. Town Creek to RT 666 Bridge, deemed Trophy Trout water by the state, is an excellent stretch to wet the line. Flies to bring include Blue-Winged Olives (#18-20), March Browns, Sulfurs (#16-18), Pheasant Tails, RS2's, Steeves' Fire Fly, Japanese Beetle, Wasp and UFO. Because of the clarity of the water, Beadheads don't work well. Also, be aware of erratic dam releases that should be announced with a siren. Out-of-state visitors can fly into Roanoke. You can either gear up there or in Bassett, about 10 minutes away from the river. Martinsville has several choices for lodging.

Gear List

  • 3-5 weight fly rods that are 8-8 1/2 feet long
  • Long 5-7x leaders
  • Floating fly line
  • Neoprene or breathable waders
  • Thermal underwear for beneath waders
  • Wool or synthetic socks
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Light rain jacket
  • Warm underlayers
Chance at a Record on Arkansas' White River
Brown trout scare me. They are simply the bad boys of the trout world, the barracudas of the stream. So I don't know what I'd do if the equivalent of the world record 40 pound brown came out of a White River tributary and ate my Olive Woolly Bugger. My small frame, trembling in fear, would probably be pulled overboard for a small ride before I'd let go of the rod. The White River and its tributaries are tailwater anomalies. It's here with streamers and crustacean patterns that you have a chance at some of the world's largest brown trout. And even if you don't break the world record with a 41-pounder, the fishing is sure to be memorable. Bring streamers, Woolly Buggers, sculpin patterns, scuds, midge patterns and some San Juan Worms. A crawdad imitation or two might entice larger browns. April also offers some of the first dry fly fishing of the year with caddis and sulfur hatches. The rich section from Bull Shoals dam down to the town of Norfolk provides the angler with the some of the best trout fishing on the river. Gear up and find lodging in Mountain Home - about 30 minutes from the White. The town does have a small airport but out of state anglers might want to fly into Little Rock or Fayetteville.

Gear List

  • 6-7 weight, 8 1/2 - 9 ft. fly rod for streamer fishing
  • 4-5 weight 8-9 ft. rod for dries
  • Floating lines
  • Neoprene waders
  • Thermal underwear for beneath waders
  • Wool or synthetic socks
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Rain jacket
Red Rock and Big Rainbows at Lees Ferry, Arizona
If, like me, you call one of the northern parts of the U.S. home, there's a good chance that your blood needs some warming. The tailwater below Lake Powell on the Colorado ranks number one on my list of places where you can thaw out, marvel at the scenery and catch sizable trout. Beautiful red and pastel cliffs form the beginning of what later becomes the Grand Canyon. Though there are purportedly a few browns in the river, the river is primarily a rainbow fishery. Fish average 16-24 inches. The water released from the Glen Canyon dam is a cool and constant 47 degrees so midges are the only insects around. Bring #16 Pink and Olive Scuds, #16-#18 Brassies, #16-20 Beadhead Pheasant Tails, #18-20 Beadhead Midges, #18-20 Zebra Midges, San Juan Worms, and some Griffith's Gnats. Attractor Patterns with a small dropper nymph also work well. A productive section of the river is accessible for walk-wading and the rest can be reached via powerboat then waded. Lees Ferry is about a two-hour drive north on Highway 89 from Flagstaff. Fuel, lodging and fly shops can be had in the postage stamp town of Marble Canyon, only three miles from the river. The small campground at Lees Ferry is a five-minute stroll from the river's edge and the boat ramp. Don't forget your sunscreen and sunglasses!

Gear List

  • 4-6 weight, 8 1/2 - 9 ft. fly rod (stout 6 wt. for streamers and nymphing)
  • 5-7x leaders and tippet
  • Floating lines
  • Yarn strike indicators (these larger indicators make the subtle strikes more obvious)
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Strong sunscreen
  • Sun hat
  • Neoprene waders
  • Wooly hat for boat ride or cool evenings
  • Wind breaker - it can howl out there
  • Warm clothing for cool desert mornings, evenings and nights
  • The dearth of vegetation suggests no precipitation but bring a light rain jacket just in case

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