The Secret Season; An Introduction to Pre-Runoff Fly Fishing

Western anglers often equate Spring with runoff conditions. As the annual snowpack begins to melt, rivers surge and cloud with silt, causing fly fishing to become oftentimes challenging and occasionally dangerous. As a result, many fishermen simply wait until runoff subsides- usually in June- to begin their angling efforts.     

Prior to runoff, however, a brief but extremely rewarding phenomenon occurs as water temperatures increase and trout begin feeding en-masse to regain weight lost from the hardships of Winter. This pre-runoff timeframe is a secret season of sorts, offering dedicated anglers some of the best fishing of the year. By understanding the various dynamics that impact fish in the early Spring, you can enjoy a number of banner days with numerous fish to hand long before most fishermen have even thought to wet a line.

Fair Weather Fish

Water temperature is far and away the most significant influencer of Spring fly fishing across the West. Trout metabolism increases dramatically once daytime water temps consistently hit the mid-40’s, leading to a significant increase in feeding activity. As priorities shifts from simply surviving to locating food, fish will move from slow winter lies into runs and riffles where bug life is more prominent. Simultaneously, rising water temperature will increase the activity of aquatic invertebrates, offering hungry trout a variety of food sources that have been in short supply since the previous season. Since sunlight and air temperature influence water temperature, it’s no surprise that warm Spring days often correspond with the best pre-runoff fishing.

Breaking Down the Bugs

Pre-runoff fly selection is initially limited, but increases as water temperatures rise. Midges- a trout staple through the Winter months and food source 12 months a year- are always a safe bet early in the pre-runoff period. Blue Winged Olives (BWO’s) are the first new arrival to pique excitement; dry-fly anglers will delight at the BWO hatches that occur once water temps reach the 40’s. Winter stoneflies are also commonplace during this time and can be a great way to entice fish eager for a high-calorie meal. Towards the end of pre-runoff season, Caddis hatches are never out of the question. Aside from these more traditional invertebrate offerings, Spring also brings about the rainbow trout mating season, and any eggs that become dislodged from the river substrate become easy meals for fish downstream.

Missing the Boat

Inevitably, you’ll eventually arrive at your favorite stretch of water only to find the usual gin-clear low flows replaced by a torrent of muddy snowmelt. Fear not- the silver lining of this sudden increase in flow is that it dislodges insects from the streambed and banks, resulting in an all-you-can-eat buffet for the fish. Anglers should consider swapping the aforementioned midges and BWO’s for larger stoneflies, worm imitations, and flashy attractor patterns that will be easily located in the off-color water. There’s usually little need to wade during runoff, as fish will leave their early season lies in favor of riverbanks and structure that provide shelter from fast-moving water.

Expanding Your Options

Given the fast-changing nature of Spring fishing, it’s important to hedge each angling day with a backup plan in case the primary river or stream is blown out. While public anglers and private landowners alike face pre-runoff conditions, landowners often enjoy the luxury of having multiple on-property and nearby angling venues at their disposal. A great example of this is the Rogers Mountain Ranch, located within the coveted South Platte River basin in Colorado: in addition to several Gold Medal designated sections of river nearby, Rogers Mountain Ranch offers six stocked ponds on-site as well as near-immediate access to three world-class angling reservoirs totaling over 171,000 acre-feet. Given all of these options, great fishing is available in close proximity to the ranch every day of the year- even during peak runoff.

With Spring weather already in full force among lower elevations across the West and due to arrive shortly in the high country, now is the time to take advantage of pre-runoff conditions and the “secret season.” Confluence Land Company offers an unparalleled 30+ years of combined experience in the brokerage and development of live-water properties boasting world-class fishing opportunities. Whether you are a buyer interested in purchasing a fly-fishing property of your own, a landowner looking to expand, develop, or divest your fishing resources, or simply want to explore fishing opportunities nearby, please do not hesitate to contact us.