By Nick DelVecchio
Spending a day on a favorite trout stream, fly rod in tow, is such a tremendous way to take advantage of our Pennsylvania public lands. We are blessed with thousands of miles of trout water, and it’s more than an angler could hope to fish in 100 lifetimes! With that in mind, there’s no time like the present to start exploring trout streams around the Keystone State, and here are some answers to commonly asked questions that folks have about fly fishing.
Q: Do you have any recommendations on some basic flies, and size hooks, I should stock up on?
A: Fly selection is always a question that’s asked a lot, and for good reason! The trouble is there isn’t always a hard and fast answer that works for everyone. The diet of a trout is extremely localized based on individual food sources within that waterway. Bug life is dependent on a variety of factors which in turn dictate what the fish have at their disposal. The best bet is usually to stop into a local fly shop and ask about the bugs. Once you learn the bugs on your favorite trout stream, the flies will become easy!
However…telling you to stop in a fly shop feels a bit like a cop-out! Usually beginners should start with purchasing (or tying) a handful of different patterns each season. Start with the basic attractors like the prince nymph, pheasant tail, wooly bugger, adams, and some egg patterns. You can then expand to a few terrestrial patterns in the summer like grasshoppers, ants, and beetles. Nymphs should be carried in a variety of sizes from #12-#18 and used in accordance with water conditions. Dry flies and terrestrials should be stocked in similar sizes, and should be used during bug hatch events or if you see trout feeding on the surface.
Q: When I first started fly fishing, I was overwhelmed by the choices of fly rods available- 3 wt, 4 wt, 5wt, etc. Which weight would you recommend as the best “all purpose” trout rod, for handling both wild and stocked fish?
A: Fly rod length and weight is a matter of preference based on style of fishing, streams being fished, and size of trout targeted. For small, brushy brookie streams something like an 8-foot, 3 weight would work great! Larger bodies of water, where longer casts are necessary, will make a 9- or 10-foot rod more appropriate. However, if you’re really looking for a nice all-purpose trout rod for Pennsylvania, a 9-foot, 5 weight is tough to beat. It’s certainly going to be overkill for brookies, but it will handle casting in most streams across the state and give you enough backbone to fight larger fish you may encounter on stocked streams.
Q: How do you know where to target trout in a stream?
A: Breaking down a stream can be intimidating. You look at the expanse of water and wonder, “Where the heck is this 12-inch fish?” Don’t worry, once you start to understand where trout hold, you’ll get a grasp on what to look for, and by extension, where to fish. Trout require highly oxygenated water, so areas of current are an obvious hot spot. However, they also like having some water depth to hide from predators, namely birds of prey. By using that knowledge, finding places that combine both depth and current will be likely spots to produce trout! Those faster currents can also kick up bugs and create an assembly line of food. Trout also love structure. Log jams and undercut banks are prime areas to focus some attention, and it’s always a safe bet a few trout will be hiding in these areas!
How do you learn which flies to use?
When I was first trying to build my fly arsenal, each spring I’d purchase 12-15 new fly patterns to try. On my next fishing trip I’d cycle through them, even if I was catching fish on one, and eventually built a roster of patterns that are tried and true. Fly selection is part matching the hatch and part confidence. Having that confidence in a particular pattern is critical, and these flies are always fished more efficiently because anglers are “expecting” a hit on a fly they’ve seen work before. It might take a couple seasons to really have a firm grasp on what flies you want for a particular stream, but once you go through that trial and error it’s smooth sailing!
Q: What is the best time to fly fish for trout?
A: Spring is always a sure bet, but heavy rains (and snow melt) can make things tricky. Late spring is one of the best times of year for hatches, so anglers trying to get some dry fly action should circle late April and May on their calendars. Summer is perfect for dry-dropper rigs, but eventually the water temperature on most streams gets a little too warm to ethically target trout. Once the water hits 68+ degrees, it’s advised to either only fish in the early morning, or move on to other species. Every summer is different, so keeping an eye on stream temperatures is a constant chore during summer. Fall is a killer time to target larger fish looking to pack on weight before winter, but the spawn (for browns and brookies) should always be respected. Once those fish start to do their thing, consider letting nature take its course so there are plenty more for years to come! Winter can be the hardest season, but is great for finding solitude. It takes a hardy angler to brave the Pennsylvania cold on a trout stream, but this is a fun time to explore!
The start of trout season is always something to look forward to for Pennsylvanians. Traditions are upheld, favorite streams revisited, and memories forged. Getting out there with a fly rod, and continuing your fishing exploration on our public lands through the whole year will open up a whole new side of Pennsylvania. Hopefully this answers some of your questions and guides you along the way to a favorite new hobby!
Nick DelVecchio is a fly fishing guide and board member of Pennsylvania BHA