Spring creeks, whether in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area or Montana’s Paradise Valley are notoriously tricky to fish. Clear, glassy water shows the fish your every move and with an abundance and variety of natural food, spring creek trout tend to be highly selective.
But just like trout in freestones and tailwaters, trout in spring creeks do the majority of their feeding subsurface. Nymphing, then, is one of the best fly fishing methods to use, and in this article we go over how to adapt and fine-tune your nymph rigs to catch trout in spring creeks.
Stealth is Everything Plan Your Approach Carefully
It makes sense why trout in spring creeks are so skittish the water is extremely clear and most spring creeks have little overhead cover. Predation from above must be one of a trout’s main worries in life, and at even the slightest threats, they’ll flee and hide the best they can.
Give yourself every advantage from the beginning and plan your approach carefully to stay hidden from the fish. Walk softly along the bank and crawl on your hands and knees if you have to. Approach the water you’d like to fish from far downstream and wade into position as gently as possible.
Try Sight Fishing
In a fast-flowing freestone stream broken up with lots of pockets, riffles, and runs, you can dredge the entire stream with a Czech nymph rig to find the fish without much consequence. If you take that approach in a spring creek, however, you’ll spook every fish in the run and shut down the action for the rest of the day.
Instead, fish to known fish and spot the fish before they spot you.
To do this, a pair of polarized sunglasses is a must. Try to get above the water as much as possible, then carefully scan to find fish. Watch for rises or a quick flash as a trout darts for an insect; look for oblong shadows projected on the bottom of the stream.
Please I’ve got to repeat this, get a great pair of polarized sunglasses. I didn’t realize how much of a difference good glasses can make. I am in love with the Smith Optics Guides Choice (link to Amazon to check prices).
Use a Traditional Nymph Rig with an Extra Long Leader
Both indicator rigs and Czech-style euro nymph rigs can be used effectively on spring creeks, but using a more basic traditional nymph rig has some advantages.
Since the water of a spring creek is so clear and the surface is often smooth and uniform, unnatural surface disturbances are amplified. Whenever possible, avoid using strike indicators unless absolutely necessary. Go with a traditional nymph rig just a knotless tapered leader with one of two flies and keep as much “junk” off your leader as possible.
Most of the time when fishing spring creeks with a traditional nymph rig, you’ll need to increase the length of your leader significantly. You want to put as much space between your thick fly line and your flies as possible. If you’re using a standard 9-foot knotless tapered leader, you may need to add between 3 and 5 feet of butt material off the back end and up 5 feet of extra tippet off the front.
Don’t be afraid to fish up to a 20-foot leader if that’s what it takes to not spook fish. 6X tippet is fairly standard on spring creeks, but you may need to size down to 7X or even 8X in some cases to reduce drag on your flies and convince the trout that your offering is just like the natural stuff.
If You Do Need a Strike Indicator, Go As Small and Light as Possible
Detecting bites when fishing an extremely long leader can be very difficult. The tip of your fly line can serve as a strike indicator, but if there’s a lot of slack in your leader, its movement may be imperceptible during a strike.
If you absolutely must use an indicator, there are a few options that will minimize fish spooking.
One good option is a wool strike indicator, like the New Zealand Strike Indicator Tool <-Check the price at Amazon. You won’t be able to suspend a bunch of weight as easily with a wool indicator, but it will give you a visual clue when you get a strike.
Another unobtrusive strike indicator option for nymphing spring creeks is a Euro-style “sighter.” This can be as simple as tying in a few feet of hi-vis monofilament onto your leader, or you can go all-out and make a curly-q sighter like the French use.
Fly Pattern Matters
Often when you’re nymphing, you can tie on a fly that is a rough approximation of the natural flies and it’ll catch fish. Trout often “sample” lots of stuff that floats by, spitting it out immediately if it doesn’t feel like food so if it looks close enough, there’s a chance a trout will at least give it a taste.
But spring creek trout aren’t so reckless in their feeding. With the clear water and relatively slow current, trout have plenty of time to visually assess the food drifting past. What’s more, spring creek trout often have multiple varieties of food available at any given time say, emerging mayfly nymphs and mayfly duns on the surface along with scuds drifting near the bottom. When this happens, trout in spring creeks often key into a specific species and focus only on a certain life stage of that species like emergers.
Catching these selective trout becomes a game of intensive hatch-matching. Pour over your fly boxes and try to find a pattern that matches as many elements of the natural insects as possible the species, the size, the color, the sheen, and the life stage. When in doubt, or if you don’t have exactly the right fly, try to at least get the size and body profile of your fly to match the natural.
Get ‘Em on the First Cast
If you spot a really big trout in a spring creek and with a longer growing cycle and constant food supply, they can get BIG you may only have one shot to catch it. Slapping your fly line on the water above that fish’s lie will practically staple its mouth shut for the day better luck next time!
Instead, take plenty of time assessing the situation and strategizing to catch that trout on your first cast. As long as it doesn’t see you, the trout likely won’t move very far, so there’s no rush. Make sure your rig is ready to go, do some recon downstream to see what bugs are on the menu, figure out what the current’s doing, then send out one glorious cast putting your carefully chosen fly right in the trout’s feeding lane. Wait for the take and stick ’em!
Related Articles and Other Nymphing Strategies
Read about the gear used in nymph fishing in this article. The Best Fly Rod, Reel and Line for Nymph Fly Fishing
Read how to select great fly fishing sunglasses in this article. How to Select Polarized Sunglasses for Fly Fishing.
Learn about catching Brook Trout in this article. How to Catch Brook Trout Fly Fishing.