Making the most of your spring trout fishing

Oliver Burch, author of our monthly trout and grayling report, gives his advice on getting the best out of the first few months of the new season

Trout anglers from other regions are often surprised to learn that our rivers open on 3rd March. On the Hampshire chalk streams or in the Cotswolds, April or even May is reckoned to be soon enough.

In March you might imagine our waters to be cold and lifeless, still trapped in the depths of winter, but the Usk in particular is an early river and there is more than tradition behind that prompt start. For whatever reason, we are still blessed to an extent with spring hatches which have been lost on other rivers.

The first is the large dark olive, which is very tolerant of cold weather and is seen here and there right through the winter (I saw one on New Year’s Day). Spring olives, as they were once known, usually show up about midday and look like little sail boats, the grey wings tilting in the wind as they float down the runs at the heads of pools. Usually they are somewhat slow to get airborne and the trout, doubtless hungry after the winter, quickly get excited about them.

By the time you have counted 5 or 6 duns floating downstream, splashy rises will usually start snatching them from the surface. You can try for them with a dry fly: Kite’s Imperial is the traditional pattern to use, but an Olive Jingler in size 14 or 16 works very well and the modern Duck’s Dun is also good.

Alternatively a team of wet spiders is very effective, particularly if the water is high, and for this hatch Waterhen Bloa is the pattern to pin your hopes on.

Be prepared for some very strong takes, partly because the nature of the hatch encourages fast-moving fish and also because Usk trout can grow large: 18 inch fish are not uncommon and some much larger ones are taken, particularly in the early spring.

March fishing on Usk is a matter of concentrating on the 11 o’clock to 3 o’clock window (don’t go wandering off for lunch) and can be spoiled by an unlucky cold snap. You probably won’t catch fish throughout the day to make up a bag of dozens, but you might get a brace or two of specimen wild trout which you will certainly remember for a long time.

As the days warm, olives will be joined by the much larger March brown, a famous Usk fly which has made an unexpected come-back recently. March browns are unmistakable, getting on for the size of a mayfly, and these tend to hatch sporadically in pulses of half an hour or so each through a fishing day which is now rather longer. I favour a March Brown Jingler as a dry fly (although an emerger type is sometimes needed) and Woodcock and Hare’s Lug is a good spider pattern. Brecon Cob is a traditional wet imitation for the March Brown on the Usk. At around this time the Upper Wye begins to wake up and fish can be taken at the surface from that river also.

If you are fishing the middle or lower Usk on a sunny day during April, you may encounter a hatch of grannom sedge, another fly which seems to be returning. Immense numbers of this little brown caddis may come off in the space of only 30 minutes or so. The trout will dash about the river seizing them, but your fishing opportunity will be short, so be ready for it. I use a small Hairwing Sedge as a dry fly, but a team of spiders cast across the stream works well during the early part of the hatch and Hare’s Lug and Plover is a good match for the pupa.

April, May and early June are glorious fishing months on both rivers and by now the brooks will also be fishing well. In late spring you may encounter quite a mix of flies on the water, including large brook dun (use same patterns as the March brown), the tiny iron-blue on cooler days (perhaps a small F-fly) and the olive upright (try a Parachute Adams). All these and more can be important at times. Around the last week in May and lasting usually for a couple of weeks into June, the famous white mayfly starts to emerge.

For the best mayfly fishing you need to concentrate on the Wye tributaries and in particular the Monnow system, Lugg, Arrow, Llynfi and Edw. Many of these are available on the Wild Streams scheme.

This is the time when the big dry fly is king and we can take trout with giant artificial patterns which would work at no other time of the year. If in doubt, a Grey Wulff or large Grey Duster will work. Sadly, the WUF have so many mayfly beats on offer that I never quite manage to get round them all during the 3 weeks available.

Oliver Burch is a fishing guide who specialises in smaller-stream fishing for trout and grayling. He regularly writes for the Passport in the monthly reports and is often found fishing the Wild Stream beats.

Luke Bannister demonstrates early spring fishing on the Wye and Usk with his Split Cane rod.

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