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Get Ready for Early Season River Trout

Get Ready for Early Season River Trout
Posted in: Trout Fishing
Andy Buckley offers his key advice on how to make the most of your river fishing this spring - for him it’s the best wild trout fishing of the year!

I'm always amazed by the number of river anglers who don't start their fly fishing of trout season until 'Duffer's Fortnight' as for me the very cream of wild trout fishing in running water is in March and April. With rivers flowing a little higher than in summer the hungry trout take no time at all in locking onto the early season hatches and feed voraciously on the bugs that absent anglers never even see. That's not to say that early season river angling is easy; it can be far from it, but if I were to pick a time of year to attempt to hunt a large wild brownie it would be at the start of the season before lower water and increased angling pressure have taken their toll.

If you're thinking of wetting a line in the early season then there a few variables you'll need to consider: weather, river conditions, times of day, angling styles and hatches will all be different to those you'll have experienced in high summer.

So, read on for my advice on how to make the most of your time on the bank this spring.

Andy with a stunning trout Andy with a stunning trout

Keep Warm

The weather in spring is as unpredictable as it gets in the UK, and as such it’s quite possible that you may experience all four seasons in one day. From bitter experience I can tell you that overdressed is underrated! It's far easier to lower your core temperature by shedding layers than it is to raise it by adding them when you're already cold. Wear a good base layer, a few fleece midlayers and something very waterproof over the top. Merino socks inside your waders and a good fleece hat will take care of your extremities.

Keep Your Energy High

I know we're not talking about a hike across the Andes here but standing or wading in cold water really saps your energy reserves and when that happens it's easy to lose concentration and miss the fish of your season. Take plenty of high energy snacks - chocolate, flapjacks and the like. When I'm guiding I use my Kelly Kettle to break the day up and to keep energy and morale high - a warm drink and a ten-minute time out does wonders for cold hands!


The first item on my kit list is my polarising fishing sunglasses. My Costas in Sunrise 580p are the perfect lens for early season low light levels, I'd be lost without them. Whatever brand you use remember those brown or grey lenses are going to be too dark for the dull conditions of early spring so some yellow light enhancing lenses could be a game changer.

Be Prepared

If the last time you trout fished was September then you're going to have to ring some changes and probably re-stock your bag or waistcoat. Check your fly boxes, tippet spools, tapered leaders and floatant - being without any of these at the crucial moment could cost you an early season trophy. Was the tip of your fly line sinking at the end of the season? If so maybe fit some new leader loops or consider an upgrade for this year. Check the studs in your wading boots are all in place and replace the missing ones.

Take a few minutes to browse our selected top trout fly fishing tackle »

Take a Casting Lesson

This is a huge point for me, and something that I do at the start of every season. Take a casting MOT with a qualified instructor, remembering to tell them that you fish rivers and need to brush up on all the curves, mends and slack line casts that you'll be using when you get to the water. There's no point being prepared with all the best kit and then fluffing your lines because your casting arm got rusty!

Have a Dry Fly Rod Rigged at all Times

Early season hatches can be over in minutes, so being able to take advantage of them involves predicting them and being prepared. Assume that most of your day’s fishing won't be with a dry (maybe spiders or a French leader) but have a dry fly rod rigged and close to hand. If you see a fish rise keep an eye on the area, if it rises again grab that rod and make a cast; it's amazing how often a third rise never comes! Most of your early hatches will be around midday when the sun is at its highest as the light levels stir the bugs in to action. Try to find a nice pool below a shallow gravel flat for an hour either side of noon.

Andy releasing a cracking brownie

Learn to use a French Leader

A huge number of my clients come to me because they want to learn to use a French leader, and for good reason! This deadly method of fishing leader to hand with no fly line makes dead drifting nymphs at short / medium range so simple and so effective, but it does take a little cracking and the correct kit. Rods of 10' plus rated 1-4 are the tools of choice here.

Spiders: Oldies but Goodies

As a northern guy, spider fishing has always been close to my heart and the early season hatches are the best time of year to swing some spiders - the Olive species at this time of year are the largest. If you find yourself in a March Brown or Large Dark Olive hatch but can't find any rising fish then swing some spiders through the bubble lines - it may be that those wily trout are taking the bugs just under the water rather than on it. Also if rising fish are picky then try treating the tips of a spider hackle with floatant and fishing it as a dry - the results can be surprising!

My Deadly Dozen

I couldn't compile this advice without tendering my favourite early season flies. If you're out in March and April then I would strongly advise that your fly box has plenty of:
  •  Jinglers
  • Grannom Emergers
  • KJ Olive Emergers
  • Deer Hair Emergers
  • Parachute Adams.
  • Hare's Ear F-Fly
  • Snipe and Purple Spider
  • Partridge & Orange Spider
  • Peeping Caddis Jig
  • Rubber Grub Nymph
  • Flash Back Pheasant Tail
  • Holy Grail Natural
Take a look at the full range of trout flies available at Farlows »

Take a Friend Fishing!

With weather conditions likely to be tough having a buddy with you creates a little camaraderie and a few laughs in the day can make the trip even more enjoyable. Plus, when you catch that 20" wild brownie before April you're going to want some good photos to show the rest of the guys in the club you've been having a blast while they've been waiting for the sun to come out!

For full details of Andy Buckley’s Angling Services visit his website HERE and you can keep up to date with his blog HERE

Simon Tilbury, Farlows Group Head of Marketing and river trout fishing enthusiast, offers his key advice on how to make the most of your river fishing this spring - for him it’s some of the best wild trout fishing of the year!


If like me you’ve been counting down the days to the start of the trout season on your local river for months, then it may be you’ve already been out on the water by now. It’s likely too that before you hit the river you spent a few happy hours going over your fly fishing kit. Maybe more than once.

There’s some excellent sport to be had in the early weeks, even if the water temperature isn’t optimum. Plus, it’s just good to be out on the water, and everything that it brings, fish or no fish.

Here are my top tips for a successful first few forays this Spring.

April Brown TroutApril Brown Trout
A lovely 2lb 4oz wild brownie from my local stretch in early April, caught klinking & dinking


Check the state of all your kit. Have a thorough inspection of your rods, especially all the fittings. Go over your reels and look and listen for things that aren’t right.

Farlows offers a completely free, while you wait reel clean and overhaul service - you only pay if you require parts or line.

So if you need to, call in to see Tom “the reel doctor” Clinton whenever your reel is looking or feeling a little under the weather and use our fly reel care service.

Most importantly if you want your fly line to float properly, give it a good clean to get rid of all the dirt and grime it would have acquired last season. Some useful tips are here in our 'How To Take Care Of Your Fly Line' guide.

Tom busy at work on a reel in FarlowsTom busy at work on a reel in Farlows
Tom busy at work on a reel in Farlows

If you wade, then you’ll want to make sure both your waders and wading boots are in top condition to keep you dry. I check for leaks in my waders the same way I do with punctures in bicycle inner tubes - in the kitchen sink. Last month I fixed a few pinprick leaks in my waders and mended my wading boots where the stitching had worn with Stormsure, it’s great stuff.

Have a once over your of your landing net and check for any damage. Finally I go over my flies, leaders, tippet material, floatant etc. to make sure I have enough of everything. Inevitably I will buy more flies to replace those I left last year in the hawthorn trees and brambles that line the banks of my local stretch. If you’re short on a few things, check out our collection of recommended tackle for river trout fishing.

Finally, your casting is likely to be a bit rusty. It may be worth getting a pre-season lesson or even some practice on the lawn. Our sister brand Sportfish offers fly casting tuition to cater for every level of angler from some of the best instructors in the business.

Robin teaching at the Sportfish Game Fishing CentreRobin teaching at the Sportfish Game Fishing Centre
Robin Elwes, one of the professional casting instructors at Sportfish Game Fishing Centre near Reading


It’s often colder than you remember, especially if you’re in the water, so make sure you have enough layers and a decent waterproof or wading jacket. A flask of hot coffee can be a godsend, especially for warming cold hands. I always try to ensure my lunch has a few sweet treats too, to keep my energy levels high. The weather can be unpredictable, so do what you can to prevent it spoiling your fun. Don’t forget your polarised sunglasses too (I find yellow lenses best in poor light), even if you can’t see much into the water, they’ll protect your eyes when your casting is not quite fully fine-tuned and it’s windy.


The image I have in my mind of how the river will be on my first day of the season is always rather different from the reality, despite what I know and what I tell myself.  Here’s how I’ve been imagining my local stretch in my head before my first trip:

Early season river quality hopesEarly season river quality hopes

And here is the same place and what I actually encountered on Saturday 1st April this year, with the river in spate and so coloured I couldn’t see the bottom anywhere on the entire beat (unfortunately it was the only day for 2 weeks I could get to the river, and I was going fishing regardless of conditions!):

Early season river quality realityEarly season river quality reality


Early season tactics require you to be more adaptable because water levels and colour can vary hugely. Given the lower water temperature, trout will be less active and therefore less visible and less likely to take your fly.

You’ll need to get something right in front of them, and the likelihood is it will be a weighted nymph rather than a dry fly. That said, on some rivers there can be some exciting brief hatches early on in the season (March Browns and Large Dark Olives), especially around the warmest parts of the day between 11am and 2pm, so make sure you’re ready as the window can be pretty short. If you’re on a bigger river or a section with deep, fast water you can try a streamer of course, or even some downstream wet flies.

There’s always a solution when you’re not catching, you’ve just got to think about what that may be. So be prepared to change tactics when things aren’t working. Go slow and use your observation skills, and don’t expect the fish to be in the shallows, leisurely feeding from the surface, or chasing flies cast metres from them. The fish are there, you just need to find them and get your flies on their nose.


If your stretch is anything like mine in early April, the likelihood is you’ll be prospecting rather than sight fishing. These first few weeks I tend to prospect using the “klink & dink” method, with a bushy easily visible dry fly acting as an indicator, with either a weighted GHRE or Pheasant Tail nymph a few feet under it.

If your indicator fly submerges, strike. A lot of the time it’s weed or the riverbed, but you’ll know pretty quickly when it’s a fish. Try to work out where the fish might be (it’s usually not where they will be in the summer), then cover the water effectively. I tend to break the water down into square segments, covering each area at least 3 times. Keep on the move, but go methodically and slowly and you’re more likely to have success.

Keep things at a reasonable range too, so you can keep in contact with your fly and line, remembering to retrieve in time with the flow, ready to strike at any second. Fish down the margins, in the foamy water lines, in the heads and tails of pools, in the pools, in fact fish everywhere until you find fish. I fish a little heavier early season, with shorter leaders and a larger breaking strain.

If you’re not restricted to a particular stretch, then try to do some research on rivers near you that can fish well early season. If you have some flexibility on the days you can fish, it’s worth checking out the weather forecasts too and selecting a dry, warmer day.

Klinkhammer duoKlinkhammer duo
A Klinkhammer duo, with a small ring to attach some tippet and a weighted nymph


Remember it’s going to be challenging. You’re likely going to have to work harder for your rewards. When I look back through my fishing logbook, early April catches are limited, occasionally non-existent. But I remember them well, often better than many multiple summer ones. Because I had to work harder for them. And because I haven’t been on the water for so long and it’s simply brilliant to be back.

Fly fishing can be frustrating, but it should always be fun. Just be prepared and ready to adapt, enjoy being in or by the river again and know things will only get better from here! If you have your own thoughts, questions or advice... leave a comment below. 

The river now….The river now….
The river now….
The very same place in a few monthsThe very same place in a few months
The very same place in a few months

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2023-04-05 14:59:00
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