by Guide Blog


Early season trout fishing offers us a host of incredible opportunities, NOW is the time for us to target the big boys! A trout is a trout, yes, and every fish is special, but early on in the trout season will see some pretty impressive trout up and ‘on the fin’. These mammoth brownies are more catchable on nymphs and dries in early Spring than at any other time of the fishing year. Once you get into late April and May, these huge fish turn their attention to eating other fish! So, if you want to get to grips with river brownies and hopefully one or two big trout, here’s how you go about it!

Be Prepared

For the most part, fishing is all about opportunities and how you manage your time and tackle to take advantage of them when they do eventually crop up. Opportunities can be few and far between at times but never more so than when we are hunting trout on our UK rivers at the very start of the season. Although Spring is something that we all look forward to, conditions can be challenging at times. Most of us picture a warm day, a little cloud cover, and a soft wind. It’s rare to see weather like that! It’s often cold, at times miserable, and the wind, usually an easterly or northeasterly, can be chilly. All of this can make for an uncomfortable day out. It is paramount for all anglers to be sure that they’re ready for a day on the water, which means having the appropriate attire. If your warm and comfortable, you’ll fish to the best of your ability. If you get cold, it’s home time!

Pre-Hatch Nymphing

In March & April, everything is centred around ‘the hatch’. This is a point in the day when flies, usually March Browns, LDO’s and Brook Duns emerge, and the trout will literally ‘go nuts’ feeding at the surface on the glut of fly. It’s a sight to see, that’s for sure, and it’s this that offers the best in the way of sport. But what do you do before the hatch?

Although the river looks like a barren place early in the morning, there’s certainly no fish to be seen rising, but they’re there and are catchable.

Without a doubt, the best way to cover an awful lot of water and find them is, of course, with nymphing tactics. Upstream nymphing at that, as it’s the ultimate searching method, the one that gives us the highest percentages when it comes to success when there’s no hatch. With cold water, the trout are not keen to move far at all, so you can expect to find them down on or near the riverbed. They will be in small depressions, behind stones on or near any drop-off areas.

The best areas to find all of the above are ‘poppy water’ parts of the river where the riverbed is broken up with larger stones and boulders. Look for areas where the water’s surface isn’t smooth, where the river transitions from a fast-flowing set of rapids into a long glide or pool is where you need to concentrate your nymphing efforts. Depths are crucial too; the river can’t be too shallow as the water temperature is low, so you need a decent water depth to be fishing in. I’d say anything from 2ft to 4ft deep would be ideal. This depth and type of water is where I’d be hunting out trout with the nymphing rod.

View our selection of nymphing gear here: RIVER NYMPH SELECTION

Keep It Simple

My setup is simple, on most small to medium-sized rivers, I’d often start with a 10ft rod, and depending on the average size of fish I’d expect to catch, a 2 or 3-wt, which is both light and responsive. A ten-footer will allow you to fish effectively on most rivers that we’re likely to visit. It gives us the reach and close contact needed to allow your flies to fish effectively. I’m also a big fan of an 11-foot rod, again in either a 2 or 3-wt for our larger rivers. These longer rods are becoming very popular now, and rightly so. This extra foot on the rod can offer us additional distance and drift time, which can be invaluable at times on our big rivers.

These rivers are vast in places and far harder to cover given their size. However, the longer 11ft rod will let you get your nymphs into more places with plenty of drift time. You’ll cover more water quicker than you would with the 10-footer. These rivers tend to be more open, so there is not as much tree cover as their smaller counterparts, allowing us to get the most of the longer rod. 

Be sure to use a reel with a great drag too, something smooth with very little start-up inertia. As mentioned, there’s a greater chance of a big fish at this time of year, so best be prepared, or you’ll regret it! I have hooked river trout that have taken me on some tremendous journeys both up and downstream when hooked. Several fish over 4lb have covered nearly 200 yards of the river before succumbing to the net. These things are utter powerhouses, so be ready!

Look to use one of the Euro Nymph Lines as they are far thinner and can be great used in conjunction with a nymphing leader when trying to get the extra distance to cover more water. Nymphing Leaders are a massive benefit to presentation and contact of, and luckily for all of us, there are so many ready-to-use ones out there that work extremely well so that we don’t need to go creating our own. 

Find out more about leaders here: NYMPHING LEADERS


Fly Choice

Fly choice needn’t be complicated, as we are looking to imitate the nymphs of the flies I mentioned, look at Pheasant Tails and Hare’s Ear style nymphs. Sizes can be exaggerated a little early on; the trout are hungry, and the nymphs we’re imitating are larger, so nymphs on hook size 12 and 14 are going to score highly. Have these patterns tied with various-sized beads to cover all the depths effectively. Two flies are enough, and keep them at least 50-cm apart on the tippet. Tippet is anything from 4X to 7X, depending on the size of trout in your river.

Covering The Water Effectively

You must split the water up into small squares, a meter squared, like a grid and fish it a meter at a time. I like to put at least three cast into every meter, as there’ll be a different drift to the patterns each time. One of these drifts may appeal more than the other, again put the effort in and you’ll reap the benefits.
Cover the water thoroughly and with care. This is not speed fishing. It’s not like the summer, with warm water temperatures and actively feeding fish that will move 15ft to intercept your fly. Now, the water is cold and trout won’t move far, so be sure to fish slowly and methodically and you’ll do far better and have a lot more success.

Don’t try and cast too far either, as you lose contact, it’s best to keep the cast close to you and under control! Nymphing is all about this control, as you need to either track your flies with the rod tip or gather any loose line up in the retrieving hand to be in direct contact with the drifting flies. It’s imperative that you are always in touch with your nymphs, simple! When you are fishing for early season trout, I’d be looking to snag the riverbed with the flies a few times, that way, I know that I’m fishing down where the fish are. You don’t want to be hooking bottom too often, that’s not what nymphing is about, but early season, you’re forgiven! Get those flies down where the trout are and when you do get that take, hold on tight, it might be that fish of a lifetime!

The All-Rounder Nymph

As mentioned, I like to keep my flies basic, but of course, effective. Here’s a little nymph that I have been using for the last 15 years and in various destinations around the World, and I can assure you it works a treat. I like to tie it a little bigger for the early season, usually in 10’s and 12’s. This may seem large, but the trout are hungry and will take a fly of this size with gusto!

Try tying up some of your own: THE ALL ROUNDER NYMPH

Steven Cullen

Steve Cullen Fly Fishing

Steve Cullen YouTube Channel

You may also like