Fly fishing can be done year-round provided one is prepared for the colder weather. The fly fishing season starts when trout can be caught on artificial flies that resemble insects or other food sources such as baitfish.
The best time to go fishing is between April and October, although it's a year-round activity for fly fishers willing to brave the cold. Furthermore, since there are so many warm-weather destinations, fly fishing may be done all year long.
Fly fishing typically requires a tremendous amount of patience, determination, and endurance at any time of year. Often, little activity takes place until sunrise or until a warming trend occurs. In this article, we’ll look at the optimum seasons for trout, steelhead, and other species.
US Trout Season
Fly fishing for trout is typically done in the US from April 1 - September 15. The state of Utah, for example (which has a multitude of streams and lakes) opens its trout season on the fourth Saturday in April, which runs until September 15.
In the United States, late spring is when trout are easiest to catch, especially if you're seeking larger fish. As it gets warmer, the more fishing pressure from other anglers, the thicker the grass and brush surrounding their habitats get, and the lower the water levels.
Trout season varies from state to state. For example, California's trout season begins on the last Saturday in April (dubbed "Fishmas") and lasts through November 15th every year.
Common trout seasons in various states:
- Arkansas: Year-round
- Colorado: Year-round
- Connecticut: 2nd Saturday in April – last day in February
- Idaho: Year-round, with small lakes and streams open May 24 through November 30.
- Illinois: Year-round in most areas
Some states have a year-round trout season for trout, while some states begin their seasons in April and end in September or October. It is important to check your state's fishing regulations before fly fishing because even though certain states may have a year-round season, there are still creel and size limits that must be adhered to.
Fly Fishing at High Altitudes
At higher altitudes, the trout season starts later and ends earlier than it does at sea level. For example, the Colorado Division of Wildlife notes that the upper limit for winter fly fishing is typically 9,000 feet above sea level as opposed to 10,000 or 11,000 feet above sea level during the summer months due to snowmelt runoff.
When considering when to go fly fishing in general, it may help one decide what type of fish to catch, what type of flies to catch them on, and where.
For example, if one goes fly fishing for trout in April in a place like Colorado, there is a good chance they will be catching rainbow trout. If it's the tail-end of snowmelt runoff, water levels are ideally low, so that may be another deciding factor as well.
However, if it's early May on the tail-end of snowmelt runoff with high water levels and someone is looking for brook trout or cutthroat trout, then perhaps fly fishing later in the month might provide better results.
By June or July, depending on location, some people start targeting brown trout. In contrast, others switch their targets to rainbows since adult browns are usually in the backcountry at that time.
When following state regulations for when trout seasons begin and end, one should keep in mind that other fish species are involved as well, including other members of the salmon family such as char and grayling (which may be all but nonexistent depending on location).
US Steelhead Season
In the month of June, steelhead migrate through the lower Columbia and don't appear in the Clearwater until October. Steelhead season peaks in October through March. A harsh winter may slow down fishing activity, but fish will be present all winter long.
Winter steelhead fishing is done by wading and nymphing or streamer fly fishing. Winter steelhead fishing can be challenging, but it can provide some of the most exciting and successful wintertime fishing available if you're successful.
Top Spots for Fall/Winter Steelhead
Fishing for Steelhead in the fall and winter can be done in most areas, but there are a few specific spots that make for excellent steelhead fishing during these months.
- Delaware River, New York – The Delaware River is one of the most technical dry fly fisheries in the world. If you're in the east and want to get the most out of your trip, this may be the ideal option for you.
- Oswego River, New York – This popular stretch of water is home to numerous migratory fish species and significant runs of steelhead. It's an excellent winter trip because it generally takes place September through May.
- Bogachiel River, Washington–If you're in the Pacific Northwest during the winter season, this might be an excellent location to visit. The winter run is rather large and lacks the congestion of other waterways.
- Cowlitz River, Washington – The Cowlitz in the drainage of Rainier, which offers both summer and winter steelhead, is Washington's biggest hatchery steelhead producer. This is an ideal spot at any time of the year due to the plethora of targets.
- Twenty Mile Creek, Pennsylvania - This creek just over the boarder into PA from NY is a winter steelhead tributary of Lake Erie. Late September through February are great times to fish this steelhead treasure trove.
To find other specifics on steelhead season in the area of your choice, consult local organizations or state fishing organizations.
Other Fly Fishing Species such as Tarpon, Carp, Bass
In addition to trout and steelhead, many other species of fish can be caught on fly. As mentioned above, various members of the salmonid family are an exciting target for many fly fishermen across the country.
Tarpon is a popular catch for anglers in Florida and throughout coastal regions in the southern US. For example, Texas is home to numerous tarpon fisheries, including Corpus Christi Bay, Port Aransas, and Sabine Lake/Calcasieu Lake.
The Florida Keys are still the world's most popular tarpon fishing destination, and Islamorada is the fishery's core. Live bait and conventional gear are used to target big tarpon around the bridges.
Tarpon are most frequently captured from the beachfront in the Gulf of Mexico. Southern Texas offers the most significant number of tarpon fishing opportunities and a variety of specialists that specialize in tarpon fishing.
Carp can be caught all year long in most parts of the United States but are typically fished during the spring months. Carp are typically very energetic in the morning, especially during the warmer summer months.
In the mornings, you'll frequently observe carp swimming about in the shallows and leaping throughout the pond or lake. The first few hours of daylight represent some great fishing conditions. Carp may be caught both shallow and deep in the morning.
Bass season depends on location and what type of bass one is trying to catch. Every season has its own set of possibilities and difficulties when it comes to catching bass. Fishing can be exciting any time of year, but spring and fall are typically the most active.
Largemouth bass spawn throughout the winter in the southern parts of the United States and during early spring in the northern regions. Water temperature is the most significant factor influencing spawning activity.
US Fly Fishing by Season
Fly fishing can be done year-round, and depending on the season, the best times to go are different. Species of fish vary in different seasons. Fly fishing is not limited to any one season or location. Explore different places, seasons, and fish all year round!
Winter Fly Fishing
Winter fly fishing seasons in the US generally depend on what state you're in and where you choose to go. In general, winter is a great time for coastal steelhead, but inland steelheads will be present as well. If one does not mind less-than-ideal weather, then spending some time midwinter might provide excellent results!
Even on the coldest trout streams, there are frequent insect hatches. While you won't find big bugs, dry-fly fishing to trout rising to midges may be quite thrilling when winter quiets the river. In the fall and winter, you'll want to use midges, mayflies, and caddis patterns.
Spring Fly Fishing
Generally, from March until May depending on region, springtime provides opportunities for trout enthusiasts to catch larger fish with more frequency than during summer months when size limits may restrict them.
The most reliant on fly selection time of the four seasons you fish is spring. Flies such as midges, caddis, mayflies, and stoneflies are all important participants in the game of fly selecting.
Summer Fly Fishing
This is generally considered one of the best times to go fly fishing. It provides great opportunities for species like brown trout and salmon to be caught. However, it can be extremely hot depending on location or subregion (e.g., desert), so one should always keep hydration in mind!
Some locations may also deal with issues such as low water due to drought conditions which may limit opportunity, but this shouldn't stifle your desire to go fishing. In the summer, the majority of the time, the hatches will be:
- Mayflies, and
Nymphs, wet flies, emergers, spinners, and terrestrial insects can all be present. When water temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, shaded oxygenated riffles are frequently trout feeding hotspots.
Fall Fly Fishing
From autumn until winter, fly fishing offers an excellent change of pace from summertime activities. Autumn brings many things, including changing foliage, migrations, spawning fish, and relaxed regulations (where allowed). Although fall is generally good weather-wise compared to winter months, precipitation can become an issue, so be prepared!
Every fall, when the water is at its lowest, there is a period of trout fishing on most streams that rivals the best hatches of spring.
What Months Are Best for Trout Fishing?
In the late spring and early summer, trout are most active. The best time to fish for trout is during the height of the season, which runs from April through mid-September. With each passing day, water temperatures climb higher and higher, as does fishing pressure. Fly fishing for trout is typically done in the US from April 1 - September 15.
Peak times for fly fishing in general, as already mentioned, are spring and summer. These seasons coincide with good weather and warm water temperatures that encourage insect hatches, which in turn feed trout. As a result, these seasons offer the best opportunity to catch trout of all skill levels.
Can You Go Fly Fishing in the Winter?
Fly fishing in the winter is dependent on location. Some areas may have access to warm springs or streams that never freeze over, thus providing opportunities for winter fly fishing. However, these are few and far between, so one must be extremely dedicated! Many anglers enjoy ice fishing in the winter as well--an activity that can yield both trout and panfish depending on where you are located.
You can go fly fishing almost any time of the year because some places offer opportunities year-round. For example, there are many species available to target throughout the US, including bass, trout, salmon, carp, etc., not all of which are present throughout the entire country. Thus it is important to research your specific location.
What Time of Year Is Best for Fly Fishing?
The fishing season for trout peaks between April and October. Fly fishermen who are prepared to endure the cold may engage in the sport all year long, although it is technically a year-round activity for them. In the midwestern United States, fly fishing for trout in fall months can be excellent as well. Spring is a particularly entertaining season for trout fishing because of the mass spawning that occurs.
Fly fishing is a year-round sport, but you’ll have the most success if you go during spring and summer. There are plenty of opportunities to fly fish in the warm weather months, wherever your destination may be!
Fly fishing is a great sport and an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. Whether you're looking for a relaxing day on the water, an exciting adventure, or want to hone your skills while catching dinner--the spring and summer months offer plenty of chances to do it all!
Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.
By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.
When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there.