Photo courtesty of Dave ScottFifth Season
Every angler has his secrets. For some it might be a coveted, hot fly pattern. For others it might be a secret, nameless creek tucked deep in the high country. For me though, it’s a secret time of year that I’ve come to dub as “Fifth Season”. Fifth season is that special time of year between winter and spring. It’s a true tweener season when the bitter cold days of winter are gone, leaving the river’s edge filled with crusty, melted and refrozen snow lingering around in select shaded areas but before the green of spring hits the trees, grass and surrounding foliage.
When you live year round in a small mountain town where skiing and snow dominate the landscape for nearly a third of the year, it’s always a welcome sight to finally have days where you can drive with your arm out the window, turn up the radio and simply go play outside in the sun. A trigger hits my brain calling out to me, “Just go fishing you idiot!” And so I do. Mother Nature is a powerful element that is not to be overlooked. Perhaps at no other time of year am I as excited to go fishing as that which takes place during my coveted and overlooked fifth season. The skiers and ski instructors who later turn into anglers and fishing guides are still on the mountains. They don’t flock to the rivers and come out of fishing hibernation until the mountains close in mid April. Fifth season generally takes place during an eight week period from mid February until mid April.
Photo courtest of Cory DeKoster
Many exciting changes begin to take place at this time of year. The fish gradually begin to move out of their usual deep and slow wintering pools and make the transition to swifter and shallower pieces of water. With daylight lengthening the rivers begin to warm and both fish and insect activity increase exponentially.
Being a dry fly junkie, spring to me officially begins when the first heavy midge hatches take place on the banks of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers. Having not seen a rising fish on either of these two rivers for the past four months, it’s a much needed and welcomed sight. The excitement of casting to methodically rising fish is nothing short of exhilarating! My blood starts pumping and I get the shakes trying to thread on the first midge adult dry fly on the end of my line to kick start the fishing for the upcoming spring and summer months. I live for moments like this. Beautiful surroundings, rising fish, ideal weather and a serious lack of crowds are the hallmarks of my fifth season.
The “March Midge Madness” hits high gear during fifth season. On both of these two fisheries the midge hatch begins during late mornings. This is the time of day when the fish make the transition into the riffles and heads of pools gorging on the now abundant midge pupa and emergers. Shallow nymph or dry/dropper rigs are best for this situation. By midday, fish will be seen rising to midge adults near the banks, often on the inside seams. Again, dry/dropper setups are effective in this scenario but being the dry fly snob that I am, I prefer to just stick it out with a single or tandem midge dry fly rig. After four months of fishing sinking flies, by God if I’m going to catch fish it’s going to be on the surface!
Photo courtesy of Nick Williams
My favorite hatch to fish throughout the entire year is the evening midge hatch that occurs on the lower Roaring Fork below Carbondale and especially on the Colorado River below Glenwood Springs. This hatch occurs right at dusk but is one of the few hatches where seemingly every fish in the river is on the surface rising. It’s a short 30-45 minute hatch but is nothing short of phenomenal and is just a downright cool spectacle to see unfold in front of your own eyes. The fish of the lower Colorado can only be described and hot and pissed off, much like a fresh steelhead coming out of the ocean. These fish jump wildly when hooked unlike the slow and sluggish fights that are common with them during December and January. It’s as if these fish are also equally excited for the upcoming warm months as much as I am.
The annual return of the blue wing olive mayfly also makes its presence known during fifth season. From mid March to mid April these diminutive mayflies seem as big as a green drake after looking at tiny midges all winter long. Both midges and blue wing olives can hatch during the same time frame. Generally speaking the fish will key in on midges during bright, sunny days and will prefer the bwo’s during periods of overcast and humidity. As these two insects will often be seen hatching together, I prefer to fish crossover patterns that could imitate either of the two in a generic, nondescript sort of way. That was a long winded way of saying that I simply prefer to fish impressionistic dry flies. Old school favorites like Roy Palm’s Special Emerger (aka the Frying Pan Emerger) are killer. New school versions such as the CDC Transitional Midge or Engle’s Emergent Midge are equally effective.
Photo courtesty of Kirk Webb
Each and every year we’re seeing an increasing number of anglers that are taking notice of this unique and special time of year. Our guide and shop staff welcomes you to find out for yourself why fifth season is heralded as our secret season.
Written by Kirk Webb at Taylor Creek Fly Shop. For more great articles subscribe to our newsletters on http://www.taylorcreek.com/