During the first week of April, I went out in search of some blue-winged olives. The weather here in Utah was warm enough for bugs, cloudy, and it’s just that time of year.
I ended up on the Green River, fishing with my buddy Ryan (while maintaining proper social distancing protocols, of course). We floated down the first seven miles of the river below Flaming Gorge Dam, fishing through a spring snowstorm that passed and left a windless, cloudy sky in its wake.
That’s when the fishing just turned on. For the next few hours, I netted fish after fish while Ryan shot video and stills. I don’t remember how many I caught, and frankly, I don’t really care. I wanted to fish a great BWO hatch, and that’s exactly what happened.
Now, I’m fortunate enough to live near rivers where hatches like that aren’t a once-every-few-years kind of trip. The Green is in my backyard, and the Provo River – 20 minutes from my house – has some stellar BWO hatches as well.
I think everyone should experience a great BWO hatch at some point. It’s the first real sign that spring is here, and the bitingly cold days of fishing midges in winter are gone. I think the fish are as excited as we are when they see the first BWOs of spring.
Not all BWO hatches are created equal, though. And after a long winter, it’s normal to want a truly epic trip to start off your year. So if you’re looking for some of the best BWO fishing in the country, this list of rivers is a great place to start planning your trip.
#5. The Frying Pan
The Pan is a frustratingly fantastic fishery. It’s where I caught my personal best trout on a fly rod (27-inch, 7.5 pound rainbow), and where I’ve lost countless other fish hovering near that coveted 30-inch mark. I’ve also spent mornings there genuinely worried I’d freeze to death.
The Pan gets crowded, and that puts a damper on the fishing. But if you’re there during a mid-March snowstorm and happen to find a few bends to yourself, you’re in for a treat. While most of the fish in the Pan aren’t huge, the possibility for a monster is there. #4. San Juan
Much has been written, and even more speculated, about the San Juan River in New Mexico. It’s either a paradise or a purgatory, depending on who you ask. But it is unquestionably a fantastic dry fly fishery that presents some of the country’s best walk-and-wade opportunities for catching big fish.
Like all big-time rivers, the San Juan gets crowded, but it’s large enough you’ll find room for your own day or two on the water. #3. The Madison
The first time I ever fished the Madison River was with Matt Barber and Joel Doub, the current owners of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths. We floated a stretch close to Bozeman during the Mother’s Day caddis hatch. The fishing wasn’t fantastic – we floated in the evening and I suspect the trout were either full, or tired of being stuck by hooks, or perhaps both – but it’s easy to see why the Madison draws so many anglers year after year. Its blue-wing hatches aren’t as famous as the Mother’s Day caddis, but in my opinion, they offer slightly better fishing. #2. Henry’s Fork
The Henry’s is the 1963 split-window Corvette of the fly fishing world. The split-window Vette was only built for one model year, and we never again saw that exact stingray body style.
There’s only one Henry’s Fork, and no other river is quite as revered as this stretch of the Snake in Idaho. Plus, it has the added bonus of being known for fantastic dry fly fishing. From March through the middle of May, the blue-wings hatch in prolific numbers. The anglers do too, although you can usually find enough to call your own on the Henry’s. #1. Green River
The Green is my favorite river, but it’s not number one on this list because of that. The hatches on the section below Flaming Gorge Dam are nothing short of spectacular. I’ve seen literal “blanket hatches” where the blue-wings are a carpet across eddies and slacks. Fish rise and eat mouthfuls of the bugs, and it gives a bit of credibility to the notion that sometimes a hatch really can be too good.
The stretch below Fontenelle, in Wyoming, has great hatches too. But there’s almost nowhere in the world that can beat the Flaming Gorge stretch that’s home to around 11,000 fish per mile, with an average size around 16 inches. There are times during spring BWO hatches that it looks and feels like every fish in the river is rising in unison to the big mayflies. If I had to pick just one place to fish spring blue-wings, it’d be the Green below Flaming Gorge.
A stellar spring BWO hatch is a must-have experience for any fly angler. A trip to any of these rivers will deliver on that front. Words and photos from Spencer Durrant
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a regular contributor for Hatch Magazine. Connect with Spencer on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.