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Trout Lilies: the fisherman's flower

Updated: Sep 17, 2022

It's a cold January day here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and they are forecasting snow in a couple days. For me brooke trout are my absolute favorite fish and currently on my mind. What I like in the winter is staying absolutely warm. however, trout or no trout. Brooke trout spawn in the Fall and I choose not to fly fish for them after the beginning of October. I wait until some warmer days are around before I wade up these little streams in search of my ice cold water quarry. The fish, like me, move slowly and I feel like we both stumble our way up the stream in March. There's usually not much for hatches going on, perhaps the afternoon small black caddis, nothing consistent enough to fish with any regularity.

As the days lengthen and March turns to April you can start to see the forest come back to life. Budding branches are here and there, and splotches of green are coming out. Mixed in with this greenery are all kinds of wildflowers. Since I spend a lot of time on the mountain streams I have begun to learn more of these flowers and their names. Of course I love the story of the Bloodroot, and it is easily recognizable white flowers. Trillium, the state flower, dots hillsides later on in the spring. One flower in particular has become my personal favorite.

The tiny yellow orchid know as the trout lily, or some people might refer to them as yellow dog toothed violet. This plant is indeed an orchid, and blooms usually late March to mid April depending on the temperature. But the temperature is what is so critical to this flower and us fisherman. When the ground temperature warms to the right degree this plant's bulb (remember, orchid) develops and send out it's leaves and eventually a single stem with a yellow flower. While very pretty, it indicates that the ground temperature, and the water coming from the ground and into the streams is a certain temperature. This warms the stream and starts to stimulate more insect life. This then triggers the fish to start to eat more. You will likely start to see regular hatches of March Browns at this point, and fish become more aggressive in general to dry flies as they stake out the best feeding lanes.

While we are still in the midst of winter, now might be a good time to brush up on some wildflowers. They aren't just a pretty thing to notice in the woods, the might be able to tell you about the fishing, too. Or at least, you might watch where you step a little more.


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