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For us fly fishermen a sure sign of spring is Hendrickson duns floating down our favorite trout streams.
In the Upper Delaware system this activity is just getting going. Recently I have been seeing the number of insects on our local waters increasing daily. Over the last few days my clients have finally had the opportunity to cast the dry fly to some rising fish and several have come to net.
Overall the conditions are not optimum. There is still a lot of water draining from our mountains, and both Cannonsville and Pepacton reservoirs are overflowing. This high water is receding slowly, so it will still be some time until wade anglers can access many of their favorite fly-fishing pools. For the time being, wade anglers will have to settle for shallow-water wading and hunting for trout that are going about their business in the shallow flats or the tails of the larger pools.
For those of you who like to fish from drift boats. there is far more opportunity during this current high-water period. If you do have the opportunity to get out for a drift boat trip, it is still important to target the sections of river that contain the slowest water. The slow eddies are about the only place that the trout can feed efficiently at the current river stage.
In the next few weeks, anglers can expect to see some great hatches of mayflies and caddisflies. The mayflies that will bring fish to the surface will be a mix of blue quills, quill Gordons and Hendricksons. We should also expect to see the super-heavy hatch of the apple caddis. This prolific insect shows up every year in early May and fills the air with enough insects that the spectacle resembles a blizzard snowstorm. Anglers can expect to find the best concentrations of these early-season insects in areas of the river with slow water and small, uniformly shaped river cobble.
While early-season trout by nature are opportunistic feeders, they will show some favoritism toward the emerging mayflies. This selective feeding behavior is due to mayflies being less active on the water. Most of these insects also float a long distance before taking flight. For the trout, they are a far easier meal to collect.
When considering fly choice for these early season hatches I am always looking for a dry-fly pattern that sells the illusion of vulnerability. Flies that fit this criterion are parachute dries, CDC knock-down duns, hackled cripples and spinners. These pattern styles sit low in the water and convey the message of helplessness. This is the trigger that brings the trout to your fly.
I also like the same approach to fly choice during the days when the apple caddis cover the water. Cripple and spent-wing patterns should seal the deal. I also like to oversize my pattern to make it stand out among the millions of natural insects. My favorite flies for this hatch are the CDC-x caddis, hackle-wing spent caddis and the iris caddis. All sit low in the water and look like an easy meal.
Under the current river conditions, streamer fishing is the best choice for the non-hatch periods of the day. On all my recent trips I have been rigging several stout rods with baitfish imitations. I always like to have a few patterns that behave differently in the water ready to go. Most days I want to have both a small and large baitfish pattern made with soft fly-tying materials like marabou or rabbit strips. These patterns can be fished deep and slow, yet the materials naturally breathe and undulate in the water’s current. I also want to have similar size patterns made from more rigid materials such as hackle, schlappen or synthetic wing material. These stiffer materials are far better at imitating injured baitfish that are helplessly caught in the current. These patterns are best fished actively with sharp strips of the fly line accompanied by long pauses. Both styles should be carried in several colors, and normally I have white, black, olive, brown and two-toned patterns. The old advice of light-color fly on bright days and dark flies on dark days are still a good starting point for fly choice. Some of the year’s biggest trout fall victim to streamer flies fished in the early season high water!
Wade safe and tight lines.