I guided Dan yesterday from noon-4pm. Dan has attended several of my wet fly tying classes and seminars, and now it was time to put those lessons into practice. We began in the Permanent TMA; there was no visible hatch activity, but we managed a swing and a miss before we connected with a gorgeous wild brown on the top dropper, a Squirrel and Ginger, in some faster water. (The current flow, 175cfs, is on the bottom end of ideal for wet flies. You’ve got a lot of fish looking up, but unless there is something going on subsurface, you’ll find your best action in the faster water, riffles, dump-ins, and pockets.) Next up was a mark below the PTMA that’s usually good for a fish or two. Sure enough, Dan scored a nicely colored brook trout on the point fly, a Hackled March Brown. We finished at another mark upstream, but couldn’t find any trout willing to jump on. It was kind of a funky afternoon, with a cold front coming through the night before, rain showers, and very little bug activity. So Dan did well with two in the hoop — great job, Dan! You’re on your way.
After our session, I decided to do a little experimenting. I was curious about the mark below the PTMA Dan and I hit earlier, so I started there with a team of three wet flies: Squirrel and Ginger on top, Partridge and Light Cahill middle, Hackled March Brown on point. This was about 4:30pm. It was slow. I managed a few bumps from smaller fish and two bigger brothers to net. When I left, creamy mayflies were just starting to show.
I headed a few miles downstream to walk a snotty run. It was just OK; I covered water, kept moving, and banged up a few fish. My wade brought me to an oddly-structured riffle that dumps into deeper water. It’s now about 5:30pm. Still no bugs in the air, but I began catching fish on wet flies in earnest. I wasn’t crazy good, but I was steadily connecting with fish with no bugs in the air and no visible risers. This is usually an indication that there is something good coming your way, namely a strong hatch. Now I could see creamy mayflies and sulphurs and an occasional March Brown. The surface began to simmer. I don’t often change flies on my wet fly team, but on a hunch I switched out the Hackled March Brown for a Pale Water Wingless, AKA The Magic Fly. The trout immediately demonstrated their approval.
I have no idea how many fish I landed before 7:15. (There’s a lull in these evening hatches, and it usually comes in the 7pm-7:30 time frame. It lasts about a half hour, and then the party resumes.) What intrigued me the most was that while I was fishing in a steady rain, the wet fly takes near the surface remained unaffected by the barrage of droplets. I doubt that if I was dry fly fishing I’d have had the same success.
Once you see duns being snapped off the surface, it’s time to switch to dry. So I did. The rain stopped, the hatch came back with a vengeance, and the feeding frenzy began building exponentially to its crescendo. I fished a mix of Usuals, the Magic Fly, and Catskills-style Light Cahills. All three produced multiple fish. Around 8:15 I tied into an obstreperous trout that immediately went on the reel. The way it peeled line and cartwheeled subsurface made me certain that I’d foul hooked it. Nope. It was just a pig of rainbow, powerful, spirited, and worthy of honorary steelhead status.
Fish were rising everywhere. I had two or three that were working less than a rod’s length away. There were so many bugs and so many feeders that it became a challenge to focus on a single area or trout. (I recommend you find an active feeder, observe its rhythm, and target that fish. If you go shotgun during an event like this, you can get lost in frantic shuffle.)
All good things must come to an end, and since it was long past the time when I could see my fly, I began the wade back. Of course, I fished along the way. Thwack! One more glutton nailed the Light Cahill. I lost the trout to a popped 5x tippet, no doubt compromised by a toothy mouth of gill plate.
This was the kind of night that you dream about during those dark winter days. You relish them because they don’t come along too often. I wish I were going back tonight, but duty calls on the home front. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go fishing tonight.
In fact, I think you should.