Trout Candy/Late May 2017
As of this moment Im sitting at the desk watching the rain fall outside. Ive been at the vise furiously cranking out Green and Yellow Drake patterns on size 10 3x long dry fly hooks every free chance I get. Ive been slipping out at night looking for these gigantic burrower mayflies that have a tendency to make large trout careless. Bad news for me is I have yet to hit the hatch on a river with fish large enough to eat them; good news for you, they haven't come and gone at the time of this writing. From the title Im sure you are assuming by now that I mean't the big juicy Drakes when I wrote "trout candy" but in fact the Drakes are a steak. These things are no snack but a meal in one gulp. Whether or not they show, or Im on the water at the right time is yet to be seen. The Drakes are a beautiful, mythical, mysterious, ephemeral, dark of night, magical, unreliable, frustrating, infuriating, sleep depriving, emotional roller coaster of a hatch. Do you remember that exciting, way out of your league, girl you dated for a short time in your early twenties? The one all your friends high-fived you about at first and later told you to get away from as fast as you can? Well then you understand a Drake hatch.
The next week or two will prove whether or not they show this year. The best day I had on them last year was a random low water, mid-afternoon booking during the heat of the day that I was sure was going to be a skunk. Then out of nowhere she showed up. She was fun and fast, and didn't stay for long, but we caught fish that afternoon on large Drake emergers and walked back to the car grinning about what we were able to stumble upon. But enough about the Drakes, she's a wild ride and shows up when she wants and splits town just as soon.
Lets talk about a more overlooked but reliable "hatch." There was once an old man who I used to watch fish the Davidson with great success with a bamboo rod and a single pattern throughout the summer. We would speak after a day of fishing or after clients had left the river for appointments or engagements and I would stick around to catch a few myself. He would always ask what I caught them on, knowing full well it wasn't going to meet his standards. He was a dry fly fisherman. A dyed in the wool purist and believed trout deserved the respite of the deep. I would always answer anyway and wait for his snarl before asking what he was catching them on. It was always the same. He fished the days (or at least the days I saw him fishing) from June to September. I can not recall seeing him during the early spring or late fall, though I am sure he was somewhere chasing a may fly hatch at that time.
He fished the same fly everyday because during the summer months...well you can do that. He has been gone from the river and this earth for a few years now. The last I saw him he was wandering about a fly shop on a walker and wearing a fishing vest. Though he has passed the river flows on and the trout he once pursued have not changed their habit of sipping ants that fall from the over hanging branches of rhododendron on the Davidson River.
Ants make up a very large portion of the diet of a trout during the summer months along with other terrestrials such as beetles and inchworms. A random caddis may find its way into the maul of a big brown as well but by and large the bulk of the biomass available to summer trout is in the form of an ant. Trout seem to have a strong affinity for these little formic acid filled sour treats. Ive been told they like the acidic taste, but Im more inclined to believe its the availability and helplessness of the food form that lends to such a sustained sight picture in the mind of summer trout.
Ants can be fished both dry and wet, but a tight accurate cast under over hanging trees is the real key to success with this fly. Windy days are best and holding one's cast until the wind passes, and the short lived but voracious frenzy that ensues downstream of the nearest leafy branch begins, is a good tactic to follow. The bugs can range in size from a 22 to a 12, but a mid range 16 or 18 will usually suffice. Blind casting to likely spots can also be productive and of course if you are nymph fishing then have a sunken ant pattern somewhere in your brace.
Activity usually does not start until the first rays of the sun begin to warm the tops of the trees and the morning mist has burned from the river. By late evening toward dusk the ant bite is just about over. This is mid-day fishing and as such requires a cool wet summer in order to have enough water in the river to justify chasing a cold water species.
It appears that we will have such a year.