Winter has returned to the Catskills with a dusting of snow and a hearty blast of frigid temperatures. It was just midweek when I enjoyed a good long walk through the grouse woods with forty something degree sunshine and a glorious blue sky. Now the forecast maintains we won’t get above freezing for a while. It is back to the tying desk for me!
I have been working with a few new ideas off and on over the past year, always trying to capture a bit of life in the flies I offer to our wary wild trout. Often this amounts to a little pattern tinkering with the hope of improving a reliable design.
One such fly is a Green Drake dry fly I call the 100-Year Drake. The general idea was not my own, it was born of a chapter in an enjoyable book entitled “The Legendary Neversink”, edited by Justin Askins (Skyhorse Publishing 2007). There is a chapter in the book called “The 100-Year Fly”, authored by Phil Chase. It seems that Mr. Chase had been inspired by the early Theodore Gordon flies tied with a single clump of wood duck flank feather barbs, and had adapted that style to a parachute dry fly.
I had likewise studied Gordon’s style and, sometime after reading of Chase’s experiments, I began my own. I felt that the reclined wing style was particularly suited to the Green Drake duns that provide the most intense and thrilling angling of the year. There have been a number of variations on the theme in the seasons since I tied the first such flies, and it has been proven time and again on the Catskill rivers.
The 100-Year Drake is particularly suited to deceiving those big, educated brown trout that refuse or ignore all of the other drake imitations I might offer.
The new version retains many of the materials from my best previous ties: heavily barred wood duck, Charlie Collins’ Golden Grizzly hackle, dark pardo coq-de-leon split tails, and turkey biots in Green Drake or Cream colors. The enhancements involve a few tweaks I am trying to increase translucence, both with dubbed bodies and the biots. One of these fooled a heavy 22″ brown on a bright day late in the drake hatch, a fish who had ignored a lot of naturals that wiggled right through his window, to say nothing of a good dozen well presented imitations. Translucence is my watchword for fly design this season!
I have threatened to design another 100-Year Dun over the past few seasons, the March Brown being a prime candidate. This mayfly carries its wings slanted back as does the drake, so it seems to be begging to be tied in this style. Our March Brown hatches are quite variable from year to year, so it might take a few seasons to give the fly a proper trial by fire.
The strangest March Brown I have ever seen appeared on the Beaverkill this spring. The trout were ignoring the traditional amber and pale yellow colored flies, while taking the live duns heartily. As we were leaving, Mike Saylor picked one up, the only fly we captured that day. My best description would be “road sign yellow”. It had the heavily blotched wing one expects, and it carried them at a rearward slant, but they were the brightest mayflies I have ever encountered.
It wasn’t just a fluke that day, because I tied the monstrosity above and caught those fish for the duration of the hatch with that godawful bright yellow bodied comparadun and a similar parachute. I have seen this mayfly in amber (what I think of as caramel tan) and a pale tannish yellow, but never in day glo yellow. The flies looked very strange to us but the fish obviously weren’t put off by them, even showing selectivity to the bright color.
The new cricket has taken shape, after waiting impatiently for some 1mm razor foam to arrive via mail order. There are two color variations at this stage, and either one or both may win a place in the terrestrial box this summer. The decision is up to those “disappearing” trophy trout.
Though the winter fishing I have been doing has amounted to swinging soft hackles and little streamers, I have been rounding into dry fly mode at the bench. I keep hoping that the first taste of fishing a few of those dry flies isn’t going to be three and a half months away.
Last winter I ran into a few early black stoneflies hatching on the West Branch. I searched so hard for a rise I think I may even have hallucinated one; just one. I spent too many winters fishing limestone spring fed waters where there were fish rising all winter to midges, little blue-winged olives, and some of those same black stoneflies. The water in our Catskill rivers is a bit colder, and I have yet to encounter a midge hatch. Still there is hope with a more stable flow regime so far this winter.
Last weekend we had a couple of days that warmed up to the low sixties. This was warm air, as it was windy with heavy cloud cover most of the time. The tailwaters jumped from 35 degrees to 43 degrees, so I can’t help but imagine what might happen if another little zephyr of unseasonable warm air wafts through accompanied by some sunshine.
Maybe I should get to tying a few midges and stoneflies…