I didn’t want to do it, really I didn’t. I was tired, dog tired after a long day on the river. Sitting in the sunshine on my porch last evening I nearly fell asleep while the burgers were grilling. Man that sun felt good! The sunshine, a cold Summer Ale, and that lovely September light making the landscape glow; it was almost a perfect scenario to take a little nap, except I didn’t want to burn dinner. The last thing I wanted to do was to tie flies, flies I can’t even see!
I got caught again, caught on a roller coaster sort of day when I thought I was prepared. The sun came out bright yesterday, and the tricos fired up early. The trout got right into their routine. I offered an assortment of frauds but they happily fed on naturals and ignored them, until suddenly they were done. I finally caught a smallish fish on a beetle, as if that was going to save face after my tricos were ignored for an hour.
Some weather passed over the mountains and we got a few clouds, and then I began to see soft rises around the pool. I stared at the water, seeing nothing, then tried an ant, then a small beetle, then stared some more. The rises were regular, and there were a lot of them, and I still couldn’t see anything but bits of plant matter in the film. One little bubble encrusted blob seemed to move, but it washed through my grasping fingers. I thought I had seen a tinge of green.
Digging through the minimal selection of flies in my chest pack, I came up with a size 22 CDC olive and knotted it to the 6X tippet. The trout were cruising somewhat in the deep, flat water, so I did my best to make quick casts with Downsie’s Garrison four weight, trying to put that tiny fly in front of each cruiser. Eventually a trout and I synched up and he sucked it in.
I made that slow, calm gently tightening hookset that tiny flies require, something that’s hard to do after a couple of hours of being snubbed by feeding trout, and the gentle arch of the bamboo absorbed his surprised reaction. It was a nice fish, eighteen inches once I had enjoyed his runs and the notes of the old Hardy and led him into the net, that tiny speck of a fly tight in the side of his lip. One firm twist and he was ready to go.
There isn’t a heck of a lot of CDC in the wing of a fly that size, and once it gets full of fish slime its tough to keep it floating, particularly when you’re making a lot of downstream casts and stripping it back upstream, soaking it thoroughly each time. It was time to retire that fly.
I had tied a couple of size 22 Flick olives, pretty, dainty little flies with rusty dun hackles and olive 14/0 thread for the body. Art Flick is a Catskill legend: fly tier, author and cataloguer of hatches, guide, tavern owner and grouse hunter extraordinaire. He knew that there was no reason to sweat it out trying to build a lot of parts into a dry fly tied on a size 20 or smaller hook. His BWO pattern used a few hackle fibers for a tail, a lightly dubbed body, and a few turns of stiff cock’s hackle over the thorax to represent the wings and legs and to keep it afloat. Simplicity as art!
Even with relatively good daylight, I had to strain to find that little fly when it landed on the surface, a task that proved fruitless out past forty feet. When you can’t see your fly and track it right into the ring of a trout’s rise, the guessing game begins, and there are penalties when you guess wrong. Tighten up to a rise when you’re guessing, and you might hook that trout, but you might spook it and end the game.
I tracked that little fly right into a rise and tightened, happy to feel the lithe rod throbbing with life, and brought another eighteen inch brownie to the net. A little bit of breeze started, just to make the game more difficult, lest I have too much fun. The Red Gods seem committed to the idea that fly fishers shouldn’t be allowed to have too much fun. Still, I was able to fool an even better trout with that little Flick olive. That heavy nineteen incher gave a fine account of himself against the bend of the Garrison and the smooth old Hardy spring and pawl, and I was happy to admire him for a moment as I twisted the fly free, then sent him on his way.
My little invisible “hatch” ended when the wind decided to blow a bit harder, or at least the trout stopped rising to it, so I waited awhile for the next change. Things calmed down nicely in a few minutes and I began to see a few more rises upstream. I figured the wind should have loosed some terrestrials from their hold on the native vegetation, and the rises I saw supported my conclusion; some soft, some noticeably harder. Back to the Grizzly Beetle.
I love bank feeders, and I started looking hard for one. The picture above shows how hard they can be to spot, and it was taken at close range during a heavy hatch. A bank feeder sampling a hatch usually rises fairly regularly, not so those taking terrestrials. Ants, beetles, flies, etc. don’t show up in numbers, there is no steady parade past a trout’s holding lie. He has to be in the mood to take one when all the vagaries of nature come together and deliver one to his doorstep.
I didn’t spot any bank feeders. The rises I saw after the wind subsided were hit and miss rises, typical of terrestrial feeding trout in open water. They appear when they appear, when a morsel floats by close enough to draw the fish’s intertest, and you fish them by covering the area where you spot a rise. You have to concentrate, because you are casting to moving fish, and they aren’t always where you expect them to be. Sometimes you will see a trout turn and follow a fly downstream, looking it over. If it looks edible and floats clean, he just might take it. If it starts to drag, he’ll either blow up on it without taking, or simply turn away. I had a few of each of those adventures played out over the next hour.
The cloud cover became heavier as the afternoon progressed, and after the terrestrial bite ceased, it became beautifully calm. The pool morphed into a dark mirror as the slate colored clouds blanketed the sky, and those soft rises started up once again.
Within a few minutes there were a lot of fish rising, this time generally staying put rather than cruising. That told me there was a lot of something on the water. Naturally I tied the Flick olive back on and started casting, and naturally it was summarily ignored. Time to stare at the water again, and stare, and stare. The dark sky made it even harder to see them, but eventually I saw something and pinched it with a quick dip of my fingers. Flying ants, tiny black flying ants, and with more than a dozen trout rising steadily, there had to be a lot of them.
Not long ago I recalled the story of running into an ant fall on the river several years ago. The ants were a size 22 and my smallest imitations were size 20. The trout clearly recognized the “right” size from the wrong size that day. Of course I tied some size 22 flying ants and keep them with me all summer. This afternoon, my size 22 flying ants looked just a little bigger than the naturals, better imitated with a size 24. Like I said, I didn’t want to tie any size 24 ants last night. I was tired and I knew that if I tied them I would likely carry them around for five years before I saw another ant fall. I also knew that if I didn’t tie them, I would run into another fall today.