Tying Hendricksons

The annual ritual begins…

I began my off season fly tying today, with the first session of a little annual ritual of mine: tying Hendricksons. It’s not that I have an urgent need for them you understand, for I have one of those Plano Stowaway storage boxes just for my Hendrickson patterns, and it is full. These are not vest size fly boxes, they are something like 7″ x 11″ and more than an inch and a half deep. Eighteen compartments stuffed to the top with everything from classic Catskill ties to a range of CDC emergers, cripples, and drowned duns; and yes, I am tying more. I do it every year.

There is something about the Hendrickson hatch, mainly that it is the first really heavy hatch of large mayflies each spring. It is without question the event that brings the big trout to the surface for the first time and kicks off my favorite time of year: dry fly season! My anticipation begins sometime in May, when the last of the current season’s Hendrickson duns have hatched, and the last of their spinners have been sipped by the happy trout of my Catskill rivers: only eleven more months until the next Hendrickson hatch!

The result of this obsession is, well, considering buying another Stowaway box to be marked Hendricksons since I can’t get any more flies in the first one. My mind is always working on fly designs. Nature’s little puzzles, and how to solve them with some new material or technique, are being sifted through and analyzed somewhere in the back room of my brain throughout the year. April is coming you know.

This afternoon’s obsession: big, brick red duns for the early hatch come April: the Jave Quill 100-Year Dun is the new pattern; the dubbed CDC comparadun is an old standby, tied with a recent dubbing blend!

I don’t go crazy and tie dozens of them at a time. I work out ideas a few flies at a time. I have blended my own dubbings to match hatches for thirty years. I have a blend of pure Red Fox fur for classic Catskill Hendricksons, my original sparkle blend that I color matched to flies tied by Mary Dette, a blend I call pink enhanced, and the Beaverkill Hendrickson blend I used today.

This afternoon I was thinking about the jave quill prototype I tied some weeks ago, and I decided it was time to put a few by for spring. I tied three of those and three CDC comparaduns, half a dozen flies. That’s not a lot, but its an important first step toward wading into the roiling river next April, fighting to hold my position in the high, fast water, and searching the pool for hatching duns, and that first heavy rise.

As I work my way through the winter, there will be more of each of these flies added to the box. I’ll start pill bottles for a couple of my best friends, to make sure they have the right flies when they join me: fighting 1,000 cfs of current in an attempt to bring the first twenty inch or better brown trout to the net. I am hoping and praying that we will all be vaccinated and free from the scourge of Coronavirus well before I begin watching river temperatures on April 1st.

Sights like this one will haunt my dreams for the next five months!

If you look closely at the photo, you will begin to understand why I have tied so many different Hendrickson patterns over the years. Notice there are fully emerged duns sitting on the surface, some that are half way up and half way down below the film, others that are spent with wings apart or wings together, crumpled and crippled duns, nymphs with enough gas to float on the surface, but not enough to break open their shuck and emerge. There are size variations and color variations – and all of these permutations of the Hendrickson mayfly offer opportunities for selective feeding to our friend the trout. Believe me that the trout will take full advantage of them!

If you have fished the hatch on several occasions I have no doubt that you have enjoyed watching a fine fish rise repeatedly at close quarters, inhaling bug after bug while you employ your most artful presentation of exactly what you see on the water, and have your fly ignored. You pick up a bug or two, change patterns, and repeat the performance with the same result. Undaunted, you chose a size smaller fly, tie on a lighter and longer tippet, perhaps shift your casting position just a bit to offer an even more perfect drift… It is amazing how much time one can spend upon a single insufferable trout; and never catch it.

There are other days. Days when you grab a size 12 Catskill Hendrickson pattern, tie it to your 4X tippet, make a cast, and catch a trout. Another cast to a splash in the riffle before you brings another trout to hand; and so it goes. When you return tomorrow afternoon, smug in your uncanny prowess as an angler, and cast that same fly on the same riffle, you will likely find an experience similar to the one first mentioned. You end up with a size 18 Red Quill thorax tie with red eyeballs painted on the thread head and exactly three hackle fibers on each side of the perfectly shaped cut wing to mimic the naturals six legs, cast perfectly in the correct line of drift, while your trout leisurely sips duns an inch to either side of your fly!

The Hendricksons are special. They offer sublime challenge and reward, as well as abject failure and frustration. The hatch keeps us coming back each spring, armed with new patterns, new tackle, new ideas. Some work for us, on some days marvelously so, and some do not. Through it all we are enriched in our experiences, savoring both the banner days and the frustrating ones, for they are all part of the game.

Did I mention that I tied some Hendricksons today? Yep, April is coming!

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