Ladies of the Morning

Tricos massed on a summer morning.

Rise early, not long behind the sun, and take the road to a favorite pool; for the ladies of the morning are waiting!

In the limestone country of Pennsylvania they were first called Caenis, the tiny ephemera the English had dubbed the white curse. It was George Harvey, Penn State’s great teacher of fly fishing, that identified them properly as Tricorythodes when he angled with these ladies of the morning on Falling Spring Branch. Harvey was teaching at Penn State’s Forestry School in nearby Mont Alto, Pennsylvania when he began frequenting the little spring creek and enjoying its wonderful morning spinner falls.

Years later the heavy emergences and mating flights had declined by the time I opened Falling Spring Outfitters, though there were still flies to tempt the stream’s wild rainbows and browns. I fished the tricos on calm, humid summer mornings from July through September.

During more than two decades of visits to the Catskills I found spinners on the West Branch and the Mainstem Delaware, though even a light breeze on these larger waters prevented good swarms of mating spinners. Sometimes a few trout could be caught, but it was not an occasion to expect rising trout. Where I found larger masses of spinners one summer, I observed for two hours, not witnessing a single rise. I had been convinced that Catskill trout didn’t care for these tiny little mayflies, at least not in the numbers available to them.

In 1997 I fished Montana’s Bighorn River, finding swarms of trico spinners so thick they appeared as fog over the water. Other than a pod of fingerling browns sipping along a protected bank the morning I arrived, I was not to find the legendary trophies of the Bighorn eating tricos. Oh how I would love to see mating swarms like that on the Delaware!

The intense crowding on our Catskill rivers last summer lasted throughout the week all season long, and I became a morning angler as my best way to avoid them. When trout began sipping one morning I expected the tiny olives I had seen coming off in twos and threes as the sun burned off the mountain mist. Being ignored compelled me to hunker down and stare at the surface to solve the puzzle. Among little clusters of bubbles I found tricorythodes spinners in the drift. There weren’t a lot of them though, since they were the only insects I could find, I dug into my fly box and produced an Ed Shenk Double Trico.

I had a great morning, landing several very nice brown trout. The later risers required me to rummage through the fly box again, fortunately finding a single size 24 spinner, as they refused the larger double pattern once the numbers of naturals began to peter out. The best brought to the net was a fine, fat nineteen incher, my new personal record on a size 24 trico imitation. As the summer wore on the trout I found taking tricos became increasingly selective, requiring 7X tippets and various patterns to dupe, just like those trout on Falling Spring twenty-five years ago.

A Female Trico Spinner in Size 24: just enough to make a trout very, very selective!

In the limestone country I fished the hatch with my short, light line graphite fly rods, 6 1/2 footers for 2 and 3 weight lines. Today on the much larger Catskill rivers, I opt for one of my favorite bamboo rods, casting either a 3 or 4 weight fly line. Depending upon the day I might choose my 7 1/2 foot Garrison taper with a DT3 line when the winds are expected to remain light and variable. If breezes are going to be a factor I rig up an eight foot 4 weight. Leaders are very long and their tippets fine. Size 24 dry flies require 7X, and a gentle hand to land wild trout of significant size. I love bamboo for its ability to make the perfect presentation whether I need to lay a size 22 or 24 dry fly down at 60 feet, or shoot a larger terrestrial out and under overhanging trees and brush.

I tied the first trico spinners of the winter this morning, half a dozen size 24’s and three of the Shenk Doubles, all females. For those unfamiliar, the female trico has a thin whitish abdomen and a chunky black thorax, the males being all black, except for the clear, sparkling wings. I have read and heard various tales recommending tying tricos in sizes 20 and 22 “for better hooking”. On Montana’s Bighorn some of the sages even called for size 18 spinners. Every trico spinner I have ever sampled has been a size 24 mayfly, period. When there are enough spinners on the water, trout can be snookered by Shenk’s Double: two abdomens, thoraxes and sets of spent wings tied on a size 18 hook. When flies are thin, you’ll need the 24.

I’ve been thinking too much of summer these past few days, wishing myself right on through spring it would seem. I love the Catskill summers. Spring offers all of the great hatches, and that special intensity that only a large number of sizable trout rising in congress can. Summer is more relaxed, though it has its own kind of intensity for those who love to stalk wild trout. It’s longer too, seeming to last forever, where the spring rush has been known to come and go in a month.

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