June lies upon the doorstep, the pinnacle of the dry fly angler’s season. The last half of May has been quizzical, though the Memorial Day cold front has brought a chance at rebirth. Rivers that were too low and too warm to host the grand celebration of the mayfly season are refreshed and chilled, ready to present the grand finale. In this, my twenty-ninth season upon the rivers of my heart, I await Nature’s release!
Several years ago I began a manuscript for a book and fleshed out a chapter entitled The Cult of the Green Drake. That cult, a mythical organization of obsessed anglers keeps no records of membership, but many have succombed to the draw of its sole premis: to haunt great trout rivers near the end of May in search of the hatch. Much has been written about one of our largest mayflies, ranging from grand tomes that elevate this insect to the highest realm of exhaltation, to grudging accounts of throngs of disgruntled anglers who flail in the darkness finding disappointment or worse.
Many who have read accounts of the majesty of these grand drakes, tales of all the largest trout in the river rising with abandon, have fallen prey to the lure. The fault of so many obsessed writers is they portray such spectacles as if all the seeker has to do is show up and cast his fly to partake of the wealth of the stream. I offer that nothing could be further from the truth.
For each expectant neophythe, there are a dozen grizzled veterans who will relate the tale of pitting their best skills and imitations against the glutted leviathans of the rivers, reaping only frustration and regret. I believe it is the most challenging hatch the eastern fly fisher can meet.
The large size of the Green Drake mayflies offers sustenance to the trout, but tales of them throwing caution and their natural instincts to the winds to partake of the hatch are folly. The size of these great duns makes them more difficult to imitate. Tiny insects test our vision and our patience, but often just the slightest bit of thread and feather will prove a suitable imitation. The big bugs give the trout the whole show, displaying details and vigarous movements in the slower currents they inhabit. More to see, and thus more for the angler and fly tyer to copy to offer an effective imitation. I have long been convinced that the largest flies are the easiest flies for trout to recognize as frauds.
It was the great Green Drake that coaxed me into study and experimentation, and they keep me working each season. Some experiments have been hugely successful; others complete failures. It is the way of the Cult: draw the enlightened in with promises of answers to the puzzle, sweeten the experience with a taste of success, and then dash those hopes with brutal reality. Seekers we remain.
Like all seekers, I do not know when or if the great flies will appear. They can be the most difficult hatch to encounter with any regularity. By standard terms, the hatch is late this year, late in a season that began early. What do we make of that? We accept the difficulty as the primary rule of the game. The flies will come in their own time, or they will not come at all. We wait with bowed heads, offering our own sacrifices to the river gods, that they might shine their light upon us. We gather in darkness to bemoan the futility of our quest, yet tomorrow we will seek the sentinels of the hatch once more…