Hatches By Degrees

Hendricksons on the West Branch Delaware, May 1st, 2005

I took a short break from chipping the ice from the asphalt of my little two-car driveway to tie a few flies this afternoon. I have been gradually working into my winter tying, though I haven’t had one of those big rush days when I turned out a couple of dozen. There was a missing pattern for my planned assault on the Hendricksons next April, and I figured I might as well knock a few out while I was thinking of them.

The Hendrickson Grouse Hackle or, the fly I never hope to use.

As a dry fly angler, I always play the game to tempt a trout to rise and take my fly from the surface. Though I hate to admit it, there are some trout that will simply refuse to come up that last inch and eat anything sporting a wing, thus it makes sense to have a soft hackle nymph style of fly that can sit right down in the film or drift along in that first inch of water. I call my version the Hendrickson Grouse Hackle simply because well, that’s what it is.

Tied on a standard dry fly hook, the tails are woodduck, the dubbing my dark brown ephemerella blend, and the hackle is a soft, mottled feather from the wing of a Ruffed Grouse. I tie the thorax ball by spinning that dubbing in a thread loop, making it buggy and capable of holding a little bit of air within. It is the fly I hope I will never have to use, the one I would prefer remains in the fly box throughout the hatch.

In a perfect mayfly hatch scenario, the intrepid angler would fish the hatch by degrees. When the nymphs have risen close to the surface and are about to emerge, a fly like the Hendrickson Grouse Hackle provides an imitation of that pre-emergent nymph. The second degree is the actual emergence, when the nymph struggles through the film, splits it’s wingcase, and the dun begins crawling out of the nymphal shuck. At that point, the bug is neither wholly a nymph nor a dun, and an emerger is the fly of choice.

Mark’s Hendrickson CDC Emerger, a true transitional fly I developed more than 25 years ago. Tied as a nymph, with an emerging wing of looped CDC feathers, this imitates the point when dry fly fishing begins. With the body only wetted, the CDC loop wing is visible on the surface with the rest of the fly hanging below. The stray CDC fibers and soft hackle barbules give the fly a bit of movement.

I have heard a lot of fly fishers call a soft hackle nymph an emerger. I have no quarrel with that way of looking at things, theirs is simply a different point of view, but I think of an emerger as a transitional fly, with partially unfolded wings breaking the surface. Once the dun crawls out of that shuck, anglers usually fish a dry fly pattern. Those of us who have fished for a number of years have learned that Nature and bugs and trout don’t always follow that nice little progression, thus we tie and fish duns with trailing shucks, as well as classic dun imitations like Mr. Steenrod’s noble Hendrickson, even cripples to imitate a fly that just can’t quite get itself airborne.

That selection of flies might be considered for degrees 2.5, 2.75 and 3 I guess, if we stick with my mathematical model. You might also think of them as good swings for Nature’s curve balls.

A few years ago I decided that there was another median stage in the Hendrickson hatch, and I designed a simple fly to imitate the drowned duns I sometimes found good trout keying on. Hundreds of perfect mayflies drifting down current, and Mr. Picky wants nothing save the dead ones plastered in the film with their soggy wings akimbo.

My Drowned Hendrickson: woodduck, my standard Hendrickson dubbing blend, a few turns of a medium dun CDC feather capped with two turns of Hungarian Partridge.

Yes, I will be carrying half a dozen very different patterns for the Hendrickson hatch with this system, and that won’t include the Art Flick inspired pinkish Catskill ties or his Red Quill, nor Sparkle Duns, emergers and cripples to match those smaller ruddy males of the species. In the past couple of years I have encountered two more Hendricksons, whether separate species or variations I cannot say. Obviously, there is no room in my Hendrickson box for a DNA kit, but there is for a couple of patterns to match those new duns.

It would be interesting to learn whether these mayflies are variations upon the same species or different related ephemerella mayflies, but I don’t need to answer those questions to fish them effectively. Maybe I should tie some more of those Grouse Hackles in a size 16 too…

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