The Ladies Time

How late, yet how lovely these days of May! Though it seemed such days would never come, we are blessed at last with the perfection of springtime, days with brilliant sunshine, sparkling waters and without the gales that so trouble the fly fisher.

How fitting that Mother’s Day was the setting to welcome the Lady H. Some have said this more diminutive member of our Hendrickson clan is the mayfly called the sulfur, Ephemerella invaria. I won’t debate the thought, as I seem to have left my entomology degree in my other pants. Though I have always strived to be an observant and well-read fly fisherman, I cannot quote the sages on the number of tergites or the color of the eyes of the male duns. I can however fashion a proper fly to interest our Catskill trout.

I had not seen this mayfly until my first full season on these bright rivers, as they come a bit later than the signature Hendrickson, a hatch I have faithfully sought for many years. Smaller than the fly I recognize as subvaria, this dun is copied with a dry fly hook in size 16. The slightly olive-ish, golden hued yellow of the abdomen reminded me of some of the sulfurs matched long ago on Maryland’s Gunpowder Falls, while the darker bulky thorax and gray wings mimic the Hendrickson. Unaware of the certainties of species, I called them as I saw them: little dirty yellow Hendrickson, or with proper respect, Lady H.

Mother’s Day looked to be fairly late in the Hendrickson hatch, with a mixture of the larger tannish duns and Red Quills on the water. The trout, though willing to rise, were not the steady feeders we pray to encounter, causing me to suspect the specter of motion might be the ingredient for success.

When I finally located a good fish willing to rise in the same place thrice, he paid no attention to my Hendrickson. Taking a moment to pluck a natural from the surface, the fly’s blood red abdomen told the tale. A CDC Red Quill fulfilled his need for motion and color, and seduced that fine finned adversary to bring the T&T Hendrickson to a full, throbbing arch!

Scanning the breadth of the river, I spied the telltale wink of a big white mouth and eased downstream. Observation proved this one was being as obtuse as possible, ambling up-current and side to side in a wide drift line, sipping the bugs that caught his fancy. I stalked closer, but not too close, then checked the naturals once more as I waited for this cruiser to enter comfortable casting range. The larger tan Hendricksons had made their appearance, so I knotted a dubbed bodied 100-Year Dun to my 5X tippet. The waiting game proved my undoing!

Watching that big fellow working slowly and erratically my way served to enhance my excitement, and when my 100-Year dun finally sailed down into his meandering path I tightened a split second too soon for the downstream presentation. Half a pull and then nothing was the sum of my reward.

It was late in the hatch when I worked my way through deep water, stalking a sipping trout along a line of dead current. When he liked the look of a particular mayfly, he would slide into the light and pluck it from the drift. After a rest, his next meal came from the slack current in the shade, a place I knew would not allow my presentation of a fly. I must entice him, bring him into the light.

Patience and multiple presentations convinced my he was not enthused with my imitation, and the stark difference between sunlight and shade brought to mind my Translucense duns. I traded flies, preening the hackles on a silk bodied 100-Year Dun, and went back to work. It still took a while, as it often does with a moving target, but our drifts coincided eventually, and my dun vanished in a bright little bubble!

Now the old feeling came back into the lithe arc of cane, leaving no doubt I had engaged a champion. The little St. George ratcheted loudly in the stillness of late afternoon as the trout battled for his freedom. I saw the deep bronze and gold the first time I urged him out into the light, before he bolted back to his shade and den of snags. I used all that the light rod had to give to keep him from those snags, and at last he was mine, scooped and lifted high in triumph!

The first trout measuring more than twenty inches each dry fly season is always special, restoring my faith in the magic of these rivers. I glanced from his golden flanks to the azure sky and gave thanks, twisting the fly free and slipping him back into his crystalline home.

The flies changed again after my victory in the shadows, and that proved to be the dance of the ladies. There were not numbers of them just yet, simply a sparse, quiet hello after the passing of their larger brethren, but it was clear their time was at hand.

A size 16 Lady H 100-Year Dun tied this morning in anticipation of another meeting.

I found my box of Lady H imitations crowded more with larger flies, and so at dawn this morning there was work for me to do. The warm weather has shown some very active mayflies, and the trout have been more than choosy when willing to rise. I made certain to prepare the patterns required to meet that challenge.

Lady H CDC flies to offer the crucial movement I hope will tip the scales. Some of the struggling mayflies I sampled were stuck in their dark brown nymphal shucks, wriggling frantically to achieve their metamorphosis. The full CDC wing of the half and half crippled emerger is designed to imitate this behavior.

In retrospect, perhaps my selection is still incomplete. There are times a trailing shuck dun proves to bring the answer to the angler’s knock at the wild trout’s door. Ah, back to the vise…

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