Smaller By the Numbers

Though conceived as a more natural imitation for large mayflies, particularly the Green Drake, my 100-Year Dun design has worked its way down to this: a size 18 Dorothea!

I have tied and fished 100-Year Duns now for something like fifteen seasons. With retirement comes the time to experiment, both on the river and at the vise, and I have paid a lot of attention to the virtues of this design. To date I have found success with Quill Gordon’s, Hendricksons, March Browns, larger Sulfurs, Cahills and Coffin Flies in addition to the original Green Drakes. There are a few Isonychia in my boxes still waiting for me to run into some naturals.

The sulfurs were tied down to size 16 last year and proved their worth immediately, so it was only natural that I follow the diminishing size of these lovely little mayflies down the rabbit hole. I thought that eighteens might be stretching things but managed to scrounge a few tiny woodduck feathers from my supply and give them a try. I expect I will have to craft a few olives next, standing at this new threshold of diminution.

Half a dozen size 18 duns have been bouncing around in my fly box for a couple of days, waiting for me to encounter a fishable sulfur hatch. The few nice trout I have found surfacing have been picking off the odd size 16 sulfurs, so the sixteen 100-year Duns have been employed in those instances. Those sixteens should have brought a pair of larger brownies to hand but for my recent bout with bad luck.

I had stalked across a shallow, windswept river last week when I spied a couple of suspicious dimples in a very shallow flat. A big trout was sliding around in water he wouldn’t ordinarily inhabit, gently sipping a few of the sparse, larger sulfurs toward the end of a mediocre hatch. Playing the game with a moving target is always difficult. Wind adds another negative in the angler’s column. I had a lock it seemed, until a gust blew my leader at delivery and set my fly down some five feet closer to the fish than I had planned. He was on it the instant it touched the water, catching me with my line hand out of position with no good way to set the hook. I flailed hurriedly with both rod and line hands and managed to leave the fly in the fish!

On the Fourth I spotted another good one in that same vicinity, falling victim to a suddenly weak tippet knot. That trout kept my fly and four feet of tippet, and I barely felt him. I felt only partially redeemed when I presented another size 16 fly to a late comer, a fat seventeen incher who did his best to collect as much green slime on my leader as possible.

Perhaps today will finally provide the opportunity to trot out one of those brand spanking new eighteens!

I am planning to take a day to investigate a new reach of water this week, one where I have a little hope for debuting another fly. Back in the Cumberland Valley, I didn’t wait until August to fish grasshoppers. I tied and fished a baby hopper pattern that was simple but effective when the immature hoppers showed up in the limestone meadows in late June. The Catskill rivers of my heart don’t exhibit a lot of hopper habitat. Where there are substantial grassy banks, they are most often on the shallow side of the river. It may not be impossible to find a sizeable trout lurking with his dorsal getting a sunburn, but it’s damned close.

Just thinking about summertime hopper fishing gets me longing for the good old days on the limestoners, back before those fisheries declined. I have only made two trips West in my life, and neither coincided with any hopper activity. Perhaps one of these days…

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