Wet and Raw

A Morning’s Work: Translucence Olives & Paraleps.

I can hear the steady rain on the metal roof as I type, and the cold air bit harshly when I answered the door a while ago. Though most days have lingered above freezing, it is still January here in the Catskills. I would welcome another fifty degree day before the overnight lows complete the icing of our rivers.

Recent riverwalks revealed skim ice along the lines of slack current and wherever the flows have retreated, but the main run of the river continues, leaving a touch of hope that another spell of warmer days might lead me to those banks with fly rod in hand. It has been two weeks since my last sunlit day upon the West Branch, and the first trout of the year. Eighty days lie ahead before a dry fly might be attached to rod, line and leader, and cast with intent. It is the season when I feel each one of those days.

I busied myself with tying this morning, putting up a dozen Translucence 100-Year Duns, half olives, half paraleps. Tonight, various friends will gather for another of the Catskill Guild’s open tying sessions, where we shall discuss the merits of various patterns for the venerable March Brown. Oh, would that such a grand and beautiful mayfly might actually hatch during the month it is named for! We borrowed the name you see, incorporated it from the British Isles, where the March Brown imitates an early season fly.

In the Catskills, it is the first large mayfly with heavily mottled wings, but it will not grace our rivers until well on into May. It is an intriguing hatch, puzzling in that it seems to be changing over time. For twenty years, every March Brown dun I lifted from the surface of a Catskill river was indeed brown, a warm caramel brown on it’s underside, bearing those magnificent tan hued wings with their dark blotches of mottling. During the past decade, the duns I’ve captured are yellow, mostly a pale dirty yellow with a yellowish cast to the wings and somewhat lighter mottling. Nary a single brown fly has revealed itself to me during that time.

The March Brown of the past decade: dirty pale yellow with that yellow cast to the wings. Have they simply gone blonde?

The flies are still primarily a size 10, and their hatching remains sporadic through the day, so I do not doubt they are the same species of mayfly. Has some change in water chemistry bleached them out a bit? I would love to ask a trained entomologist about that. My quandary grew when a brilliant safety yellow version of the fly began to emerge on a favorite reach of the Beaver Kill during Woodstock’s golden anniversary year. Ah the mystery of Nature!

The trout made me do it! A Woodstock March Brown Parachute that seduced a heavy brown in excess of twenty inches long, when the psychedelic colored naturals were on the water.

Preston Jennings, in his “A Book of Trout Flies” lists his dressing for the American March Brown to be tied with “red fox belly mixed with sandy fur from a hare’s poll” dubbed and tied with orange silk. His protege Art Flick tied his version with “light fawn-colored fur from a red fox” also dubbed onto orange silk. His “Streamside Guide” includes photos showing a very light color indeed. Interesting that neither of the classic Catskill patterns sport either caramel brown or yellowish bodies. Both have certainly taken untold hundreds of thousands of trout.

I still have a fly box stuffed with caramel brown imitations, Catskill ties, Comparaduns, parachutes and CDC duns and emergers, and I still fish them at times.

Most of the March Brown patterns I tie are crafted to match the pale, dirty yellow mayflies I have observed on the water, and I will continue on that course until Nature throws me another curve. Yes, I still tie the “Woodstock” safety yellow flies for the Beaver Kill too, for the trout have proven to be very selective to that bright color during the hatch.

The Translucence version tied with heavily barred woodduck and cree hackle.

Post script: It is 8:42 PM and we just wrapped up our Guild Zoom gathering. Our winter online tying sessions are informal and a particularly enjoyable way to pass a winter’s evening. We shared some ideas and a little history regarding the original American March Brown dry flies, and everyone tied a few flies for their spring fishing. I tied one traditional fly, modified from Art Flick’s version by using medium pardo Coq-De-Leon tailing and cree hackle as opposed to grizzly and dark ginger. In one of my dubbing dispensers you will find a fawn fox blend in accordance with Mr. Flick’s pattern. After that, I tied three Translucence 100-Year Duns in the pale, slightly dirty yellow coloration discussed above, and a pair of 100-Year Duns using my standard yellow fur blend of fox, beaver and a touch of Antron.

One of our tyers asked where the March Brown originated and Tom Mason joked that it had been around for “thousands of years” referring to the long history of the British fly. Tom, who has a passion for the history aspect of our sport related that the first publishing of an American pattern was indeed Preston Jennings 1935 volume, confirming my own belief. We discussed the differences and similarities of Jennings and Art Flick’s individual patterns, with Flick’s being the most popular among our group. There was little doubt that preference reflected a bunch of Catskill tyers’ love of the woodduck feather.

All those interested in Catskill flies and their tying are invited to join the Guild and participate in both our virtual and live gatherings. Membership dues are $20 per year, collected in February, and can be easily handled online at http://www.catskillflytyersguild.org .


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