Memorial Day is here and with the long weekend, many people will be out camping and fishing this weekend. It is one of the busiest times of the year on our trout streams as anglers take advantage of the last couple of weeks of stocking to catch some trout. Most rivers and streams will be crowded this weekend but with a little legwork, you can get away from the crowd and find some unpressured water. The waters are all in excellent condition and fishing should be very good, especially for the fly angler.
The next month or so is probably the best time of the year to pursue trout with dry flies. Several species of mayflies and caddis flies have been emerging throughout the day providing excellent surface action as well as these same insects laying eggs in the evening providing the trout with even more opportunities for an easy meal on the surface. Add to the mix ants, beetles and other terrestrial insects and you have a whole smorgasbord of insects available for the fish.
The march brown is the largest mayfly you are likely to encounter on the stream right now; they are tan to brown in color with speckled wings, range in size from 10 -14- hook sizes and often start hatching around noon and continue through the afternoon. The gold ribbed hare's ear is a good representation of the nymph and a productive fly in the late morning and into the first stages of the hatch as the nymphs leave the safety of the bottom and prepare for emergence. I have always encountered the best hatches on cloudy overcast days and have the best luck on dries in these conditions. These mayflies like to hatch in riffles and runs where the rise forms are sometimes hard to see in the swift water but if you see the duns, (just hatched mayflies) drifting on the water or lifting off the water, the fish will likely be feeding on them. A good tactic is to fish two flies in this situation, a heavily hackled march brown dry for floatation and a nymph or emerger dropped two feet off the dry will catch fish in pocket water and runs.
Sulfurs are another mayfly that typically hatches this time of year, there are two different species the sulfur in size 14 -16 that hatches in the afternoon through evening and the little sulfur in a size 18 that emerges in the evening. As the name implies they are both yellow in color and have cream to grey wings.
The larger sulfurs like to emerge in swifter water and produce good fish activity on nymphs, emergers, and dries. Their smaller cousins prefer the quiet water of pools and trout can be found in the evening taking these diminutive flies from the surface as they drift slowly along waiting for their wings to dry. The pheasant tail nymph imitates the nymph very well and can be very productive during a hatch, especially on bright days when the trout are reluctant to feed on the surface.
You need to pay close attention to the rise forms during a hatch with these bugs, often it will look like the trout are feeding on the surface but are actually taking emergers just beneath the surface, if you do not see the fish's snout poke through the water it is most likely feeding on emergers. On the heavily pressured Shavers Fork, I have had great luck in recent years with a partridge and yellow soft hackle fished just under the surface when I cannot buy a single strike on a dry fly.
The spinners or egg-laying adults of mayflies can also create heavy fish activity in the evenings when mayflies return to the water for their circular mating dance (thus the name spinner) and egg laying. Rises to spinners are normally slow and deliberate, it's as if the trout know they cannot fly away once they hit the water and the fish will barely break the surface as they sip in the spent mayflies. This behavior can begin in the late evening when the sun leaves the water and can extend until dark and you cannot see your fly any longer.
This can be maddening fishing with the trout holding in specific feeding lanes and good fly placement and precise drifts are crucial to success. The march brown spinner is a dark brown with clear wings that retain some of their speckling and the sulfurs are well imitated by a rusty brown spinner, but range in color from dirty yellow to brown with clear wings in my observations.
Conventional anglers are often frustrated at this time of year when the trout seem to ignore their offerings of bait and lures. However, trout can become very selective when they see an abundance of one type of insect or another and pay no attention to other food sources and mayflies seem to be the bug that creates the most selectivity in trout. Not only do they become selective to one species over another but the stage of emergence for that insect. Many other insects that play an important role in fly-fishing such as caddis flies and stoneflies but the mayflies are king.
There are few things more beautiful in the world of fishing than standing in the cool water as the sun descends behind the mountains casting to a pod of trout rising casually to mayflies as they gracefully drift along the currents with their sailboat silhouette in the waning light.