In this week’s column, I reveal why the months of April and May are special to me:
Note to self: Hang in there. Bug season begins soon.
When I see the first green leaves appear on weeping willow trees, or see the cheery yellow blossoms of forsythia bushes, I know it’s almost “my” time of year.
Most people call it spring, but I call it bug season.
Deep in the turbulent waters of West Virginia’s trout streams, bugs of all sorts are getting ready to hatch. From mid-April through early June, mayflies and caddis flies and stoneflies make the almost-magical transformation from larvae to adults.
To do so, the larvae float or swim to the water’s surface, where they split their skins and crawl out as fully formed adults. As they float and struggle on the surface, they become sitting ducks for feeding trout.
For fly anglers, catching a full-blown hatch is like hitting the lottery. Catching trout is sometimes as easy as seeing a fish rise to a real fly, casting an artificial fly to that spot, and setting the hook when the imitation disappears.
The bugs go by a dizzying array of Latin scientific names: Epeorus pleuralis, Brachycentrus americanus, Maccafertium vicarium and the like. Only true wonks use the Latin names, though. Most anglers distinguish the species by the names of those artificials used to match the hatch. One can hardly blame them, as names like Quill Gordon, Grannom and March Brown are infinitely easier to pronounce and remember than all that Latin gobbledygook.
Many of the early-season mayfly hatches involve species best imitated with drab flies size 18 and smaller. Several broods of Blue-winged Olives become active in April, as do Blue Quills.
The first sizable mayfly to come along is the size 14 Quill Gordon, also a somber pattern. The famed Hendrickson comes next, followed by the Orange Sulfur, the March Brown, the Gray Fox, the Green Drake and the Leadwing Coachman.
Scattered in among the mayfly emergences are a variety of caddis fly and stonefly hatches. On most Mountain State waters, heavy caddis and stonefly hatches are relatively infrequent, although the little Yellow Sally stonefly sometimes is the exception that proves the rule.
I’ve been a fly fisherman for 35 years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve exploited a heavy caddis fly or stonefly hatch. I’ll say this, though – they certainly were memorable.
The best big-fish day I ever had came during a hatch of large green-bodied caddis flies on a boulder-strewn central West Virginia stream. I frankly didn’t know a hatch was on, but had on the end of my line a fly that matched the hatching pupae perfectly.
In about half an hour’s time over roughly 100 yards of water, I caught a 19-inch brown trout, a 13-incher, another 19-incher, and hooked and lost a mammoth brown my fishing partner estimated at 24 inches.
The most memorable hatch I ever encountered was one I couldn’t fish. I was vacationing in Yellowstone National Park with my wife, and I had taken her to look at the Yellowstone River’s famed LeHardy Rapids.
The National Park Service has declared the rapids a “study area” and doesn’t allow fishing. Cutthroat trout there are both abundant and large.
When my wife and I were there, a flush hatch of 2-inch long stoneflies known as “salmonflies” happened to be underway. Huge trout were rising everywhere, gobbling the flies as they struggled on the churning surface.
I had a blast catching the big insects, crushing their heads, tossing them into the river and watching 20- to 25-inch cutts rocket to the surface to scarf them up.
I was watching fish and not catching them, but seldom before or since has “bug season” been quite that much fun.