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Fly Fishing Small Streams


Charlie Meck

Ecolines: Fly Fishing Magazine


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© 2006 E. P. Macri Jr.

Charlie Meck´s Fly Fishing Small Streams published by Countryman Press in 1991. We had exclusive chapters from this fine little book before it was published. I think this is a great primer for many fly anglers. Therefore, we are putting it on this site for your personal use.

Fly Fishing Small Streams

Huge mayflies emerged upstream and downstream. These greenish winged insects struggled desperately trying to become airborne before a nearby trout snatched them. A pool upstream that seemed void of trout just a few minutes earlier came alive with brown and brook trout crazily chasing sluggish duns. Trout seemed to lose their timidity. I could wade much closer to rising trout than under no batch conditions on this stream. Even a poor cast brought results on this small productive stream during this heavy hatch of Green Drakes.

The sporadic hatch began shortly after noon the last week in May and lasted for more than four hours, with cluns appearing and trout rising all afternoon long. I lost count of the number of trout that took my three mangled imitations of the drake. What a day to be on a small stream! A great hatch with many rising trout, many of them streambred! And not one other angler within sight! What else could a fly fisherman asked for?

Fish this saCharlie Meck Fly Tyingme Green Drake hatch on a larger stream like Penns Creek and you might come away totally frustrated. I've lost count at the number of times I fished this hatch on a large stream and quit in total frustration while thousands of duns and spinners still floated on the surface. Some trout seemed to ignore the dun and spinner and feed on the cmergerothers fed on another insect and totally ignored the Green Drake. Try this same hatch on small streams and see what happens.
Not too long ago George Harvey and I flyfished another small mountain freestone this time in late April. The high, cold spring water seemed to hold few trout. George and I picked up an occasional trout prospectingbut neither of us saw any trout rise. Only one thing kept us on the water well past noon. This small stream as well as many others throughout the country holds an exceptional early season Blue Quill hatch. This Paraleptohphlebia species usually appears in late April near 1:00 p.m. These mayflies can stand quite a bit of fast water so you'll likely encounter this hatch on many of your favorite, fertile small streams.

George and I drove to a pool that we thought held plenty of trout and we waited for the hatch to appear. Soon a few, then hundreds of size 18 Blue Quill duns struggled on the surface. At least a dozen trout rose in front of George in a 20 foot long pool. George quickly picked up 10 trout and yelled for me to come upstream to sample the same success he had. Soon I caught another five trout out of the same pool. Trout still rose to Blue Quills at 3:00 p.m. George and I finally sat back on the bank and reflected about our fine day on this small stream. What a day! What a hatch!

Another small stream nearby holds a tremendous Sulphur or Pale Evening Dun hatch. The hatch appears nightly for rive to six weeks every year. These mayfly spinners fall just at dusk and trout feed voraciously on the spent wings. The fall is so dependable that I take lots of fishing friends to this small stream to enjoy this very predictable hatch. Through every night in June and early July you can expect to fish over trout rising to a spinner fall.

A hatch of mayflies, stoneflies, or caddisflies on a small stream activates trout to surface feed. Where there was no previous activity now there is plenty. As you fly fish more regularly you'll see that certain insects are found more often on small streams than are others. We'll examine some of the more common insects found on small streams.

Little BlueWinged Olive Dun
What a spectacular hatch I met on a small mountain stream. It appeared in midApril and duns of the species emerged for more than two hours that afternoon. The hatch was the very common BlueWinged Olive Dun, Baetis tricaudatus This species is one of the handful that is found on many streams of the East, Midwest, and West. But wait! The Little BlueWinged Olive Dun has more than one brood per year. I later found that the Little Blue Winged Olive Dun copied by a size 20 imitation reappeared on the same small stream in October. On both occasions when I matched the hatch I caught trout on this small imitation. Baetis species inhabit both small and large streams. The same imitation that you use in the East can match the same hatch in the Midwest and West.
Sometimes the April hatch of this species appears a size larger than later hatches. Carry imitations in sizes 16 to 20 to effectively copy the Little BlueWinged Olive Dun. Don't overlook the nymph of this species. A size 16 Hare's Ear fished in the rifles where these mayflies emerge can catch a lot of trout during a hatch. Fish the nymph a couple inches under the surface.

We said the Little BlueWinged Olive Dun has more than one brood per year so you might see the hatch in March and April, again in July, and sometimes as late as September into late October. The hatches in fall can produce a bonanza feeding frenzy, the last one of the year. Look for the Little Blue Winged Olive Dun on many small streams on late fall afternoons.

Green Drake
Dave Landis lived for several years near Helena, Montana. He flyfished and guided on many of the streams and rivers in that area of the state including many of the smaller waters. He recently relocated back to Pennsylvania. Two years ago Dave came upon a Green Drake hatch on a small stream called Dick's Run. "Imagine MY surprise," Dave said. "In a stream barely two feet wide and a few inches deep there were dozens of Green Drakes hovering above the water. I would never have guessed that they inhabit such small water."

The Green Drake does inhabit many small streams. When you hit this hatch on a small stream you imagine what can happen. The Green Drake seems almost partial to many small Eastern streams. Sure it's found on Penns Creek in Pennsylvania, the Beaverkill in New York, and the Savage River in Maryland, but the same large mayfly also frequents many small waters throughout its 20 state range. Often when you find this large (size 10 to 12) mayfly on small streams it appears all day long. If you're fortunate enough to meet the hatch you can often flyfish to rising trout for hours on end. Look for large native trout to feed when this bonanza appears.

Look for the Green Drake in midMay in the southern range: in late May in Pennsylvania and New York; and early June in New England. Normally on large streams and rivers the hatch appears near dusk. On small streams, however, the hatch can appear sporadically all afternoon and early evening. It you're fortunate enough to meet this hatch and have an appropriate imitation you're in for some fast action.

Blue Quill
Blue Quill imitations copy at least a half dozen different mayfly species all in the Genus Paraleptophlebia These species first appear in the East and Midwest in late May and continue with different species appearing throughout the season. The insects appear in the morning or afternoon. On Western rivers there are at least four prominent mayflies copied by the Blue Quill. Most of these species in the East, Midwest, and West frequent small streams. I talked about the earliest hatch in the East and Midwest, Paraleptophlebia adoptivia, and how it produces some heavy hatches even on small streams.

Sulphur and Pale Evening Dun
I had a half hour of light left. Earlier on this midJune day I noted that several spider webs near the stream contained plenty of Pale Evening Duns, Ephemerella dorothea Some of these duns still struggled futilely to free themselves of the trap. I knew they had just emerged the night before. I waited at the bottom of a deep pool with a sizable run at its head. Pale Evening Duns often emerge in the rapids at the head of pool. Within minutes duns appeared at the head of the pool. Where no trout rose before four now took up feeding positions. Three of those took by size 18 Pale Evening Dun before I left. The Pale Evening Dun (E. dorothea) begins on Eastern and Midwestern streams in early June and continues to appear nightly into late July. The Pale Evening Dun inhabits many small streams in heavy numbers. If you rind a hatch with this species you're in for some good flyfishing in June. Anglers often group several important mayflies in a loose group they call Sulphurs, Pale Evening Duns, and Pale Morning Duns. Sulphurs, Pale Evening Duns, and Pale Morning Duns. Sulphurs Ephemerella rotunda and Ephemerella invaria usually are copied with a size 16 pattern; the Pale Evening Dun, E.dorothea with size 18; and the Pale Morning Dun, Ephemerella inermis and Ephemerella infrequens with a 16 or 18 hook.
Always carry plenty of Sulphurs in size 16 and 18 when flyfish on small streams in the East and Midwest. The counterpart to this species is imitated by the Pale Morning Dun in the West in a size 16 and 18. Many of the spring creeks of the West hold heavy Pale Morning Dun hatches (Ephemerella infrequens and E. inermis). The limestone creeks of the East also harbor a good supply of the Sulphurs,

Ephemerella rotunda and E. invaria
Sulphurs E. rotunda and E. invaria most often appear on Eastern and Midwestern waters evenings from midMay to late June. Pale Morning Duns can be found on Western waters in the morning and afternoon from the end of May into late July on some streams and rivers.

Western March Brown
Mike Manfredo, Ken Helfrich, and I just finished flyfishing on the McKenzie River near Eugene, Oregon. We experienced a fantastic hatch from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The three of us caught more than fifty trout during that hatch on the river. This Western March Brown appears daily for more than three months on the McKenzie.The next afternoon I headed back to Portland to take a plane back East. I had several hours to kill so I stopped several times at small streams on the trip to Portland. At one stream not more than 20 feet wide I saw the same great hatch, the Western March Brown, that I had witnessed the day before. This mayfly inhabits many small coastal and near coastal streams in Oregon an Washington. This is a very unusual mayfly. It often begins appearing as early as late February on East Central Oregon rivers and streams. The species continues to appear daily in midafternoon until late May. If you're fortunate enough to find this species on one of your favorite waters you're in for some great flyfishing. What a pity Oregon's fishing season doesn't take advantage of this great. The Oregon fishing season usually starts around May 1, eight weeks after the hatch begins.

March Brown
Lift up the rocks in many of the small streams of the East and Midwest and you'll find only one large brown nymph clinging to the rocksthe March Brown. The nymph and adult provide an important food source for trout on many smaller streams. Adults emerge sporadically from late morning through early evening. I've seen heavy March Brown hatches emerging in creeks no wider than ten feet. The natural is a sizable one imitated by a size 12 artificial. Look for this important small stream species from mid May to midJune throughout its range. Since the dun appears sporadically throughout the day, if you rind a small stream with a good population you can match the hatch for several hours over rising trout.

BlueWinged Olive Dun
The BlueWinged Olive Dun pattern in sizes 14 to 18 copies several closely related species found throughout the United States. Hatches begin in late May in the East and Midwest with the appearance of Drunella cornuta These mayflies usually appear from late morning through early afternoon. A Western species Drunella flavilinea emerges in June and July.

Trico appears on thousands of streams and rivers throughout the United States. They appear on rivers as large as the Missouri, McKenzie, and Madison in the West; and on streams not more than 15 feet wide. Tricos can be found on some smaller limestone and freestone streams. The lack of a heavy canopy appears to be important requisite for the hatch. Even small streams which contain fairly open areas can harbor this important mayfly species. Most of these insects are copied with artificials in sizes 20 -24. You'll need two patterns, since male and female spinners are dissimilar. Tricos appear in the East, Midwest, and West from mid July until the first heavy frost in September or October. Look on your favorite small streams from mid July to late September for the Trico. If you flyfish small limestone steams flowing through meadows or small mountain streams with interrupted canopies you might find the hatch.

Quill Gordon
The Quill Gordon is the first relatively large mayfly of the season in the East. A size 14 approximately copies the natural. Ile insect appears in midApril on very pristine waters like those often found in the upper reaches of many of many of our larger streams. The hatch most often appears in the afternoon.

The Hendrickson and Red Quill copy another early season species which most often appears a couple days later than the Quill Gordon. You'll find the Hendrickson on many of the smaller streams in the East and Midwest. A size 14 Red Quill copies the male and the Hendrickson the female. Hatches occur on small streams usually midafternoon. Many of the small tributaries of the An Sable in Michigan and Brule contain the Hendrickson.

Dark Green Drake
My son, Bryan, and I sat down by a small stream in Central Pennsylvania. We too time out for lunch and sat by a 150 foot long pool created by a family of beavers. Shortly after noon we noticed a few then hundreds of large mayflies emerging in the deep slow pool. These mayflies, Dark Green Drakes, appeared a size or two larger than the massive Green Drake. Trout began to feed on this late May emerger and continued to feed all afternoon. Recently I encountered another hatch of Dark Green Drakes on the last day of May. I saw hundreds of huge duns emerge from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on a small isolated steam. I invited George Harvey and Greg Hoover to experience this hatch the next day on this 15 foot wide creek. By 2:00 p.m. these size 6 adults appeared on every slow pool on the stream. I tied on a huge (size 10, Mustad 94831) copy of the natural with deer hair wings and began casting. On the first cast a native brook trout, barely six inches long hit the pattem. I caught a half dozen trout on that massive imitation during the hatch.If you're lucky you might even encounter the Green Drake along with the Dark Green Drake like we did
Slate Drake
Look at some of the exposed rocks on some of your favorite streams in midsummer. Do you see some dark nymphal shucks of large mayflies on them? If you do, then your small stream probably contains a decent hatch of Slate Drakes. There may be several species of the common Genus Isonychia inhabiting the stream. These fairly large mayflies often appear nightly for weeks on end in the summer. If the small streams you frequent have hatches of this group of mayflies a size 14 Slate Drake will be especially effective.

Red Quill
Members of the Genus Cinygmula often frequent small cold streams of the West. One commonly called the Red Quill Cinygmula ramaleyi is found in midsummer on many small streams around noon. Many of the tributaries to Rock Creek near Missoula, Montana, like Welcome, Alder, Wyman, and Grizzly creeks, hold good numbers of this species. In a sampling of the species in the Rock Creek drainage only four or fifteen sites did not hold the Cinygmula species.

Western Green Drake
If you're fortunate to hit one of two species that make up the Western Green Drake you're in for an eventful day of flyfishing. Hatches appear sporadically on may of the small Western streams just before noon and continue well into the afternoon. Drunella (Ephmerella) grandis with its three subspecies frequents many of the small streams of the West. The other common Green Drake, Drunella doddsi can also be found in June, July, and August.

Little BlueWinged Olive Dun (Western Species)
Baetis bicaudatus frequents many of the smaller streams of the West. One of the most common Little BlueWinged Olive Dung, its is the same one found in good numbers on Henry's Fork. Baetis bicaudatus contains a body much more olive than its sister species, B. tricaudatus If you plan to fish Western small streams in July and August carry some of these bright olive patterns tied on size 20 hooks with you.

I had just flown a couple thousand miles to flyfish some of the great Montana rivers like the Yellowstone, Bitterroot, and Kootenai. I traveled up to the upper end of The Clark Fork near Anaconda in Central Montana. The river here was no larger than many of the streams in East and Midwest. Not long after I started fishing I witnessed one of the heaviest aquatic insect hatches I had ever seen. Thirty trout chased the food supply in front of me.
Guess what? A mayfly didn't cause this feeding furor. A size 16 Dark Brown Caddis was the culprit. I picked a copy form my fly box and proceeded to catch a couple dozen brown trout that evening' Yes, even on small streams and rivers in the West Caddisflies can be important to imitate. Lift up some rocks in your favorite small stream. Look for some small slender tubes attached to these underwater stories. These tubes harbor larvae of caddisflies and are common on small trout streams in all parts of the country. Look at the back water and eddies on some of your favorite small streams. You'll probably see many caddis cases made up of several twigs glued together. Many of these Brachycentrus species frequent small streams. Take plenty of downwing caddis imitations in sizes 1218 and with body colors of black, brown, green, tan, and gray with you.

Caddisflies make up an extremely important part of the food supply for trout. In a study of seven effluents in Western Pennsylvania, Sykora found Ill different caddis species. He found may of these caddis in heavy numbers. In Trout Streams, Paul Needham found that this aquatic order of insects makes up more than 43 percent of the aquatic foods taken by native brook trout. That number ranks extremely high. Caddis flies represented only 9.5 per cent in brown trout and 18.7 percent in rainbow. You can see from these observations that native trout on small streams depends a great deal on the downwings, caddisflies. This seems to indicate that if you plan to flyfish on small streams, especially for brook trout or rainbow trout, then be prepared with a supply of caddisfly imitations.

Stoneflics are exceedingly common and important as a source of food for trout on small streams. Some of the members of this order of insects can withstand more acid in streams than can other aquatic orders. Smays Run on the Allegheny Plateau flows no wider than rive feet at its widest point. This small stream carries natural acid from peat bogs in the area. Yet, this creek contains a fair population of the Giant Stonefly of the East, Pteronarcys dorsata The 30mm plus adults of this species can be seen laying their eggs for the next generation in early June on Smays Run. Can you imagine what a feast just one these adults or one nymph would give to the native brook trout population in the stream?
Stoneflics prefer very pure water like that found in many of these mountain streams. In June you'll also find the Little Yellow Stonefly and the Little Green Stonefly appearing throughout the day on many of these little streams. A size 16 copies the yellow insect and a size 16 or 18 copies the green one. Don't fish these small streams in the Fast, Midwest, or West without plenty of stonefly imitations.

Don't overlook the stonefly nymph. If you check some of the rocks in your favorite small streams you'll see some of these aquatic larvae. Tie up some of the more common forms for your area. Try fishing your favorite small stream sometime when a hatch appears. If you match the hatch you're in for a memorable event.


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