July Is Green Drake Time

Green Drake Dry

The first two times I fished a green drake hatch, I didn’t realize it until it was over. I was fishing a nice run in a pretty little river around the middle of July. About 2 in the afternoon, I worked my way down the run with no strikes. I decided the fish had all moved to deeper pools to escape the heat. When I looked back up the stream, I saw fish begin to rise. Suddenly there were a lot of rises. Big, slashing rises.

I started casting, hoping for the best. I changed flies. I changed sizes. I began to panic. How could the fish be feeding like crazy, but I couldn’t even get a mercy strike?

Finally the frenzy began to fade. The rises slowed and my discouragement grew. Then I saw a bug on the water. I moved downstream to some slack water where I could  scoop up the chunky fellow. I didn’t know what he was, but I desperately wanted to make his acquaintance.

That night I hit my books and the web to identify the mid-day meal that excited the fish. It was a Western Green Drake. I tied up a variety of patterns, determined to be ready the next time.

A couple weeks later I found myself on a different run, early afternoon,  sweaty and hungry. Then rises started. Aggressive, big fish rises. Thinking that rises that rabid had to be a Caddis hatch, I tied on an Elk Hair Caddis, but no luck. After a couple pattern changes, I began to get the feeling my luck was not going to change. The fish were probably laughing at me under the water.

That feeling of despondency triggered the memory of my last failure. Green drakes! Because the adult doesn’t stay on the surface very long, the fish target the easier prey of the emerger. So the peak feeding time occurs before the adult become visible.

I tied on a green drake dry and worked the center of the channel. On my third cast, I hooked up a 16 inch cutthroat. I caught three more before the hatch ended. I had matched the hatch for the first time.

I keep several Green Drake patterns in my fly box during the mid-summer months. In this post I have two of them.

Olive Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph

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Despite my preference for dry flies, this hatch is much better fished for the emerger. So this fly works great in the first stage, when the rises are just starting.

You can fish it alone, using the greased line technique, or as a dropper fly. You can also fish it as a wet fly on the swing.  All three methods work very well.

Like the basic hare’s ear nymph, it is a nice straight forward tie. I have just a couple of notes.

First, I use a hare’s mask instead of a packaged dubbing for all my hare’s ear patterns. I like the different markings to choose from. A mask dyed olive is a cheap investment and will tie a bunch of flies. You can see what it looks like below.

For the tail, I like the banded cheek hair with all the guard fibers left in. For the body and thorax, I pick out most of the guard hairs and mix the fibers with my fingers before dubbing. It only takes a few seconds.

Second, I like a shaggy look to this style of fly, so I use a dubbing loop for the abdomen. It works for me.

Third, you might ask why I use peacock instead of turkey tail or goose wing, or Swiss straw or any other material for the wingcase. The answer is easy. I learned this pattern from the book “Fly Patterns of the Umpqua Feather Merchants”. This is the recipe they cited. I’ve never felt the need to change it.

To see the step-by-step instructions click here.

Olive Dyed Hare's Mask

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The dry fly pictured at the top of the post, is a pattern I go to as the emerger begins to slow down. Even though I might not see the adult yet, the fish are expecting them and will begin to take them. I like this pattern. It may not be the best, but it floats well and looks like a bug. Here is the recipe.

Recipe for Nealley's Green Drake

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This pattern is credited to Alan Nealley. I don’t always follow the recipe strictly. The original used brown deer for the overbody and dark deer for the wing. It rides so low in the water, I need the lighter yellow deer to see it.

Also the original calls for pale yellow poly dubbing, but I prefer a light olive dubbing. Just a matter of taste.

This is a harder fly to tie than some, so if you have questions about the tying sequence, follow the step-by-step tutorial here.

Next time a couple more patterns. I promise not to be so long winded.

Barr Emerger - BWO wet

The third and final installment of Baetis emergers, this post is about the legendary Barr emerger. John Barr has developed some great flies. Every one that I have tried has caught fish. But that is not to say they are all easy to tie. I’m sure he can whip them out by the dozens, but they have lots of steps with multiple materials.

Barr Emerger BWO

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This is fine during the winter doldrums when I am fighting the shack nasties, holed up in my man cave plodding along tying to fill my fly boxes. But if I need to replace some flies during the summer, I am always in a hurry. It is the night before a trip or even worse, early in the morning and I remembered I lost the last one on an acrobatic rainbow.
At those times, I just can’t make myself go through 15 steps for a size 18 fly. It just ain’t going to happen. (This from the same guy who walks 300 yards down a steep embankment to cast to a plunge pool because he has never tried it.) I am not saying my logic if for everyone. Just for me.
But I have had times when I’ve fooled fish with Barr’s Emerger that had turned up their snouts to a Krystal Flash emerger or a pheasant tail nymph. So I keep a few Barr patterns in my box for back up. I just don’t start with it.
So you be the judge. Tie some up. Fish it against the other flies and decide for yourself which fly works best for you. Then tinker with them to make them your own. That’s what it is all about. Step by step instructions are here.

Simple Pheasant Tail Emerger

The fly I tie on second when fishing a BWO hatch is a simplified pheasant tail nymph. Just thread, copper wire, 3 pheasant tail fibers and a starling breast feather. You could easily make it simpler by skipping the wire and feather, but I think they both add to the effectiveness and durability, so I am willing to take the additional minute to tie them in.

Simple Pheasant Tail Emerger

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In this fly, after tying in the tail and wire rib, I bring my thread to the eye and tie in the hackle. Then I twist the pheasant tail and wire together to make the body. It seems easier to me, but of course there is more than one way to tie a fly.
As with my other BWO emergers, I use this fly as a dropper off a parachute Adams. Usually about 18 inches. Long enough to get a good drift but short enough to keep it close to the indicator.
I don’t tie this fly too often because in twenty to thirty minutes you can tie up enough for the season! But be sure to keep a few in your flybox. You never know when you will need them and they may save the day for you sometime.

Click here for step-by-step instructions.

Krystal Flash Baetis Emerger

On those cloudy fall days or warm overcast afternoons in spring, if you are lucky enough to find a stretch of water with big fish sipping BWO emergers, you could have one of those afternoons to remember. When you fish small flies, you are going to lose some fish. But the thrill of watching a fish rise, casting the right fly ahead of him, tracking the course of the fly to the fish, then the gentle take–that is breathtaking.

I usually tie on a size 18 parachute Adams, then use a dropper fly, tied off the bend of the hook. I don’t worry about messing up the hooking ability of the Adams, because in these situations, the fish almost never take the Adams. Even when I am sure they hit it, once the line is tight and I can see clearly…nope, they took the dropper.

Krystal Flash Baetis Emerger

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As I wrote in my last post, I usually start with this fly. I don’t know that it really is any better than my other choices, but I have confidence in it and that helps. Also, it is very durable, so I won’t have to stop as often to change flies. And finally, it is a quick and easy fly to tie.

Couple things about tying this fly. After you tie on the Krystal Flash, grab it with your hackle pliers and gently twist it until the twist gets all the way to the body. If you don’t get it tight, the first couple wraps will not stay in place. Second, If you don’t like the look of the peacock thorax (who doesn’t love peacock????) you could dub a thorax with brownish olive dubbing. And third, you can tie the starling feather on before or after doing the thorax. I usually do it before. It makes handling the small feather easier and if it breaks off (they are quite fragile stems) you can still just tie it on later.

I usually tie it on a size 18 hook. Depending on the time of year and where you fish, you may need it down to a 22.

I hope you have fun tying this and that you get into some great fish!

For step by step instructions, look under the “Tying instructions” tab above or click here.

Beautiful Baetis

They are the last hatch of the fall. The first hatch of spring. These tiny little bugs are kind enough to float for long stretches on the river, allowing trout to sip them down like a fine wine. Beginning with the flash of silver below the surface, followed by a porpoising dorsal fin, finishing up with the slurp of the adult, a Baetis hatch is a pleasure to watch.

3 Baetis patterns

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If you ask people their favorite fly for BWO hatches, you will undoubtably get lots of votes for tiny parachute Adams and pheasant tail nymphs. Most of the time these two flies will do the job. But these little bugs tend to show up on slow stretches of rivers. Even with tiny flies that are good imitations, you can get wonderfully, frustratingly finicky fish. Of course in slack water, even microscopic drag is enough to cause fish to ignore your offering and take the next natural to come by. So fine tippet and careful presentation is mandatory.

The first time I fished a Baetis hatch was on the upper section of Montana’s Rock Creek. Well above the crashing currents and huge boulders, the creek winds through meadows. Perfect for a beginning fisherman like me. I had started fishing just two years before. Every fish was a new experience. Every fly was new and exciting. A 40 year old babe in the woods, literally.

I had already experienced the joy of fishing a hatch with no clue what was going on. And fishing a hatch where it didn’t matter what I tied on, because they were just going to laugh at my fly. But at this place and time, I recognized the hatch and new what to use. And I even caught fish. It was quite a thrill.

These three flies are my favorites for Baetis hatches. I fish them behind a size 18 parachute Adams (where two-fly rigs are allowed). I usually start with the Kryastal Flash Baetis. If that doesn’t work, I think about the drift. I make certain that the fly approaches the fish with slack tippet. Often the hatch occurs in a pool with swirling currents.  But if I have gotten good drifts and still no takers, I switch to the simplified pheasant tail. And if still no takers, the Barr’s Emerger.

If you ask me why that order, I just happen to have a reason. Actually two reasons. The Krystal Flash pattern is tough. It will take a lot of fish before it must be retired. That saves me time during a hatch. The second reason is that the Barr emerger, although a great fly, is a slow fly to tie. A lot of steps to put it togeter. When tying small flies, the fewer steps the better!

In the next three posts I will feature these flies.

Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle

Ok, I admit it. I love fishing dry flies. For me, the strike is the big thrill in fly fishing. It’s better than landing or releasing a fish. The harder the strike, the greater the thrill. But if fish are being fussy, or I am not having luck during a hatch, I almost always open my box looking for a soft hackle. I am a soft hackle junkie.

Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle

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The Partridge and Orange is the one I tie on most often. It works any time of the day. Even during mayfly hatches and spinner falls, caddis hatches and caddis egg laying times. It just works. That is why it is still the most popular soft hackle after hundreds of years of use.  T.E. Pritt, in his 1895 book, “Yorkshire Trout Flies” called it an “excellent killer”. Very high praise indeed. But he didn’t invent the fly. It was an old standard even then. Sylvester Nemes, in his books on soft hackled flies, attributed the earliest reference to the fly in “A Treatise of Fishing with an Angle” by Dame Juliana Berners in 1496. Over 500 years!

Tying Notes:

This is the recipe for the basic fly. In my next post, I will cover a few of the hundreds of variations and options you can choose to vary your fly. But even with just the basic fly you must choose which hook to use, what material for the body and what color partridge for the hackle. Choosing the hook is more for the fisherman than the fish. Wet fly, dry fly, nymph, all will work. The heavier the hook, the easier it will be to sink the fly if you are trying to get it sub-surface. If you are casting to rising fish, you might prefer a dry fly hook to keep it on the surface.

As indicated in the recipe, I use Pearsall’s Silk for my bodies. You will see below why that is my choice. Finally, you need to pick the feather for the hackle. Both light and dark partridge are used. If you are matching a specific hatch one color might be preferred.  There is no wrong answer. Both work very well. Why not tie a few of each. You are only talking about a couple minutes and maybe 15 cents for your costs. Tie a dozen and blow a dollar or two.

Why Soft Hackle Flies work so well:

The pictures below show why I love Pearsall’s Silk. On the left is a picture of a Partridge and orange soft hackle right off the vice. On the right, the same fly has been dipped into a glass of water. You can click on the images to see a larger picture.  The simple act of wetting the fly makes a dramatic difference in the look of the fly. As fly tiers we often forget this change. We fuss over tiny details and exact length of fibers, forgetting that once the fly is wet, what the fish sees is something much different. Also remember the effects of drifting on the surface or the actions of your retrieve. Everything we do will affect the way that fish see our imitation.  It will be very different from our creation while it sits in our vise or fly box.

Partridge and orange soft hackle fly

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Partridge and orange soft hackle after wetting.

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Look at how much more lifelike the wet fly appears. The silk is nearly translucent.

How many bugs have this dark amber body color? Millions and millions every hatch and spinner fall. This fly simply looks like food.

That is why the fly will continue to work, and why fly guys still tie and cast it after 500 years. What an endure legacy this fly hold.

Next time I will look at some of the many options in tying this wonderful pattern.