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.

Another Rotten Day in Paradise

Did you ever have one of those days….

North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River

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63 degrees at 10 am. Blue skies, clear water and the hope of lots of fish. Paradise. I stopped at a bend of the river I hadn’t fished before. It had a nice choppy run, good current seams, a deep pool and tail out. Perfect. Even the start was good. Three fish in 5 casts. Then I decide to take the picture above. It wasn’t anything special, but I was trying out a polarizer filter and wanted to see how it worked on the stream. But I couldn’t see well through my polarized glasses and the polarized filter so I dropped my glasses on their lanyard, took the picture and reached for my sunglasses.

Except my sunglasses weren’t on their lanyard.

I looked down in disbelief. The lanyard hung in its normal spot around my neck, but the little plastic loops were empty. I scoured the river bottom, but I was standing in brisk current. No telling how fast and far the glasses would drift. So I scooted to the shore and deposited my rod and camera and went searching in vane for the missing glasses.

Now if these had been $6.00 Walmart glasses, I would have said, “No problemo. Fish on.” I knew I had two pairs of spare polarized glasses in my rig. But these were Maui Jim prescription glasses I got just ten months ago. After fifteen minutes, I felt pretty discouraged. I took my rod and camera up to the road and deposited them safely. I shrugged out of my vest and grabbed a spare set of polarized glasses. I spent two hours plodding back and forth between where I lost them and the next slow stretch that I figured might stop them.

No luck.

Although that was the worst part of the day it didn’t really improve all that much as it wore on.

I fell three times – but only once in the water.

Later, I forgot to clip my hat on my vest, so a gust of wind blew it into the water just as a car stopped to watch. I’m sure they had a good laugh as I staggered after it, determined not to lose anything else.

I was casting to a nice hole only to snag a low hanging limb. I decided to break off instead of sacrificing the hole. On my first cast re-rigging, I snagged the next limb down. So I crossed the stream, freed my fly and retrieved the first fly.

Still moving up-stream, I worked my way up a riffle, saving the honey spot till last. Just as I got there, three guys in pontoon boats floated through it at five minute intervals.

At the end of the day I saw a nice fish porpoising in that impossible-to-reach type of lie. Across the river, between two current streams, right at a narrow bend. I spent 45 minutes trying to fool him. To no avail. It was time to quit.

I climbed out of the river and made my way up to the road to find the temperature was now 84 degrees and I had a mile and a half walk to my car.

Did you ever have one of those days…

North Fork of the Coer d'Alene River

A jewel of a stream close to home.

North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River

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This little river is right at the top of my list of favorite rivers. It is proof of the saying, “Trout don’t live in ugly places”. I’ve been fishing here for about ten years and I still find new spots to explore. This week I ignored the newspaper, which said it was too high and off-color to fish, and headed up to give it a go. Every now and then I make a good decision.

Cinammon Creek Waterfall

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Even though the water was nearly double its usual flow for the first week of July, it is still only 500 cubic feet per second. And since the level has been continuously dropping for over two weeks, the water was its usual gin-clear color. The weather was perfect, the river was perfect, the crowds were gone and I caught a bunch of fish.

Surprisingly, not many flies were in the air. No real hatches, only the occasional caddis or PMD. Usually these wild cutthroat are eager takers of dry flies. In fact I rarely resort to nymphs or droppers. But they didn’t want to look up, so I put on a #14 Bead Head Soft Hackle Hare’s Ear and began to catch fish.

Native Cutthroat

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Only fishing from 10:30 to 4  pm, I caught around 25 fish. Four whitefish and the rest were beautiful, healthy cutts from 7 to 15 inches.

The funniest thing of the day was the behavior of a 13 inch whitefish. I brought him in quickly and released him without


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removing him from the water. He settled down to the stream bottom, then drifted up to beside my boot. He wasn’t stressed or hurt, he just thought that was a good spot! I took this picture of a frog while I was there. After that I looked down and the fish was still there. He is hard to see in this photo, but he is lying there.  I reached into the water, hoping to touch him, but he realized I wasn’t a tree and took off like a bottle rocket.

Scenic vistas

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Of course I go to the river for fishing, but that is only the offered reason. Like most times, the sites are not just of fish. I saw deer, moose, frogs, wrens, dippers, goldfinches, red-tailed hawks, beaver, bear grass blooms and much more. For my first wading day of the year, it was a very good day.


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For almost 50 miles the road winds along the river. It it so rare to have a paved road along such a superb fishery. Of course that means in the summer, the lower river is used hard by inner tubers, rafters and families. But the upper river is too small for that type of usage, so it is the playground of the fly fisherman.

Last pool of the day

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When you are ready to quit for the day, it is hard not to stop at one more pool or run. This deep pool is right on the road so is fished hard. But I have never failed to catch at least a few small fish every time I’ve stopped by. And in the fading light with caddis hopping around, sometimes 15 to 20 fish will take my CDC microcaddis fly.

Then it is time to pack up and head home. Until the next time.

Strange Visitor

Callibaetis Spinner

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On a typical May day, I saw a mayfly. The peculiar thing about this is that I live in a dry, pine forest. With 16 inches of precipitation a year, and half of that from snow, you don’t find mayflies. Nevertheless, last month one showed up. Sitting on a fence post, a callibaetis spinner managed to stop by.

You can see in this picture that the countryside here is more conducive to deer than mayflies. I just don’t expect to

Leaping Deer

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find them on grounds covered with pine needles.

I live 8 miles from the nearest lake, 2 miles from the nearest stream and 400 feet higher in elevation. Can a mayfly spinner make that flight. I don’t think so, but maybe with a good wind. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw this fellow perched on my fencepost. I was pretty sure that this was a callibaetis, but was glad to have it confirmed by smarter people than me over on Fly Anglers Online.  Especially Roger Rohrbeck, who has the site. Flyfishing Entomology.

So anyway, even though this little fella had no business being here, this is a lesson to all of us to keep our eyes open. You never know what you may see.

Biot Mahogany Thorax Dun

Recipe for Biot Mahogany dun

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If you float the lower Clark Fork River in the fall, you will see Mahogany Mayflies. One of the last good hatches of the year, they are a staple of the river. They don’t come in swarms like Tricos, or mad splashes like the Skwala’s, but they are consistent producers of fine fall action.

I don’t claim to be the author of this fly, although I can’t find a specific reference for it. I’ve been using it for 8-9 years with good results. It’s heritage comes, of course, from the thorax style of Vince Marinaro. The coloration from Mike Lawson’s Mahogany Thorax Dun. I simply added a biot body. Is it more effective than the dubbed body? It is for me. Your mileage may (and probably will) vary. The biot adds to the tying time without doubt. But as I’ve said before, I don’t tie for speed; I tie for fun. And although this isn’t the toughest fly, it will catch a lot of fish before you retire it.

A few tying notes. The traditional wing on a thorax dun is made from turkey flats. Does a fish care?  I think not. Google “thorax dun” and you will find flies with poly yarn, CDC, snowshoe rabbit foot, hackle tips and anything else you can think of. This tells me that the wing is for the fisherman, not the fish. This fisherman prefers the look of the turkey flat. Tie it any way you like.

Another feature of the traditional thorax dun is the tail. It is tilted up by a dubbing ball and split. I tie it with the tilt, but use a fan tail. A silly little bias of mine. I know mayflies have split tails, but since I like the fanned tail, that’s how I tie it. Hackle tail, micro fibbets, crinkled zelon shuck, on your fly tie it your way. In fact, tie it all different ways and make your own choice.

After tying the fly, the traditional pattern trims the hackle even with the hook point to settle the fly lower in the film. I tend to trim them about half way between the hook point and the body.

On a fishing note, this is a flat water fly. The low silhouette gives a realistic appearance, but this fly won’t stay up well in riffles and pocket water. But the Clark Fork in the fall is mirror smooth. Those big Cutts and Bows are sipping, not slashing and this is the perfect fly to bring some to the side of your pontoon boat for a brief visit.

For step by step instructions and photos, click here.

Thrift Store Treasure

Theory and Technique of Freshwater Angling

When my wife drags me into a thrift store, I always cruise through the sewing/crafts section looking for tying materials, then wander over to the books to browse until she is ready to go. I find thrift stores and garage sales moderately depressing. Like anyone else, I enjoy finding a bargain. But walking past items that someone once treasured, perhaps cherished, now valued at 25 cents, that’s just sad. When I see a handcrafted item and think of the hours they put in sewing, sawing or sanding, now to find the creation tossed into a bin with other junk…well, you see what I mean.

In my town, I almost never find any books on fishing, but I still look. Last week I found a treasure. I glimpsed the dark green hardback cover with the word “angling” on the spine, so picked it up to see what it was about. To my surprise, here in the piles of castaways was a fine little treasure.

John A. Knight

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I had never heard of the title or author, but it was in mint condition. The copyright date was 1940. The few color plates showed fly patterns. On the inside front cover, there was the old Ex Libris bookplate that used to be so common among bibliophiles. That was enough to warrant $1.99 for the book. It found a new home in my modest collection of fly fishing books.

The Theory and Technique of Fresh Water Angling, by John Alden

Copyright Page

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Knight is a great read. The introductory chapter is worth the price of the book. His prose is elegant, but casual. I smiled at the quaint language of 70 years ago-when was the last time you called a friend your “chum”? And even more amazing is his zeal in promoting conservation and catch and release fishing. This was just four years after Lee Wulff wrote the famous phrase, “Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.”


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Mr. Knight was most noted for his theories about fish feeding patterns relating to the sun and moon. He has several other books.

Oh, and by the way. I spent about four hours trying to find out about the previous owner of my new book. I Googled him, checked out genealogy sites and databases,  searched obituaries and even looked for birth records. My only clue is that his handwriting is that fine all-capital printing of an architect or draftsman. So I choose to envision him as a young professional man during the post-war 1940’s, cane rod in hand, prowling some of my favorite streams.

Fly Fishing Only

I have a class reunion this summer. Along with the registration they asked for a current picture. As I thought about recent pictures, I thought of this one from Yellowstone National Park. I always stop at this sign along the Madison River when I enter from West Yellowstone. The cool shadows over the river invite me. The  tempting riffles offer the hope of some easy fish. But the I love the sign, “Fly Fishing Only”.Wouldn’t it be great if there were more of these.

Yellowstone Sign

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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.