Saturday, March 30, 2013

Western March Brown Soft-Hackle Emerger

March Brown Emerger tied by Steven Bird

     If you fish a freestone stream west of the Rockies, the western march brown mayfly is an important insect to imitate this time of year. March brown (Rithrogena morrisoni) is the first large mayfly of the year, appearing as early as February in warmer regions, & into June in colder climes, though most Northwest streams will host emergence March-May, & into June.

March brown nymphs inhabit rubble bottom in moderate to fast flows; muscular clingers, they are seldom loose in the drift until emergence. Prior to emergence, the wing pads turn black & the wings begin to unravel while the nymph still clings to the bottom. When the wings have opened enough, the nymph lets go of the bottom to ‘sail’ upward on the current while completing emergence -- probably the reason winged versions of this mayfly work well.

Though some streams host heavy hatches of march browns, on many streams they are a more obscure presence, though still a presence, so the imitation is useful throughout the hatch season, as trout know they are around & will take them when the opportunity presents.

March Brown Emerger

Hook: #12-#16 (Can be tied on a standard wetfly hook, weighted or not; or a standard dryfly hook to fish higher in the water column & on top as a cripple.) 

Thread: Camel

Tails: Three hen pheasant tail fibers – equal to body length

Rib: Single flat, yellow strand taken from a length of cheapo poly cord, 5 to seven turns, wound as a rib over the abdomen

Abdomen: 50/50 blend of medium olive & golden-brown rabbit dubbing (This is a generic color dressing; naturals will vary according to location, ranging from light golden brown, olive-brown, to dark olive & dark brown.)
Thorax: Olive-brown rabbit dubbing

Wingcase: A Pinch of black rabbit (original choice), CDC, marabou, or poly (Tie in ahead of the thorax, spread over the top half, & extending to about the center of the hook shank; (optional) tie in three or four strands of olive midge flash on top. I use WAPSI olive/pearl midge flash, which reflects olive & copper highlights.)

Hackle: One turn of brahma hen, brown partridge or grouse -- the one in the foto is tied with Welsummer hen, a very useful Dutch chicken: see fotos below

Head: Olive-brown rabbit dubbing - build at least as thick as the thorax – & finish.

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird:   
Welsummer Hen Cape

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Minor Riff On Leisenring's Black Gnat

Black Gnat tied by Steven Bird

     When true simplicity is gained... 

This was one of Leisenring's favorite patterns, & for good reason. As a universal fish getter this pattern deserves a spot beside the venerable Hares Ear & Pheasant Tail Nymph. Tied in #12 through #18, this one will cover a lot of water. Leisenring’s Black Gnat embodies the basic values of the soft-hackle style: simplicity; motion; obfuscation.

What’s in a [fly] name? Sometimes not much that is useful at first glance. I suspect the main reason Leisenring’s Black Gnat doesn’t get the play it merits is that most anglers nowadays relate the ‘Black Gnat’ moniker to a chenille-bodied, winged (both wet & dry) version with an impossibly red tail, popular since the Victorian Era. Yet the name Black Gnat has been applied to basic black fly patterns since before it was first mentioned in the literature of 1600’s Britain; & those ancient versions more similar to Leisenring’s than the chenille version most of us know as the Black Gnat, in our time. And there is some repellent confusion about the ‘Gnat’ part of the name, obviously. However that may be dispelled with the knowledge that the name has come down from very long ago, a time when Saxons referred to streamborn insects, simply, as ‘gnats’. Drawing water from the long stream, Leisenring had no problem applying the old name to his pattern.

I like to fish this one behind a weighted skwala in winter/early spring, as the LBG serves to simulate midges & the water-born little black winter stoneflies. Later, in spring & summer  when there is a mixed smorgasbord of small insects on the slick, a Black Gnat is excellent dressed to float & fished on or just beneath the surface film, & I tie some on dry fly hooks for that purpose. Leisenring’s recipe is thus:

Leisenring’s Black Gnat

Hook: #12-#18 standard wetfly

Thread: Claret or vermillion

Body: Black silk or swords taken from a crow secondary wing feather (lacking the crow feather, the bronze/black portion of a turkey tail feather provides an excellent substitute), twisted with the tying thread

Hackle: Starling shoulder feather (or natural bronze/black hen ~ & finish with a full, tapered head.

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird:       

Monday, March 4, 2013


Skwala Stonefly Nymph tied by Steven Bird 

March. There are patches of bare ground beginning to show & the smell of it holds the faint promise of fun ahead. The red willows along the river road are, in fact, loosing their pearly catkins. Winter is losing its grip on the pinto horsehide world. Warming days are raising stream temperatures & skwala stonefly nymphs are getting busy, presenting the first reliable hatch of the year.

Skwala, also known as brown willow fly & early brown stonefly, only occur in Western rivers & streams, from the Rockies to the coastal drainages of northern California & the Pacific Northwest. They are widespread, inhabiting freestone streams & most abundant in lowland rivers with rubble bottoms. Nymphs are active predators & strong crawlers. Skwala begin to emerge as early as February in warmer regions, & continue through April, the last two weeks in March through the first three weeks in April being about the peak period of emergence in places I’ve encountered them. Like most stonefly species, skwala crawl from the stream to complete the final instar on bankside stones, grass & brush, where mating also occurs. Male skwala are flightless, with only half formed wings; what they lack in ability to fly they make up for with speed & it is not uncommon to find them zipping over snow well back from the streambank. As they accumulate along the bank, many of them scramble onto the water, presenting an opportune circumstance for waiting trout needing to put on some fat after the sparse rations of a long winter.

Though female skwala can fly, they seem to reserve the ability for egg laying flights. You seldom see them stranded on the water, but there are enough of them around that trout know of their presence & will take dry imitations through the hatch period. Though there are some rivers like the Yakima, Deschuttes & my homewater the American Reach of the Columbia, hosting skwala in numbers that produce discernable ‘hatches’, on most streams they are simply a reliable seasonal presence, trout are used to seeing them & the imitations work through the period.

Though dry versions may raise a trout, in my own experience the nymph is more worthwhile to imitate & fish if it’s numbers of tugs you’re after. I’m always searching for a better pattern, & that search is ongoing. For years I did pretty good on a basic brown nymph I call the Brown Nondescript, but then I read some convincing testimony from other tiers doing well with peacock herl versions, which puzzled me because I didn’t think peacock herl was a close match for the naturals, which are brown & yellow (an olive shading on some streams) with black glyphs on the back of the carapace. In spite of initial misgivings, I tried some peacock versions & found, lo, they really do work well. The magic of peacock herl. Here’s the one I like best so far:
Steven Bird - Skwala

UC Skwala

Hook: #8-#12 TMC 200R

Thread: Camel or brown

Tails: Two dark brown goose biots – Apply a couple turns of sulfur yellow dubbing (yellow with a faint hint of olive) before tying in, to spread the tails. (Both nymph & adult naturals exhibit yellowish coloration at the tip of the abdomen.)

Rib: Brown midge tubing wound over the abdomen.

Abdomen: Peacock herl – to center of the hook shank. Not too fat.

Thorax: Sulfur-yellow & dark chocolate fur dubbing – Don’t blend, place alternating pinches of each color into a dubbing loop formed with the tying thread, twist, & dub over thorax. If the naturals in your homewater have an olive cast, substitute medium olive for the yellow.

Hackle: One turn of hackle from a Wellsummer hen (similar to brown partridge, with yellow-gold tips), or grizzly hen dyed gold, or one turn of grizzly dyed yellow, stripped on one side, combined with one turn of brown partridge or speckled game hen or grouse, stripped on one side.

Head: A bit of sulfur-yellow or olive dubbing ahead of the hackle ~ & finish

I weight these to keep them fishing near the bottom. This time of year, I often fish the skwala nymph as a depthcharge, & trail a midge larva, baetis nymph, scud, or something tiny, at the end of about a 30 inch section of light string knotted to the hook bend of the weighted skwala. Ladies & gentlemen. Swing Season is about to begin in earnest.

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird:   
Steven Bird Skwala