Trico Mornings - Part 1

With the departure of July we are entering the most challenging time of year for area fly anglers. As hard is it may seem to believe given the shrunken flows on our rivers the best dry fly fishing of the year is at hand. How can that be? The answer is captured in one word: Trico. (short for the tongue twisting name of the natural insect - Tricorythodes). This is very simply the most consistent, prolific and longest lasting mayfly hatch on our area rivers; offering dry fly fishing from the very beginning of August (and often the latter part of July) on into the middle of September at a minimum and often on into early October.

While the dry fly fishing is indeed excellent it is also often a frustrating ordeal. Because trout see literally millions of these flies over the course of their extended emergence and subsequent mating spinner falls the fish become increasingly particular about what counterfeit flies they will take. Add to that a cruel twist and by the end of August our trout become maddeningly difficult to trick. For many this fishing is more than they care to get involved with though for anglers seeking out the ultimate challenge in fine tackle, tiny flies and rising trout this is a cherished time of year.

Lets begin the discussion of trico fishing with a little about the nature of the insect we anglers seek to imitate. To begin with, these flies are small. The angling literature says the flies are imitated on size 20 - 26 hooks. In this region I see the # 22 hook as the staple though occasionally a # 24 is called for. Trico's have an interesting emerging pattern with the male duns hatching after dark and on through the night. As a result the males are not of particular value to the angler. Female duns hatch very early in the morning, particularly on warm days. For the early rising angler there is an opportunity to target fish rising by using a simple fly that has a pale olive body and pale dun hackles. Essentially a pale winged olive.

As the female flies are emerging the males have already transformed into spinners and can be seen dancing above sun splashed riffles in untold thousands. Anglers familiar with this activity know that the flies gather above the same riffles day after day and week after week. The trout know this too and can often be seen finning jut under the surface either picking off the emerging females or simply waiting for the spinner fall that will commence when nature gives the go signal.

What might that go signal be? Fortunately for anglers there is a fairly predictable moment when the spinner falls of this particular species commences. For many years it has been well known among trico fanatics that spinner falls will begin when the air temperature reaches 68 degrees. This explains why on warm mornings the spinner fall commences quite early while on the cool mornings that often come with August see the spinner fall start much later; often as late as 11 am.

Once the spinner fall commences it can be viewed as a two-stage event. With their mating duties over the black-bodied males will fall spent on the water en masse. Trout begin to gobble these flies as soon as they begin to drift past their feeding stations.

The second stage of the spinner fall is when the females, having waited for a short period for their dark green eggs to fertilize, begin to drop on the surface to lay their eggs and then die. The females have a white body and dark thorax and while some say that the fish really do not care I would disagree. While I do not believe that trout are "smart" I do believe that after having seen the flies drifting by morning after morning they have a acute sense of what is happening and take the properly colored flies accordingly.

As was hinted to earlier there is also a cruel twist to this activity. During late August swarms of tiny flying ants often mix in with the tricos and drift helplessly on the stream surface. Trout that have been feeding on tricos day after day for weeks will suddenly have eyes only for the tiny flying ants, which have black bodies similar to the tricos but with wings that lay horizontal rather than perpendicular to the body. The ants are also often a full hook size smaller than the trikes. Thus a # 24 black flying ant will often turn the trick when the # 22 trico spinner will be ignored time and again.

When the spinner fall has ended after an hour to ninety minutes later (on average — I have seen falls that lasted three hours) the waters surface will go dead and for anglers just entering the river they will not know exactly what was missed.

In my next installment I will cover various tactic for fishing this wonderful and wonderfully complex hatch. In the meantime if you are heading out to the local rivers or streams please bring a thermometer and check water temps. We have had a pretty gentle summer but in seasonably low flows we are experiencing it doesn't take much heat to warm the rivers to the point where trout are beginning to get stretched.

Doug Lyons is a fishing writer for the Journal.


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