Don’t Forget the Little Guys - Match the Hatch (West)

By T&T Pro Staff Brock Harris

If an angler is to create an image of fishing Western hatches in their head, it generally includes ideas of fishing big stoneflies, or drake dries to hungry trout. There is no argument that fishing these big flies is about as much fun as one can have with waders on. However, as we slide into July, some of these opportunities have fizzled out. Unfortunately, these hatches are time-sensitive and generally have short windows on the Western trout’s menu. While some fisheries will continue to produce fun fishing on these big flies well into July, it becomes important to start focusing on some of the smaller bug hatches as well. Today, we’re highlighting some smaller mayfly species that are present in many of our tailwaters and freestones.

Blue Winged Olives are a good example of a small bug that has a mighty impact on fishing. These bugs gain a lot of attention in spring and fall months when larger mayfly species aren’t as active. However, BWOs remain important all summer long on some Western tailwaters. They often go unnoticed by some of their larger, more conspicuous cousins but still have many trout keying in on them. Due to their size (16-22) and olive or gray colorations, they can be difficult to see, which makes the timing of the hatch tricky. However, if the BWOs are present and fish are looking for them, you will often be rewarded for providing a suitable imitation to the fish. At the onset of a hatch, don’t forget to fish some nymphs and emergers sub-surface. Often, the trout will hold out on breaching the surface for adults until they are present in high enough numbers but can be easily fooled throughout the hatch using sub-surface tactics.

Pale Morning Duns, or PMDs, are a much more noticeable mayfly and provide some of the most exciting hatches of the summer months. With a significantly larger size (#14-18) and a pale yellow body, these bugs stand out like a sore thumb when they are coming off the water. In some fisheries like the Owyhee River, PMDs are the biggest aquatic insect trout will consistently see throughout the summer months. The dry fly fishing associated with PMDs is notable as the brightly colored imitations are often easier on the eyes than fishing smaller, more muted patterns. As with BWOS, anglers can find quick success by fishing nymphs at the onset of a hatch. When seeing the first larger brown PMD shucks or bright adults coming off the water, it’s time to tie on a couple of emerger-style nymphs and pick a few fish off before the surface feeding begins.

Pink Alberts or Pinks are another mayfly species present in the West in high numbers. These guys are very similar to PMDs in appearance except for their pale pink coloration. As with the PMDs, these imitations are on the larger end of mayflies, frequently ranging from size 14-18. The emergence of these pink mayflies is often very fast, which makes fishing nymphs and emergers a little tricky. The adults are often present in high enough numbers to produce some fantastic dry fly opportunities. Folks familiar with the South Fork of the Snake may have fond memories of fishing pinks to trout eagerly picking them off gravel bars. Who doesn’t love a cute, pink mayfly?

Finishing up with the smallest of the small: Tricos. Tricos are a tiny black mayfly commonly ranging from size #20-26. These little guys are often present in the later summer months as water temps have begun to rise. Don’t let the underwhelming size of this mayfly fool you. They are often present in such high volumes that they produce absolute feeding frenzies on the surface. The unique life history of this mayfly plays into its relevance in summertime dry fly fishing. The adults hatch overnight and accumulate in massive, dancing swarms by the early morning. When the air temp hits a certain range (generally around 68 degrees), the mass of bugs hits the water at the same time. This puts thousands and thousands of tiny offerings on the water all at once and produces an impressive reaction from the trout. Due to the high number of bugs on the water and the volume of surface-feeding fish, it can be tricky to keep track of your tiny dry fly on the water. If you can’t seem to track your fly in the chaos, try trailing one of the harder-to-see trico patterns behind a larger, more visible fly. Be sure to set the hook if you see any activity around the larger indicator pattern!

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