Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fryingpan River Green Drakes

The Fryingpan River is one of the richest streams in the west, and her net worth is on display in full force right now.  The Pan’s wealth comes from incredibly diverse insect life, sky-high numbers of wild fish, and the jaw-dropping beauty of the valley she calls home.  The Fryinpan’s chief asset, green drake mayflies, are starting their engines and are being seen in increasingly stronger numbers every day now.  The Pan is full of cold, clean water, averaging 38-40 degrees year-round, which allows her drakes to slowly roll out over July, August and into September.  Last year we enjoyed green drake hatches into the first few weeks of October as well. 

It is a joy to see these corn chip sized bugs on the surface of the water, and even more fun to watch the fish checking them out.  It takes the trout a week or so to remember what a drake is, and whether or not it is food, but once they figure it out, it’s game on.  I watched one fish follow a drake dun thirty feet down the river yesterday, ultimately refusing the natural bug for some reason or another.  Fryingpan trout are distrustful, especially on the front end of a new hatch.  They will usually revert back to this lack of trust once they’ve been fooled over July and August by artificials, and will require movement (twitches, hops, flops) of the fly by the angler to entice that surface take. 

Whether it is the nymph, emerger, dun, cripple or spinner, green drakes garner plenty of attention on the Fryingpan River.  The nymphs tend to gravitate towards gravelly-bottomed, slightly faster water, and transition when they can to “softer” water to emerge.  Most hatches occur mid-day, especially on the cloudier warm days.  If you are lucky enough to be on the Fryingpan on a rainy day, the duns aren’t able to dry their wings quick enough before “takeoff,” and are picked off by opportunistic fish by the hundreds.  Drakes escape from their shucks and fly off the surface fairly quickly, and we see fish swim five feet or more out of their way to inhale these tasty morsels.  Cripple patterns can be absolutely devastating on the Fryingpan, as many bugs have a tough time breaking through the surface tension on the water and are either “stillborn” or crippled by factors like rain, rough water, or bad luck.  The spinner phase generally occurs in the middle of the night, but there are days when spinners are plentiful on and around the river.

As far as techniques go for fishing this hatch, you need to let the fish tell you what they want and how they want it.  As the hatch progresses over the summer, the fish get jaded and need reassurances that the fly they are tracking is real.  The most obvious tactic to produce success is adding movement to your dry fly, and this is easier to do when fishing a double dry fly rig.  You can use the end fly as an anchor on the water surface, while hopping the lead fly up and down to attract attention.  We employ this tactic often on the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers while fishing caddis hatches, and it works well on the Fryingpan too.  Fishing upright duns on softer water and sunken cripples in the rougher sections will usually play in your favor, and we employ dry-dropper techniques some days with success as well.  Downstream presentations (allowing the fish to see the fly first instead of the bright colored fly line) always produce on tough days, and using invisible fluorocarbon tippet always helps, too.  The best tool for fishing this famous hatch is your polarized sunglasses.  Watch the fish for clues.

Even though green drakes typically hatch mid-day, you can certainly fish cripple and spinner patterns late into the day or first thing in the morning, too.  The Fryingpan can be a bit of a zoo during this hatch, but everyone seems to melt away after 4 or 5 in the afternoon and you have seemingly the whole river to yourself.  This isn’t meant to discourage you from fishing during the mid-day hatch, as there are plenty of public areas up and down the river, and you only need to carve out a small slice of fishable water to enjoy the drake hatch.  Oftentimes the fish are more attracted to cripples and dead spinners because of the ease in eating them (they aren’t flying away any time soon..) and generally prefer them anyway.  Many of your favorite dry fly patterns can be manipulated to look like and drift like a cripple or spinner by laying the wings off to the side and so on.  Early and late fishing on the Fryingpan can really be special, and if there are no fish rising or yesterdays bugs still around, don’t be afraid to throw a streamer or ply the river with PMDs, midges, ants, beetles, and the like. 

Birds are the best harbinger of a great hatch.  Swallows, ouzels, and robins consume as many if not more of these bugs than the fish, and when we see the birds going crazy over the river, it is time to pull over and string that rod up.  Having a bird snatch your fly as you cast isn’t uncommon, and I have certainly caught my share of bats on the Roaring Fork as the green drakes hatch in the twilight.  If you’ve ever fished saltwater, you already know about the clues birds give us fishermen and women.  Keep your eyes peeled!  Lastly, I’d recommend thinking outside of the box when it comes to choosing your fly pattern.  These fish see the same 3 or 4 patterns all day, every year.  Consider breaking out those Irresistables, Wulffs, or even an H and L Variant or Dandelion-style bug.  Another trick is to downsize your fly to a 12 or 14, even though the naturals are usually size 10.  Fryingpan fish see a bunch of flies and people over the course of their day, and something a little different can help seal the deal.  If you tie your own flies, be sure to bring your unique patterns along and have some fun!

Words by Scott Spooner

Photographs courtesy of Kirk Webb