Tiny Fly, Big Hatch

One of my fishing grounds for August mornings is a trout stream close to home. Upper Dyke Creek is the habitat and spawning place for native brook trout and wild brown trout where the morning water temperature registers in the cool, low 60s. There one of the smallest of our mayfly order, Tricorythodes (or Trico, for short), is alive and well, inspiring the primitive curiosity of at least one fly-angler.

A daily appearance of late summer Tricos on this creek is almost so certain you can set your time-piece by it. The adult Trico is an elegant centimeter in length, including its long sweeping tail. Adults tend to hatch from underwater nymph cases in the pre-dawn hours of a season that in New York runs from mid-July until the middle of September. Females descend to the stream to lay their eggs around 7:30 a.m., give or take half an hour depending on the air temperatures and the water conditions. Minutes after the adults emerge, their bodies mutate into the breeding form of the insect known as a spinner. A mating swarm of spinners is often seen hovering above the stream, undulating in a horizontal movement parallel to the water. Usually the male spinners are higher than the females which descend to lay their eggs, completing a life-cycle.

Trout will rise and sip at these winged morsels with a daily regularity that delights a fly angler with an otherwise limited opportunity to fish the local streams in this season of warmer waters. Most August mornings during my summer break, I can start off leisurely, have my breakfast and coffee, and make it to the stream in time for Trico action. Dyke Creek is a feeder stream for the Genesee River where, unfortunately, the water temperature often warms too much by August to allow good trout fishing. Upper Dyke, spring-fed and shaded, but not without its share of problems, tends to remain cool enough to fish throughout the warmest days, a fact I don’t mind mentioning because, frankly, the stream is underfished by folks who wield a fly rod and return their catches.

The late George Harvey, a famous Pennsylvania fly angler and instructor, studied Tricorythodes as early as 1927 and spread the word about the insect’s possibilities, but for decades the diminutive fly with the big morning hatch was mostly ignored by anglers. It was written off as too damned small to fish with. Then, as catch-and-release fly fishing grew in popularity and as fishing seasons were extended later into autumn (a time when Tricos continue to appear in many places), anglers took more notice of the fly and started to enjoy casting with the tiny hook that Trico imitations require.

Usually when I fish the Trico hatch I cast an imitation of the spinner form. The wings of the spinner are tied in “spent” formation, or flat to the surface. It’s produced on a sliver of a hook, size #22 or 24, using black thread for the body and three dun-colored (bluish) hackle fibers for a tail, splayed slightly. For wings I tie in a twist of Poly-yarn with a figure-eight wrap and then tie off the black thread at the eye of the hook. That’s it, a minor operation but it’s all done under magnifying lens because, believe me, the hook is tiny, about the size of one consonant appearing in this sentence.

I’ve heard anglers moan about the Trico casting because the fly is so difficult to see on the water. Usually they’re the ones who haven’t yet given it serious attention. My aging orbs no longer have the best of vision but I’ve never had much trouble tracking the drift of a #22 hook on the water, even without my glasses on (assuming your casts are relatively short, say 15 to 20 feet). The white Poly-wings of the Trico imitation easily reflect the dimmest of morning light.

The Trico fly is generally cast onto a calm, clear flow. The average angler interested in mayfly imitations is able to track it readily and stay prepared for a gentle strike to the rise of a feeding trout. I said “gentle” because the fly is ordinarily tied to a very fine tippet (I use 6x or 7x) on a long tapered leader (usually a nine-foot minimum). I said “gentle” because the morning hatch is basically a time for peacefulness and quiet meditation, a time for one of the most relaxing and exacting aspects of the sport. By contrast, I find that the evening hatch somewhat earlier in the season, as exciting as it often is, can be frantic.

Tricos are a lovely fly, as small and fragile as the world of nature will present. Their imitations can unlock a primitive joy.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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9 Responses to Tiny Fly, Big Hatch

  1. Leigh says:

    Great post. Hope we can fish together sometime.

  2. Thanks Leigh. I hope we can fish a nice stream some day. Once I fished the Deerfield out your way and really liked it till the water got released from the dam. Meanwhile I’ll be adding your blog to my “roll” of recommended reads.

  3. Leigh says:

    Thanks – much appreciated. I split my time between NJ and CT, so if you want to fish the Delaware, Farmington, or a spring creek in PA just let me know.

    • Leigh, Will keep those possibilities in mind. I fish the eastern Catskills on occasion, and the Delaware, and PA spring creeks, too, and would love to try the Farmington some day. I remember as a kid traveling to my uncle’s home near New Britain from our place near Albany. I think it was the Farmington that flooded badly then and washed away our usual route.


  4. Anonymous says:

    The farmington gets a pretty good trico hatch that should be starting soon!

  5. You’ve convinced me to do some research on the Farm! Thank you.

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