All week long I’d been looking for Mr. Hendrickson, my personification of the great Eastern mayfly hatch. Because of the cold, wet spring, this first of the big mayfly hatches in the region was expected to be later than usual, but it could happen any day that Mr. Hendrickson saw fit.
The artificial pattern for this fly was first created by the Catskill tier, Roy Steenrod, around 1920, for a fishing customer whose name was Hendrickson. The mayfly, Ephemerella subvaria, is heralded by Eastern anglers as a key player in the new dry fly season, the nymphs emerging from the depths of a stream to unfold their wings on the surface and to dry them long enough to stir a feeding frenzy in the trout.
The females and the males of these adult insects have smoky blue wings. The female has a light pink body, and the male has a darker, reddish cast. The females tend to hatch from one section of a stream, a riffle perhaps, and the males tend to hatch from another. Mr. Hendrickson, my personification of this complex critter, is an interesting fellow who contains both male and female parts.
A week ago I was fishing the West Branch Genesee and looking for its first few Hendricksons. I was well inside the woods when I heard a rustle downstream. I saw a gray-haired angler who, approaching the pool that I was sampling, proved to be a female, astonishingly enough. I love it that more and more women are taking to the field these days, but I rarely ever see one fishing solo, that is, without a male partner nearby. This angler, wearing camouflage and plastic, sauntered in and asked what I was using for bait. I showed her my tandem nymphs. “Oh, flies,” she said. “I should try them sometime, but I really like my nightcrawlers.” With that, she swung her weighted crawler to a root wad in my pool, and continued: “Let’s see if there’s a trout hiding under there.” Luckily, no trout responded. She was not Mr. Hendrickson, I acknowledged confidently. Reeling in my line, I excused myself, and slunk away.
I checked for Hendricksons on several creeks throughout the week but on each occasion I saw little. It didn’t help that the sky was bright each afternoon and the water still cold from all the freezing April nights. When the new weekend rolled around, however, the weather was considerably warmer, and the prospects for some serious hatch activity looked fair.
On Saturday I was privileged to fish about a mile of private water on one of the best freestone creeks in Pennsylvania. I was looking for a 3 o’clock hatch of Hendricksons when I chanced to meet another fly-fisherman coming my way. We paused to chit-chat about the weather, how we humans love the bright spring day, whereas the trout probably had different opinions about the sun. We commented on each other’s bamboo rod, on the maker of the stick, on how many pieces each contained and what their lengths were. When bamboo-wielding anglers suddenly meet out of nowhere on a peaceful stream, I dare say the scene is not unlike two friendly dogs meeting for the first time and sniffing tails.
I commented on the prospect of a Hendrickson hatch, and the other fellow said that it could happen. “I start looking for them when the shad bush blossoms,” he stated. A variety of blooms were on the forest and the streambanks; and I looked at this guy and knew him to be older than myself (believe it or not), and almost bursting with life experience. I wondered if he was Hendrickson, himself.
The next day I was out on the same northern Pennsylvania stream, and now the sky was overcast. Wonderful, I thought. Clouds, along with the prospect of rain, might actually spur some insect hatches! I began by casting a pair of wets, but as mid-afternoon arrived and the first few Hendrickson duns appeared on the surface, I switched to a dry fly.
Ten minutes later the rain began to lightly fall. The temperature was dropping. I saw a splash on quiet water near a riffle, and I knew that surface feeding had begun. A specimen of Roy Steenrod’s mayfly, in living color, landed on my hand and perched there in the stiffening breeze. Before a gust of wind blew it away, and before I made a roll-cast to the narrow feeding lane, I made my introduction.