When the weather finally turned irresistible for the craft of venturing into the stream-lined depths of mother nature, I got on the West Branch Genesee and, later, the main stem Genesee. There, among the hills and hollows of the dual-state watershed, I made my evening peace with the caddis fly. For three nights straight, I was ready for the Grannom fly (Brachycentrus americanus), and the hatches were spectacular.

scruffy but effective

The West Branch is typically narrow, rocky and alder-lined, but the dark gray caddis was fluttering moth-like from the surface, and the wild trout were punchy drunk with expectation. I was reeling in a small brook trout when I was saw the golden flash from a larger fish beneath it. Releasing the little fellow, I decided to try a Muddler Minnow for the bigger trout. Before I could tie the Muddler on completely, though, the wild fish, a lengthy brown, made an unsuccessful but gorgeous leap while chasing a Coffin Fly (Ephemera guttulata) that sailed low overhead.

This was the kind of stuff that passionate anglers live for, though I don’t know many who are willing to sacrifice their ease to fish this kind of brushy water to obtain its sweet reward. I abandoned the Muddler Minnow for an imitation of the Coffin Fly and quickly put the brown trout on the line.

On each night of the Grannom hatch, I was greeted by the Vreep! Vreep! shrieking of the great-crested flycatcher and the quieter, weepy notes of the alder and willow flycatchers as these songbirds posted nesting territories along the stream and took their share of hatching insects. A fly-fishing lover of birds could go bonkers in a place like this.

On the second night along this headwater stream I hooked and lost a large fish in addition to catching and releasing a lot of smaller brown and brook trout. The big one grabbed the drifting Grannom fly and fought me hard, flipping in all directions till it tangled line and leader in an undercut and freed the artificial from its lip. I like to think that specimen was 17 inches, plus.

The third night I was down below Genesee village where the headwater branches all converge to form the main stem of the river in New York. The Grannom was hatching by 6 p.m. and only intensified as night came on. As if gravity was giving up the ghost, the wild and stocked trout rose with the emerging insects.

Fishing the river with a nine-foot four-weight rod was calm and leisurely compared to nights of casting on the headwaters, but the Grannom fly, the songbirds, and the willing trout were equally exciting. In a day or two, this caddis hatch would be over, and the fishing would be downbeat for a while.

an extra on the set

The Genesee angler will be happy if the fly box held a reasonable imitation of the caddis, or be frustrated by refusals if the imitations lacked a similarity in color, size and profile. Either way, the angler will be ready when another late spring season sends its dark gray caddis to the world beside this river.

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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25 Responses to Flycatcher

  1. Les Kish says:

    Some nicely composed photos Walt, especially the tiger swallowtail and the last brook trout image. I can see why Mr. Scruffy would work as an egg laying caddis…..

    • Well, it’s probably Mrs. Scruffy, though the males may also be doing extra duty these days… They sure were busy, hatching in veritable clouds. Thanks for the appreciation, Les!

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Reeling and punch drunk as you immersed yourself in the fly fishing craft – what a series of evenings you had. Fine photographs, and beautiful descriptions of the tussles in the water, and other wildlife nearby. I hope your late spring and early summer evenings continue this well. Looking forward to reading more – thanks, Walt!

    • Thanks Adam, and all the best your way, as well. With school being over, or just about finished for now, I look forward to reading more of your own adventures near or far.

  3. This sounds like it was a truly wonderful excursion. I have dreams of caddis fly hatches after stumbling on them a few times last summer (including one outing to a hike-in lake where my family patiently dealt with mosquitoes while I had a spectacular hour of fishing). Lovely photo of the Tiger swallowtail, as well. They have just started showing up here for the season. I love them

    • Hi Douglas. One downside of the heavy caddis hatch (so it seems) is a heavy hatch of blackflies and mosquitoes along the smaller streams around here. The heat has brought them on. Anyway, the tiger swallowtails continue to display their beauty, and I’m happy that they’re making their appearance where you are. And hopefully you’ll experience more great fishing when the caddis hatch around your favorite lakes.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    I’m envious of your birdsong identifying talents, Walt. It’s the part of the birding game I struggle with the most. Might try the Allegheny below the dam in the morning – see if the tan Caddis are making an appearance.

    • Bob, The birding element seems integral to me. Have always loved it and regret that it passes so quickly, that is, where the migrators and others are readily apparent in spring and early summer before the heavy duty season puts a lid on their visual and auditory aspects. So yeah, thanks, and I hope you enjoy the dam’s outflow. May the blackflies and mosquitoes have mercy on you.

  5. Brent says:

    The colors in that picture of the swallowtail are really striking–nice closeup shot! I also liked the image in my head of the bigger trout cresting for a snack.

  6. Leigh says:

    Sounds like a nice time. Planning on Summerfest this year. Hope to see you there.

  7. I have to tell you Walt, there is nothing that excites me, never mind the fish, more than a nice caddis hatch. Life is good!

    • A good mayfly hatch could do it for me, too, maybe more so, but on many of our local waters that might be unlikely (oh, the brown drake hatch did it recently), so a solid caddis or stonefly hatch can lift me out of the doldrums. Yes, Howard, and thanks!

  8. Ross says:

    Sounds like you had quite an enjoyable few evenings. Nice pictures of fin and fly _ butterfly & caddis.

    • Hi Ross! Yeah the river was nice last week before the heat wave struck. Hopefully the evenings are still quite productive, and you’re finding some time to spend with the rod & reel.

  9. Walt
    I know I’ve told you this before how I would love to live in the northeast, not only for its beauty, but for the abundance of wild trout streams you guys have to fish. Your description of your trip made me feel I was there with you.
    Being a birding guy, makes me wonder how many more species I could identify living there. Glad I have you as a blogging buddy to live my dream through your blog!! Thanks for sharing

  10. Oh you’re welcome, Bill. There’s a rich diversity of both birdlife and trout streams in this region, and I feel lucky to have landed here over the years, but it seems that no matter what area of the country I may visit, there is always a lot to be discovered and enjoyed when you start digging into the possibilities there. Anyway, it’s always good to have you come along with me on these digital rambles, and if you ever get up this way on one of your travels, let me know!

  11. JZ says:

    Walt, I have had great times fishing the Grannom hatch in years past. However, hard times have been the majority with that hatch. High water is usually the crushing downfall. Although a Pickett wet fly can be somewhat of a savior under less than ideal conditions if muddy water hasn’t stricken. Feast or famine hatch for sure! Really glad to have read your thread, as always. Cant wait for things to ease up at work so I can play with some fish. Hope your fathers day was special and you took time to give thanks for the lucky things your blessed with…I know I did! I almost forgot, wonderful pictures of that brook. Wow! Speaking of pictures, I picked-up a watercolor of a Westslope Cutthroat trout from Thom Glace. Really beautiful…

    • JZ, Yes the special day was a good one here and thanks were duly given. Things have slowed down with heavy water again, and the trout action has shifted toward each end of the day. I’ll bet that watercolor is a beauty. Sounds like a great find. I’m hoping to locate some westslope and other cutthroats on a mountain tour next month. Thanks, and always good to hear from you.

  12. Jet Eliot says:

    I enjoyed your descriptions and photos, Walt. I like it that you and the flycatchers are all working happily together, and think it’s great that you know their calls. Wonderful post.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Walt, Great pics and congrats on the fish. The Genny has so much nice water. Thanks for bringing us along.

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