A heavy – well, not too heavy, because you don’t want to compete with all those insects – Green Drake hatch is probably the dream of just about every fly fisherman around late May to mid-June. But to be honest, it’s pretty much a hit-and-miss thing. And we do a lot more missing than hitting.
That’s why when you get word of a Green Drake hatch – any kind, from a few to a moderate and even sporadically heavy hatch – fly fishers tend to drop what they’re doing and head to the water, always optimistic.
It had been quite a few years, in fact, since I hit a Green Drake hatch of any note, and with any luck. So when word came down that Green Drakes were spotted on a stretch of the West Branch of the Ausable River, I quickly swept things off my desk with my right arm and headed up to the Whiteface region for a look, optimistic I would time things perfectly and have a dream night on the water.
It’s kind of funny, really, that when it actually does happen, you’re stunned. Maybe all that optimism was just a front of some sort, and you really didn’t expect to stick trout after rising trout that reacted to your drifts as if you were Lee Wulff, or Gary Lafontaine, or so many other skilled anglers whom we try to emulate but always seem to fall short.
It was that way one evening when I hit the water early – around 6 p.m. – and found myself in relative solitude. We fly-fishers always get a little nervous when that happens. We want a stretch of river all to ourselves, but when we don’t encounter angling hordes we begin to wonder if maybe it’s because the fishing is lousy right here and right now.
For the record, it was anything but lousy. I took fish early and often, first on a Zug Bug nymph pattern as I scanned the water and above for signs of Green Drakes or Coffin flies, the spinner fall of the drakes.
The folks at the Hungry Trout Fly Shop in Wilmington had pretty much assured me if I stayed late enough – right until dark and even after – the spinner fall would occur and things would pop.
Things were going so well I actually became a little concerned that I was vacuuming the river with my nymph pattern and, by the time arrived to start fishing dries, I would have caught most of the browns in that stretch.
That didn’t happen. And as darkness closed in, a few Coffin flies made their appearance, enough to bring up seemingly every fish in the river. Not too many spinners, but enough to get the 8- to 14- and 15-inch browns, as we fly-fishers like to say, “looking up.”
I frantically tried to tie on a size 8 White Wulff, but fumbled with my tippet and noticed the hook eye had been filled a bit with thread from the fly. Rather than deal with that, I plunged back into my fly box and dragged out an actual Coffin fly pattern – a big, white, fluffy fly that would be easy to see, perhaps well into nightfall.
It was, to be honest, the kind of night that made even me look good. The trout rose enthusiastically, and were hooked with equal enthusiasm and then released back into the water. And they were just picky enough to make you work at it. Drag-free drifts caught fish; sloppy casts and dragging flies didn’t. Hey, we don’t want things to be too easy.
It was nearly 10 p.m. when I arrived home. I left the gear in the truck, and headed back into the home office. There was work to be done.
A high school graduation would keep me off the water the following night. But maybe Paula and I could cut away from that graduation party a little early on Saturday and....