Sunday, 20 April 2014

Blue Winged Olives on the Green

A Rainbow that took a Blackback WD.
The springtime Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatch on the Green River in Utah below Flaming Gorge Dam can be epic. It takes place in March-April and provides some of the best dry fly fishing in the Rocky Mountain west.    After years of trying to catch the hatch - I finally did on  Easter weekend April 19th and 20th.  Brad could not go, Carlos could not go, Jeff could not go, nor could Mike go; so I went alone.  Glad I did.

The thing about BWO's is that the hatch comes off if the weather gets rough.  Rain or snow and a bit of wind brings on the hatch.  A sunny day and the olives wait. I was lucky enough to get it all, rain, snow and wind. It's simply amazing to see the bugs start popping up to the surface like clockwork when the weather changes. And then the fish start rising, mostly in the back eddies and along the banks where the duns float lazily waiting for their new wings to dry.  If you watch carefully, you notice a single rise, and then a few more. Before long, you're tying on a dry fly watching pod of a dozen or more rising fish in the clear clear water.

Blue Winged Olive dun - nicely matched by a size 18 parachute dry.
On Saturday April 19th I floated the "A" section of the river.  It extends from the dam, 8 miles downstream to Little Hole.  Though I've fished the Green many times, I'd never floated it before.  The raft is a relatively new addition to my fishing arsenal and I floated it "alone" never out of sight of three to five other boats.  On Sunday I hoped to float the "B" section, but the shuttle is expensive and it adds at least an hour to the drive home so I hiked downstream from Little Hole and fished my way back up.

A nice brown 18" that took a BWO dry in shallow water - perfectly hooked in the neb.
On both days I spent the morning throwing nymphs and wets and did very well.  The water near the dam is colder and there is less BWO activity in that section.  More rainbows than browns in that upper section. I fished classic style winged wets on the dropper and a Black Back Wet Dream on the point.  The BBWD took lots of rainbows in the first couple of miles below the dam.  As I got downstream, the winged wets started taking more fish - and the takes on that fly were aggressive.  In one deep run I had a violent thumping take, and was broken off - perhaps the best  fish of the day.

On both days, by late morning, the weather kicked up and the olives started coming off which meant re-rigging to throw a dry fly.  Its been so long since I did any real dry fly fishing it's hard to relate how much fun it is, especially in the clear clear water of the Green.  What I mean by "real dry fly fishing" is fishing to a mayfly hatch, not throwing monstrous foam terrestrials or midges.  The BWO's are small, but not tiny, a solid size 18 is a good match for the hatch.  

A nice brown that took the dry fly from my raft anchored in the current.
I started fly fishing when I was a graduate student at Cornell. There is a popular bumper sticker in the area that says "Ithaca is Gorges". It's a great place to learn to fly fish with many streams flowing down into Cayuga lake. They support terrific runs of landlocked salmon, spawning browns in the fall, and rainbows in the spring. After building competency in basic skills (including a fly tying course offered through Cornell and taught by Lee Multari) I started driving south to fish the Delaware, the Beaverkill, and the Willowemoc. Hallowed waters in the history of American fly fishing.  These rivers and streams support prolific hatches, from early spring until fall, and it was there I learned the practice of fishing the dry fly.  

Walking back toward Little Hole on Sunday, the weather got bad and the hatch came off again.  I was fishing the pool at the base of a wide riffle when I noticed three or four excellent fish feeding on Baetis duns in water so shallow their backs were frequently exposed.  I tied on a dry and on the third or fourth cast was into a beautiful fish hooked perfectly in the neb.  It was getting late and so I headed back to the truck for the long drive home.  I was happy with y success and what better way to end the day.  

As I walked upstream I met two young anglers frantically fishing to a pod of fifteen or more fish greedily feeding on the surface.  The two young anglers had been there for more than an hour, unable to hook-up. They were throwing size 18 BWO dries. I gave them some advice and headed on, and as I moved further upstream I found a similar pod of fish and decided to try for them. Try as I might, I could not get them to take the dry fly that had just been so successful!  I switched flies, eventually trying every fly in my box that remotely resembled the BWO duns so obviously floating on the surface. Nothing worked.  Eventually, I tied on a size 16 parachute sulphur, a fly that was clearly not a good match.  Inexplicably, I hooked up right away.  After that fish, with a long drive ahead of me, I headed back upstream to the truck. As I walked the bank I was engulfed in a flight of spinners.  If I'd had more time I would haves tested my new theory, i.e., that the fish were taking spinners and not the duns.  The ginger hackle on the larger sulphur pattern that had proved successful was a near perfect match for the wings of a spent spinner.   A masking hatch, not the first time I've run into one, and always a revelation to realize what is really happening.

Final fish of the day that was feeding on spinners.

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