Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Green Drake Chronicles

Dateline: June 14, 2003 - Tylersville, Pa. If ever there was an aquatic insect to stir the rich imaginations of the Eastern dry fly aficionado it would have to be Ephemera guttulata, aka the Green Drake, Shadfly, Coffinfly, Green Mayfly, etc. This large and regal mayfly appears on the waters surface just as spring is making the transition to summer, and the limestone streams of central Pennsylvania are almost synonymous with blizzard hatches of them. Almost as numerous as the insects themselves, are the number of variations of degrees of angler success during the hatch. The result of which can be a steady stream of grumbles and moans such as; not enough bugs, too many bugs, too much sun, too much rain, too windy, too calm, high water, low water, etc... familiar refrains, echoed by the Western Salmonfly fishermen. Nontheless, the call of the Green Drake is the siren song to which many a fly fisher (myself included) are fatally tuned. More often than not, as we will see, those Green Drakes even provide some pretty decent fishing.

The spring of 2003 was a cool & wet one by anyones standards. Streams that were high and bank full of ice cold water were the norm for much of the spring season. Many hatches that weren't completely lost in a sea of high water were delayed by up to two weeks. Such was how my friends and I found oursleves fishing the peak of the Green Drake emergence on Big Fishing Creek during Fathers Day Weekend in June, 2003. In a normal year of precipitation the hatch would have been over by that time. In the above photo, my fishing buddy Greg -an intrepid angler- is drifting a tandem nymph/dun rig under some excellent overhead cover along the bank of Big Fishing Creek, and actually had a nice fish take which shortly then executed a LDR.

The day had dawned cloudy, warm and humid with more showers in the forecast. Greg had reported excellent rising activity to Green Drake duns along this same stretch of stream the night before so hopes were high around noontime as we donned our waders, checked our knots and bushwacked our way through a thick stand of hemlocks down to the stream. Typically on these warm, cloudy, overcast type days you can expect the duns to start popping much earlier in the day than normally expected. Alas, that was not to be the case today -at least on Fishing Creek. Not a Green Drake dun in sight, yet. It must have been quite a hatch last night and apparently Fishing Creek needed a little time to reload both barrels so to speak. After a quick glance up and down the stream corridor revealed only a few dark dun colored caddis in flight, it quickly became apparent that we would start the day off by fishing nymphs in the riffles, pocketwater and runs until some serious drake hatching gets under way.

Turns out the creek was in perfect shape for nymph fishing. The previous weeks rains had it running slightly high and bank full of ice cold water, the clarity was slightly murky -or limestone green- and the already mentioned cloud cover would make those wild browns a little easier to sneak up on. On top of that, it had been raining off and on all afternoon, with some localized heavy storms up in the headwaters of Big Fishing Creek in the Sugar Valley. There is no better time to nymph fish a limestoner than on rising water -and that's exactly what the stream was doing that afternoon. No need to sit on the bank for hours, guarding your spot on a productive pool until the onset of the hatch, when you can be actively fishing the riffles and pocketwater with imitations of the nymphs that the trout have been keying in on for the past few days.

These inquisitive anglers are taking the time to poke around in the stream substrate to check on the maturity of the Green Drake nymphs on this soggy, humid June day in central Pennsylvania.

As if on cue, the Green Drake duns began to pop shortly before sunset in the Narrows. Surely the rising water would effect the rise, but to what extent? The answer would come shortly as the first rises began to appear along the edges of the pools and moderatley fast runs. It was thrilling to watch those huge duns drifting downstream, tight to the bank, only to disappear in the swirl of a good fish. These fish were up and feeding and they were not being shy about it. There were no last minute refusals, no compound/complex riseforms, nor were there any fish balancing the fly on their nose this evening. No cripples or stillborn duns needed, and 9' of 3X tippet would be a much better choice than 12' of 7X. This was down and dirty dry fly fishing central Pennsylvania style.

As it grew darker, and the hatch became heavier, entire pools came alive with rising trout. The normally recalcitrant and picky wild browns of this stream now seemed like easy pickin's and it was hard to keep from "flock shooting". Then just as it was becoming too dark to see, the Coffin Fly spinners hit the water and the real feeding frenzy begins. You start to hear the audible sounds of a few large browns gulping down helpless spinners yet, because you are so focused on this pleasant endeavor, you don't even notice the soft chirping of the crickets, nor the smell of the forest on this warm and humid evening. You briefly think of the cup of bourbon waiting for you back at camp and for a few brief moments in time all seems right with the world.

Later that evening, on the walk back to the parking lot after dark, one could even pick up fish here and there by following the stream corridor and casting to the audible and barely visible riseforms.

It was on the drive along Fishing Creek Road, later that night, that we saw million and millions of Ephemerella dorthea spinners undulating over the road. Had they been a couple of sizes larger, they would have caused automobiles to overheat by clogging up their radiators. A sight I won't soon forget!

One of my favorite tactics for fishing the Green Drake hatch in solitude is to be on the stream at daybreak on the morning following a good fall of Coffin Fly spinners. Most of the local fly fishers will still be sleeping off the evening rise.If conditions are right, you can find plenty of fish still rising to left over spinners remaining from the night before. They can get trapped in back eddies, side channels and pockets, then slowly released into the main current. It's imperative to find a good pool with a slow to moderate current for this kind of activity.

Parting Shot: The bewitching hour on Big Fishing Creek. The rain continued to fall and the creek continued to rise. Even with these rising water levels, trout continued to feed on the surface, taking Green Drake duns and spinners well into the night.