Monday, March 31, 2008

How High's the Water, Mama?

Answer: Not nearly as high as it's going to be come runoff time this June in the northern Rockies. We're already approaching the record levels that were set back during the winter of '96-'97. Hopefully the Army Corps of Engineers (aka 'Crats on Cats) are already busy fillings sandbags and tuning up their D9 Cats. They're going to need them once the Yellowstone River, under the burden of all this melting snow, starts cutting some new meanders down in the lower valley.

Colter Pass

That's 7 1/2' on the snow pole at Colter Pass just east of Cooke City, Montana and it's only the end of March. And typically some of the biggest dumps of the year occur in April and May up in the high country. On the Beartooth Plateau at Beartooth Lake there are 95" sitting on the ground right now and there's another major winter snow storm forecast today for central & southwest Montana that should easily push that total over 100 inches.

Fern Lake Patrol Cabin - Mirror Plateau

If your idea of a good time is busting drifts in the interior then you'll be looking at 118" on Two Ocean Plateau and a meager 80" down in Snake River Country.

These impressive Rocky Mountain snowfall totals should finally boost the flows in all the major river systems come summer. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the present Rocky Mountain snowpack should raise the now half empty Lake Powell by 50 feet.

I know that one good winter does not necessarily mean the end of a nearly decade-long drought, but right now all indications are pointing towards a beautiful summer for ranchers, firefighters and waterborne recreation in the inter-mountain West.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Will the Real Blue Winged Olives Please Stand Up

Greg Glitzer works a protracted hatch of Drunella lata mayflies on a drizzly, overcast, early summer day on Penns Creek

Now that the spring Baetis hatches are in full swing I thought it would be a good time for my annual BWO vs. Baetis rant...

It appears that no fly hatch is more confusing to the casual angler, or a popular name more mistakenly applied, than the name Blue Winged Olive. It has been used in popular fishing talk to describe everything from relatively large Ephemerella mayflies to the minute little duns of the Pseudocloeon genus. Even fishing writers and editors, who should know better, have also applied the name Blue Winged Olive to include the numerous species of Baetis mayflies, many of which lack the requisite blue wings and olive bodies.

The name actually comes from the British. They do not use it to describe the prolific Baetis mayflies of Europe but instead one of the more important Ephemerella hatches on the storied chalk streams like the Test and the Itchen. Therefore, the popular term Blue Winged Olive should only be applied to our numerous Ephemerella mayflies since we are lucky enough to have so many more of these olive bodied mayflies than our angling friends in Europe or the British Isles.

The following is a brief list of our olive bodied Ephemerella mayflies worthy of the name Blue Winged Olive. Recent reclassifications by taxonomists are in parenthesis:

1. bicolor (May 20 - July 15)
2. (Drunella) cornuta (May 30 - June 30)
3. (Attenella) attenuata (June 15 - July 15)
4. cornutella (June 15 - July 15)
5. (Drunella) lata (June 15 - July 30)

These five mayflies generally appear from late late spring through mid-summer here in Pennsylvania.

Anywhoo, it's one of the most confusing terms in fly fishing because it is carelessly applied to so many hatches and everyone seems to have a different opinion about which mayflies are emerging on those wonderful BWO mornings.

Ok, I'll go sit down now...

Monday, March 17, 2008

The 2008 Baetis Summit

Few events in Pennsylvania are anticipated with as much fervor as the annual Baetis Summit on Spring Creek. This winter has been an interminable one and, at times, the date for this long awaited gathering of Pro Staffers and other fly fishing misfits seemed like it would never get here. Add high water and an ominous weather forecast into the mix and it's no wonder that everyone was a bit nervous in the days leading up to the extraordinary event. Some folks were so jittery with anticipation that that they were even referring to those little early season slate-winged, brown bodied mayflies as "blue winged olives" which, as we all know, don't really make an appearance around here until late spring-early summer.

The weather proved anything but ominous as Pro Staffers assembled their gear in the Stackhouse parking lot. Friday afternoon's air temp. nudged the 60F mark and the water temp. at 3 pm was 49.5F. This is the traditional staging area for this early season summit because the stream has a good population of Baetis tricaudatus mayflies that typically begin their emergence in late February and continue right through into early April. Some years are better than others as far as hatch intensity goes and the past couple of years have yet to match the epic hatches of 2004 & 2005 when the Baetis came off in dense waves that poured out of the riffles all afternoon long with the fish up and all over them. In 2004 the hatch lasted for 6 weeks!

Here is our fearless leader, the Chief, enjoying a cold beverage just before noon while listening to a discussion on the finer points of bald eagle hunting. I see Bowhunter finally came over from the dark side and got himself a pair of Dan Bailey breathable waders here too.

Pro Staffers
L-R: Goose, Bowhunter, Chief and Matt

Goose made the long drive up from his home in Holidaysburg on Saturday to join us on the water. He and the other Pro Staffers listen intently as the Chief explains why trout will lose their proclivity to chow down and tend to go off the feed during periods of falling water.

The flow at Axemann's Hollow was 260 CFS and dropping. Seemingly perfect for a productive day of late winter fly fishing to the first mayflies of the season.

Goose works a knee deep riffle on the Rockview Prison grounds in the Spring Creek Canyon. He thought he could get away with trespassing by dressing up to look like Oliver Edwards. Goose then declared that he had "murdered 'em up there on the prison grounds".

Well, it appears the Chief was right. Stream levels had been dropping all week and the fish did seem to be a little off the feed this weekend. Sure we took a few fish on nymphs and a few on dries and on Saturday afternoon there was almost a halfway decent hatch of the little bastards but someone threw the switch early and the hatch petered out to nothing by 1430 hrs -just as some decent rising activity was starting to crank up.

The Heart of Saturday Night in Millheim, Pa.

The Millheim Hotel on a drizzly Saturday Evening.

Rails to Trails

Coburn Trestle on Penns Creek.

Sunday morning dawned cloudy & cold with a gusty wind. Matt & I decided to try our luck on Penns Creek downstream of Coburn and we actually got into a few few nice fish on large stonefly nymphs but, once again, we had to work hard for our fish. Matt's wife baked some ungodly delicious cookies as a reward for all our hard work.

No Country for Old Men

1,060 CFS and 42 degrees F (water & air).

Should any sane man be wading in these kind of flows? Let alone crossing over to the far bank of the stream? Both the weather and the wading were a little gnarly on Sunday but we toughed it out until those cold & gusty northernly winds finally chased off the water around 1400 hrs.

The Patriarch of Penns Creek
The huge old willow tree that once stood on the upstream side of the Coburn trestle bridge now lies prone on the downstream side. That last big push from Mother Nature last weekend (when Penns crested at 7,000 CFS) sent the whole thing, root wad and all, under the bridge and downstream to the tail of the pool. Now there's a nice deep eddy in it's former location.

Tulips are up now and the forsythia buds are swelling here in the southeastern part of the state. Spring must be right around the corner.

Please welcome Clem's Bar-B-Q as an official sponsor of Wade Rivers Wild Tramps.