Tail End of the stonefly hatch - but great dry fly fishing all day long!!
I just got off the river after a three day float Sun-Tues and I am here to report that the dry fly fishing was excellent all three days. We are certainly at the tail end of the hatch in terms of the big bugs (as you can see in the picture above). As would be expected at this time in the hatch, the golden stones were actively ovipositing from morning to night - landing anywhere in the river to get those eggs down in the water. We saw very few salmonflies and those that we did see were rarely on the water, since they drop their eggs from the sky.
However, thanks to a couple of rainy days we got to experience some insane mayfly hatches. In the morning we were seeing pale morning duns, and pink alberts. In the afternoon we saw pale evening duns and, best of all, green drakes. The green drake hatch didn't last long, but long enough to hook a bunch of the pickiest trout in the backeddies during a downpour. The caddis were super active too, so we were changing flies all day as we floated down river and stopped at each pod of rising fish. Some fish were eating golden stoneflies, some were focused on pale morning duns, and some wouldn't eat anything but a specific caddis pattern (and that specific pattern was different for each of the picky fish).
Having a broad selection of flies was key to our success on the river during our trip. There were times when we were standing in a backeddy and had 8-10 fish rising and feeding on really small dries. We changed flies 5-6 times, sorting through boxes of mayflies and caddis, size 16, size 18, size 14, pale yellow, tan, caddis green, dark brown, black, and offered each new fly to the rising pod. Eventually, we landed on a winner that allowed us to hook most of the fish in that eddy. At the next stop 1/2 mile down river we always started with the winner from the last backeddy, only to find that the menu preference was slightly different downstream.
In the 20 years of helping people in our fly shop, I cannot even count the number of times that I have heard people say, "I never saw anything rising, so I just fished nymphs all day." Sure, nymphs are productive and will work on most days on the water - but I always think back to my most special moments with a fly rod in hand and they are always the dry fly eats. There is nothing more special in the sport of fly fishing than fooling a trout with an expertly-tied dry fly, dropped lightly onto the target just a few feet upstream from its holding spot, drifting that fly drag-fee into the zone, and gently tightening up a half a second after the fly touches those trouty lips. Dry fly fishing is what the months of May, June and July are all about. I take advantage of any chance I get to fish dry flies.
So, when I approach the river I do so with the first and foremost intent of finding fish that are sipping in the surface film. To do this, you must look for the prime habitat and, once you find that habitat, you must wait patiently staring at the foam lines for 5-10 minutes until you see a nose break through the surface film. Once you have located a bank feeder, more observation can help you decipher a feeding pattern. Is the rise violent and slashy, or is it a slow soft sip? Can you see the actual bugs that the trout are picking off the surface? A stonefly will usually elicit a more violent rise - especially if competition in the area is present. A dead caddis, on the other hand, is a snack that won't fly away and can be sipped leisurely. Mayflies can be quite abundant when they hatch, but the hatch is relatively short-lived and trout REALLY love Mayflies so the rise will sometimes be slashy and other times sippy.
Here is a picture of the Heptagenia, aka Pale Evening Dun. These are large pale yellow mayflies with a dark tan/brown topside and tall wings. Sizes 12-14 pale yellow flies like a Light Cahill are a good choice for this afternoon/evening bug hatch. On a warm overcast day this hatch can be nuts!
Use the clues that the trout give you when selecting the dry fly to present to them, AND (here's the really important bit) if you put a fly over a trout and you know it was a good drift in the area where the trout will have definitely seen the fly and the fly does not get eaten - CHANGE THE FLY immediately. Putting it out there again and again will only put the trout into extremely wary mode, or, worse yet, will put them down.
So, the dry fly fishing over the next two months will continue to be strong. At times you may have to use a dropper nymph below your dry to do some pre-hatch prospecting, but the dries will happen for you if you keep your eyes peeled and look for the fish in the foam lines.
The coming weather over the next few days looks breezy with a chance of a rain shower. We hear the there is an atmospheric river flowing over the northwest starting sometime today, which will dump a bunch of rain on the West side and will quite possibly push the West side rivers into flood stage. The Eastside rivers like the Deschutes, Metolius, and Crooked will likely be your best option for the weekend, if you happen to be making plans.
Tight lines to you all, and we hope to see you out on the water!
Great advice! This year I gained a bunch of confidence fishing the small dries during the big bug hatch with significant success even when it was raining. I have a new perspective on how good dry fly fishing can be with the right presentation, location, and willingness to try different bugs frequently.