The time has finally come, the time when all of us Northwestern anglers can begin leaving the strike indicators at home and pulling out the foam. It is the time of year we begin to see terrestrials and stoneflies, more sunburns and crocs. It is the time of year when we spend a lot of gas money fishing our tails off, usually chasing hatches and dry fly eats. As snowmelt begins, the weather is also shaping up. With warmer temperatures outside, the bigger stonefly nymphs feel as if it is time to crawl towards the banks and begin to hatch. Trout push shallow after these high-protein sourced meals. Recently, I had the opportunity to sneak away from all the madness of graduating at my university and dealing with family in town by hitting the water with my best friend from college, Brett Downs. It was time we’d go chase after some pre-runoff trout. There is a river that we were told from some locals that obtains a Salmonfly hatch much sooner than other waters in the area. We thought we’d go check it out and see what we could see. We started on the lower river, as these bugs will work their way upriver as they hatch. So at the beginning of this hatch, the lower water would be best likely to have the most bugs around. When rigging up, we tied on a chubby Chernobyl with a dark orange belly and brown legs. I tied a loop knot on 2x nylon tippet to this fly for mobility. Below, I dropped about 2 feet of 3x fluorocarbon tippet off the back of the hook using an improved clinch knot, to a tungsten, mop fly rubber leg pattern in a size 4, big boy. Make sure before you take your first cast, to give that foam a good dunk in Flyagra or floatant. You want that baby riding nice and high, all day long.
We arrived to the water around 11 AM, it was still a bit chilly outside. We fished some fast pocket water and shallow shorelines, but no luck. Therefore, we quickly decided to change our game plan and find some slower, deeper holes behind larger pieces of structure, maybe where some salmon flies would hang around. Especially, because the flows on this river were a bit high, pushing these fish to the sides and hopefully, after the big bugs in shallow. This new game plan proved to be very effective. As I lifted my 5wt black series up, pulling my two flies out of the water, a stud rainbow grabbed my dropper in a deep, swirly pool behind a massive boulder. The fish fought hard and ended up being a solid, 21” trout. This goes to show that in the early parts of a hatch, it is so crucial to tie on that dropper and fish your rig as if you were nymphing. I got lucky pulling my flies up and out to entice this strike, but a great number of the time you will be letting that dropper tick bottom as your chubby rides high.
Our next spot was a side channel, we walked upstream and I spooked a really solid fish off of the bank on river right. We walked up past that fish as I could no longer spot him. On the way back down after no luck, I saw an overhanging bush that looked promising. I casted my dry-dropper right with the chubby landing right in front of the bush, on the outer edge, allowing my extra 2 feet of dropper to land right on the bank and sink down below the bush. Somehow, not getting snagged, my chubby dunked under as my dropper was DEEP under this bush. I set the hook down and to the side, pulling out a solid, 17” fish. As I brought that fish into my new, long handle Renegade net, I realized it was the same fish I had spooked on the walk up, and this rainbow had just hidden deep under the bush after I scared it to death. If I hadn’t had on a heavy dropper nymph with the excess 2 feet, I couldn’t have ever reached this fish with a fly, not even euro nymphing, or as precise and efficient as an indicator rig.
One last spot in mind was this hard, 90-degree turn in the river. The sun was shining bright and we found a bank covered in Salmonflies. Brett casted his dry dropper into a skinny back pocket with logs and boulders, sure enough, a fat rainbow came up quick and smacked his dry. He missed his hook-set, but it goes to show that after countless fresh casts back in there, nothing ate the dropper. That fish wanted a dry fly only and the dry dropper couldn't have helped answer the questions of that fish any better. Casting a dry dropper is much lighter and more fun to cover water with. It is my favorite way to fish in the summer as I can cover two columns, two stages of a hatch, and discover what mood the fish are truly in.
Photography & Written byJoe Evans
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