Thursday, March 26, 2020

Little Black Stone Flies and...Hendricksons

This past Saturday I fished the South Branch of the Raritan River for a couple of hours in the afternoon and had a great time fishing dry flies.   The river was a little low and clear as gin, the air was maybe 50F with a bright sun moving in and out of the clouds passing overhead.  When I got there I was expecting ot see the black stoneflies on the water, but I wasn't expecting to see Hendricksons hatching so early in the season.  Not a ton, but enough that the trout were focused on eating them over the more adundant stoneflies.

Of course, I didn't notice the Hendricksons at first, as there were plenty of stonesflies in the air and on the water and so that's what I initially set out to imitate with a #14 dark gray caribou caddis.  I dropped the fly over rising trout only to have them ignore it time after time.  My presentations didn't put the fish down, I thought I was getting a good drift, but the trout were having none of it and kept rising like I wasn't even there.  So I stopped casting and got down low to reduce the glare coming off the water,  and looked across the surface and saw a mayfly.  I watched it drift along and sure enough a trout went out of its way to take it.  I watched some more and much to my surprise I saw more of what turned out to be hendricksons, mostly red quills (males) but also a few of the larger hendricksons (females).  So as not to disturb the good water, I waded downstream to a shallow run and stepped out into the current to grab one of the insects to positively identify it.  Yep, a red quill!  About 2 weeks earlier than we normally see them in this region of the Northeast.

(Red Quill)
I did not expect this at all; 50 years of trout fishing in New Jersey and I had never seen hendricksons hatching this early in the year.  I have seen a random one here and there in late March over the years, but not enough to bring up fish.  I also saw a single quill gordon, large and looking much like the female hendrickson, but a lighter body and only two tails.  Hendricksons have three tails.

Once I got back to the run where fish were rising to the duns, I tied a size #12 Catskill hendrickson to the end of a new, 3 foot long, piece of 5X tippet.  I waited and watched until I saw a consistently rising fish and then with a quick cast I dropped my fly a couple of feet about the working fish.  The fly dragged before it got to the target so I picked it up and made another cast, this time a strong reach cast, and that did it.  The fly drifted right over the fish and it took it like candy.  I brief fight ensued before I netted a nice rainbow. 

A number of fish were working the run I was fishing, and a few casts later I hooked and landed another rainbow.  The hatch pulsed as it usually does, with brief periods of flies coming off the water and fish taking them followed by a 5 to 10 minute period with few bugs and the fish presumably resting on the bottom waiting for another pulse.  I wound up taking a bunch of cookie cutter rainbows and a nice brown trout.

And here's the one fly that did the trick.  I took this one in the sun where it appears very light, but it isn't, as you can see in the second photo.  The hackle and tail is from a rusty dun neck from Sidlinghill Hackle and the body is a mix of tan, pink and gray rabbit fur.  When I have a good day with a fly, I cut if off and save it leaving some of the tippet so I have a momento from a good day on the water.     

It looks like the hendrickson hatch is likely going to peak quite a bit early this year, perhaps before opening day in New Jersey.  So if you go out you will have to fish special regulation waters which there are only a limited amount of; don't expect to  be alone on the water.

Sharpen your hooks and give each other plenty of room on the's just fishing.      


Jay said...

Thanks reading this was the bright spot of my morning

Hibernation said...

Looks like a great time!

Unknown said...

Nice Matt, great info! I’ll really have to make a trip ASAP.

Mr. Q said...

Nice story. I may get out Monday

TomK said...

Good to have you back posting. Missed it,

Mr. Q said...

I agree 100%

Anonymous said...

Glad you are back posting.

Ex Principal said...

Great post. Happy your blog is active again.