Summer Fly Fishing

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My mind is busy as I inch my way along the bank of a small trout stream on a summer morning. Immersed in the sights and sounds of the stream and riparian landscape, I wonder if mayflies are hatching and hungry trout are laying in wait; I give thanks for the opportunity to experience cold, unpolluted water on a smoldering hot summer day; and, I always anticipate a surprise encounter – perhaps a heron, beaver, deer, butterfly, or maybe an interesting spider web.

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As I approached the scene above, I noticed fluttering along the rocky shore: orange and black, but too small to be a Monarch. It was a Viceroy butterfly, puddling in the mud at water’s edge.

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My main goal (not always clear when I carry my camera) is to locate surface-feeding trout and fool them with a crude imitation of their natural meal.

This is late July and August, when the Trico (Tricorythodes) mayfly hatch is at its peak. Clouds of molting duns and mating spinners appear above riffles soon after daylight on warm, muggy late summer mornings. The grayish or transparent wings appear white when backlit, leading frustrated fishermen to describe the hatch as the “white curse”. Frustration enters the picture because these tiny mayflies, just a few millimeters long, are difficult to imitate and even more difficult to present as naturals to spooky trout in calm, clear water.

” … the Tricorythodes hatch is an angling revelation, offering some of the most reliable, challenging and fulfilling angling of the year.” (from “Hatches: A Complete Guide to Fishing the Hatches of North American Trout Streams” by Caucci and Nastasi.

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A Trico spinner captured in a spider web during its mating flight

Tricos die and fall to the water as spent spinners after mating. Trout then sip them from the surface film. The telltale “ring of the rise” has been at the center of fly fishing stories and literature for centuries.

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It’s logical to assume that a fish might expend more energy than is gained when feeding on tiny Tricos. To make it worthwhile, trout hover near the surface in narrow feeding lanes and calm eddies where currents funnel large numbers of spent or dead spinners.

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When all is said and done, spent Trico spinners can be found in spider webs. The dry fly in the center, tied on a size #24 hook, is a crude and over-sized imitation, but also approaches the practical limit of fly tying and fly fishing. Surprisingly, it can be very effective when trout are feeding aggressively and have not experienced heavy fly fishing pressure.

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The Trico hatch brings closure to my fly fishing season, but also fuels anticipation and planning for the seasons ahead. I’m a catch-and-release fly fisherman, so I just might have another chance at this beautiful brown next year, when it’s bigger and wiser!

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A brown trout and tight line during a Trico spinner fall

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

 

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A Foraging Buck

A favorite deer-watching site is the edge of a woodland thicket near the junction of cultivated fields of corn, oats and hay. On a good evening, my first sighting and rush of adrenaline is velvet-covered branches moving through the oats. When it happens before sunset, the contrast is startling and the scene surreal.  When the animal is a large, mature buck, I’m a very happy photographer!

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Photos by NB Hunter (August 4, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Antler Development in Whitetails

The annual phenomenon of antler development in whitetails begins in the spring with the appearance of antlers in velvet and ends in late August/early September when antlers harden and the velvet is shed.

The following images were taken during two photo shoots, one on July 10, the other on July 18. Several bucks are represented, ranging from yearlings to a mature buck that appears to be four or five years old (maximum antler size generally occurs at age six or seven). It’s safe to say that the basic antler structure of these bucks is now apparent because growth will soon be slowing down to a trickle. These are farm-country deer, foraging in cultivated fields (mostly alfalfa hay fields).

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

Milkweed: plant it and they will come!

In recent years milkweed has received much attention as habitat for dwindling populations of monarch butterflies. Most of the more than 100 species in the Americas are tropical, but one species in particular is a staple of monarchs in the North: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

My backyard milkweed project started in 2015 with a few transplants from a nonproductive, roadside location. Establishment was slow, but they’re now flourishing. Vegetative reproduction by root sprouts has created a colony of about 30 stems and the large, fragrant flower clusters are insect magnets (according to the US Forest Service, over 450 insects are known to feed on some part of the plant, including flower nectar). I focused on the Lepidoptera, attempting to document the variety of butterflies and moths that benefit from flowering milkweed. Multiple benefits from a single management action is a best-case scenario. The value added from a colony of milkweed is much greater than monarch habitat.

I’ve observed 9 or 10 species of butterflies and moths thus far, as well as countless bees, flies and other insects. This is a sample!

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Honeybee

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Monarch

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Tiger Swallowtail

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Cabbage White

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Ctenucha Moth

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Fritillary

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Tiger Swallowtail

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White Admiral

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Monarch

Photos by NB Hunter (early July, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Deer Antlers

Regardless of the number of whitetails observed throughout the course of a year, antler growth on large males continues to amaze, entertain and educate. Antlers are shed in late winter and in a few months new ones appear, often larger and more complex than the year before. They’ll be fully developed, calcified and glistening in the sun by late summer.

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Developing antlers grow faster than any other organ in the animal world, sometimes an inch (several centimeters) a day in a healthy, mature buck.

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The key ingredients for this amazing spectacle of renewal are age, nutrition and genetics. The buck in this series, photographed last evening, is sporting impressive antler development but it will be 3 or 4 years before he reaches his peak size. He’s foraging in farm fields, in this case alfalfa, so I doubt that his summer diet is limiting.

BuckAM29June18#5710E3c8x10I hope he sticks around and continues to forage in good light because I’d love to finish his story in September, showing the finished and polished product!

Photos by NB Hunter (29June2018). © All rights reserved.

Whitetails in Early Summer

Recreational interest in deer increases dramatically in early summer. This is especially true in farm country where visibility is good and deer are constantly on the move in response to the growth and management of crops. Patient viewers are often rewarded with sightings of nursing fawns (about a month old now) and bucks in velvet.

Following up on a report of fawn triplets and a mature buck on a local dairy farm, I set out to investigate fields of waist-high corn and uncut hay.

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Damselfly on the tall grass of an uncut hay field

Deer were moving into the fields almost immediately after a tractor and loaded hay wagon left for the day. They grow accustomed to big, noisy farm machinery and know precisely where the most nutritious and palatable crops are located on any given day. The adaptability of whitetails never ceases to amaze me.

This buck, approaching the fields from thick bedding cover, detected me before I was set up and bolted for his swampy retreat cover. He is a large, mature deer and I heard the pounding of his hooves on hard ground before I saw him.

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Photos by NB Hunter (June, 2018). © All rights reserved.

The Wonderful Month of June

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A favorite freestone stream in the mountains, alive with aquatic insects and foraging trout

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A massive White Pine with centuries of stories locked within

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Tiger Swallowtails “mud-puddling” to ingest nutrients and improve reproductive success

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A chatty House Wren, rewarding me for the nest box I hung on a garden post

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Taking a grooming timeout while guarding the nearby nest and solitary eaglet.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird incubating 1-3 eggs; they’ll hatch in about 2 weeks

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An egg-laying Snapper; she dug her nest in roadside gravel near her swampy habitat 

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A month-old whitetail fawn learning about mobility

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Wild mustard colonizing a fallow field on a dairy farm

Photos by NB Hunter (June, 2018). © All rights reserved.