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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
A brown trout and tight line during a Trico spinner fall
Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.