02/17/11
Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1.    Blue-winged Olives
2  .  Sculpin, baitfish and small crayfish (Imitate with streamers)
3.    Midges
4.    Little Winter Stoneflies
5.    Quill Gordon Nymphs
6.    Blue Quill Nymphs


New Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trout Food Series - Quill
Gordon Nymphs
I will never forget the first time Angie and I set out to capture some Quill Gordon
nymphs in the Smokies. We had just received our permit from the park and were
interested in getting some video and images of the nymphs for our
Mayfly DVD. It  
was the only stage of life we lacked having for the Quill Gordons. We already had
plenty of video and still shots of duns and spinners from several other locations. To
make a long story short, we worked almost all day before getting the first one. It was
about this same time of the year in late February and the streams of the Smokies
were loaded with nymphs and larvae but we couldn't come up with the first Quill
Gordon nymph. These nymphs are very easy to distinguish from other nymphs
because they are clingers with only two tails. Most other mayfly nymphs, especially
those larger ones, have three tails. That tells you very quickly if you need to
continue in making a positive identification of the nymphs. We couldn't find any two
tailed nymphs anywhere near the size of the
Epeorus pleuralis or Quill Gordons. By
the way, they vary from a hook size 12 to 14.

The next move we made was to go back to where we had seen hundreds of Quill
Gordons hatching in previous years of fishing the Smokies. One spot that stood out
in my mind was on the Middle Fork of Little River. We drove all the way from the
North Carolina side of the park to the same location we had found a huge hatch the
year before on the Middle Fork of LR to try there. Our kick nets still came up empty
everywhere we tried. I was getting really frustrated.

Finally, we moved in an area of the stream where we hadn't tried - a small pool
behind a big boulder that was about knee deep. There was little current to wash the
nymphs into the net but we tried. We came up with over a dozen Quill Gordon
nymphs the first try. Everywhere we found a similar area of water, we came up with
more Quill Gordon nymphs. The wing pads were bulging out and it appeared they
were about to split open. Later on we learned from studying every book that has
ever been written on aquatic insects, that the nymphs had obviously moved from the
bottom of the runs and deep riffles where they normally live, to the calmer pockets
to hatch.

I went through this ordeal just to point out one thing. Prior to hatching, the Quill
Gordon nymphs will migrate from their normally fast water habitat (the bottom of
rocks in fast water) to nearby adjacent areas of calmer water. Unlike the Blue Quills
and many other mayflies, they don't move to shallow water areas. They remain in
fairly deep water usually more in the middle of the streams than shallow water areas
near banks or shallow pockets. I would guess that if you took an overall percentage
of the total area of the water in a stream where the Quill Gordons nymphs moved to
hatch, it would be less than ten percent of the water. The other ninety-plus percent
of the area of the stream would be void on Quill Gordon nymphs.

When these nymphs hatch, and they do so on or near the bottom, not on
the surface or in the surface skim like most mayflies,
they usually quickly get
caught up in the fast water that flows around the boulders or large rocks creating
the pockets. You will see the duns riding the fast water of runs and riffles after they
emerge on the surface at times but for now, I am concentrating on the week or two
of time prior to the actual hatch. Prior to that trout don't feed on the nymphs very
much because they live underneath the rocks on the bottom. By the way, these
nymphs are almost flat and their eyes are on the top of their heads, not the sides.

If you present good imitations of the Quill Gordon nymphs in these areas of the
streams, you can usually catch a lot of trout in a short time. Other than fishing at the
right time in relationship to the start of a hatch, the key is to get fairly close, and
using upstream presentations, quickly get the nymph on the bottom in pockets near
the current seams such as I just described. There are usually two seams, one on
each side of the rocks or boulders that create the pocket or miniature pool.
Sometimes you can find pockets of knee deep or deeper water along the banks of a
stream where the Quill Gordons nymphs move prior to a hatch but that is the
exception rather than the rule.

As mentioned before, the presentation can sometimes be done effectively using the
high-stickin method in some areas but most of the time it requires short, upstream
presentations. Do not use a strike indicator. You want the fly on the bottom all the
time. You have to watch your fly line/leader for movement or actually feel a trout
take the fly.

Keep in mind these areas may not exist in a long stretch of water in a given stream.
Quill Gordon hatches don't take place from one end of a stream to the other. They
only exist in certain areas where the stream conditions at right for them to live and
hatch. You may fish a stretch of a stream as long as a hundred yards or more
without seeing the first Quill Gordon when they are hatching. I mention this now to
point out that when you are fishing the nymph during the week or two prior to the
start of a hatch, you may have to keep moving up a stream a good ways to hit an
area that is holding the nymphs. The trout don't have to look for them. They know
where to find them.  

One other thing to keep in mind. The Quill Gordon hatch usually doesn't start and
abruptly end a few days later on any given stream. It usually progresses upstream
as the water warms. It's possible for them to be hatching on the upper part of a
stream at a much higher elevation a week to even as much as two or three weeks
after they have finished hatching on the lower end. This varies depending on the
weather.


Down and Dirty  (some are clean) Tips and Recommendations for Fly
Fishing Destinations - Part 21
Just keep in mind that it is strictly one opinion that happens to be mine. The intent is to hopefully
give those interested a general idea of what to expect. Most likely every guide, affiliated business
entity and local angler will have a different opinion. These streams also have full coverage on our
Perfect Fly Stream Section.


Continued tomorrow

Copyright 2011 James Marsh