Insects and other foods the trout should be eating:
2. Little Winter Stoneflies
Most available/ Near hatching and other types of available food:
3. Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)
4. Blue Quills (Nymphs)
5. Blue-winged Olives (Nymphs)
"K.I.S.S. A Bug" Series - Quill Gordon - Part 3:
Where in ___are the Quill Gordon Nymphs?
A few years ago, when we first started catching and photographing the aquatic insects in the
streams of the Smokies, it was later in the year well after the Quill Gordons had hatched. We
didn't expect to get any Quill Gordon nymphs because they would still have been in the egg stage
of life or no larger than the first or second instar of development. In other words, that means they
were eggs or tiny, tiny nymphs. In January and February, when the streams are loaded with
nymphs and larvae, we did expect to catch some Quill Gordon nymphs; however, that wasn't the
case. After using our various nets several times on different days in numerous locations on
different streams in the park, we came up with just about every species of insect in the water but
the Quill Gordon. Of course, they should have been as large as they were going to get and as
plentiful as they were ever going to be just prior to the time they hatch.
I wasn't specifically looking for them at first, but when I realized we were missing them, I did begin
to focus on them. At night, I would read all the information in the numerous books I had to try to
determine exactly where I should be looking. Some books were for fly fishers and some for
entomologist and believe me, I have just about all that's been written for anglers and a great deal
of the other ones. There was actually very little information beyond a general description of the
fast, clear, unpolluted water they prefer. The streams of the Smokies offer the perfect habitat but
so does many other Eastern and some Mid-western freestone streams. They also exist in some
fast water sections of spring creeks and even a few tailwaters.
Most of the time we were checking for insects, the water levels were at Spring levels, meaning on
the high side. That means the nymphs and larvae were for the most part in deeper water than
they normal were but we were able to get hundreds of other nymphs, and sometimes, counting all
sizes, that many in one kick net sample. I begin to get seriously concerned about why I wasn't
able to get any Quill Gordon nymphs.
I went back trough our video tape logs and pulled up fish we had caught during the Quill Gordon
hatches from previous years of fishing the Smokies. I thought I could remember most of them but
to make certain, I reviewed the numerous videos, logs and journals. The next trip we made, I
focused only on the same areas of the streams we had caught the duns and spinners and also
where we had caught trout feeding on them during the previous years. Although I was almost
certain that would make a big difference, it didn't. We still were not coming up with any Quill
Gordon nymphs. I was beginning to think they all had disappeared from the park.
I remember sitting on the bank of the Middle Prong of Little River exactly were we had caught
dozens of trout from the Quill Gordon hatch for years prior to that time. On one trip, our logs
show I caught and Angie video taped, over twenty trout in one short stretch of water in less than
an hour. This was during the spinner fall just before dark. Even so, we used the kick net in the
same area without getting the first Quill Gordon nymph.
Now, I knew the nymphs live in the fast water runs and riffles, and I also knew they moved to the
nearest moderate to slow water prior to hatching. That's in every book ever written about the
hatch. That's often only a very short distance, usually less than ten feet, and sometimes only a
couple of feet. They move into places like pockets behind boulders, for example, and when they
hatch they quickly get caught up in the current seam between fast and slower water. My next
move was to focus on using the nets in the pockets. We normally wanted the nets in the current
so the nymphs and larvae washed into the net when we disturbed the bottom in front of the net.
We hadn't really used them in pockets with little current until that particular day I vividly remember
and that produced exactly nothing. I was really scratching my head.
Keep in mind, we were doing this in deep enough water to get plenty of everything else, or so it
seemed, but the bottom of our nets were usually not over two feet deep and never over three feet
deep. That's over shoulder deep reaching down in the water with my long arms. I also knew the
water was averaging a little high and that when we were in water around a foot or so deep, we
netted little of anything. That told me the nymphs may be in deeper water. The next day, I
focused on the exact same areas of water but in much deeper areas of the fast water runs. It
wasn't easy and I ended up getting my shirt and jacket sleeves wet in the very cold water. I almost
froze to death but each time we did that in the same area I caught the trout on the spinner fall, we
got lots of Quill Gordon nymphs. We caught as many as two or three dozen from one three foot
wide kick net but it had to be on the bottom in at least three feet of water or deeper. According to
my notes, we also go far more clinger nymphs. About the only mayfly clingers we were getting
prior to that were the big March Browns. I found out later the reason is those strong things can
crawl across the bottom about as fast as a crayfish. They do move around some.
My guess is the water was about a foot higher than normal at the time, That meant everything
less than a foot deep was normally on dry land. The Quill Gordon and all crawler nymphs can't
swim at all. They grip the bottom stones like they have suction cups on their belly. You have to
pry them off a rock. They crawl across the bottom, and mostly underneath the rocks, to move
from one point to another. In other words, they don't move back and forth to different depths or
locations when the water levels change. They stay at safe levels, deep enough for normal,
varying water levels.
Think we have it figured out? Wrong, we sure didn't !
From that point on we begin to check other areas of the same stream as well as other streams in
the park. We used the same pattern of netting deeper runs but we quickly learned something
else that is very important from a fishing standpoint. About two out of three places that
appeared to be exactly identical deep runs, with similar depth water, and similar in all respects as
best we could determine, we couldn't get the first Quill Gordon nymph. We either got a dozen or
more, or we got nothing and most of the time it was nothing.
Getting tired of typing so I'll shorten this.
The Quill Gordon nymphs don't exist in all areas of the stream, as you probably already know, but
worse, they don't exist in water that from all practical standpoints we can come up with, is identical
in all respects to the water where you do find them. They are randomly spaced out throughout
You may find them, and I'm not only referring to catching the nymphs (which you have to have a
special permit to do, I'm referring to the hatches) in one section of water and not in other nearby
stretches of water that appears identical. Keep in mind they will hatch within a very few feet of the
same water the nymphs live in but only in moderate to slow water. They hatch on the bottom,
not the surface, and they get caught up in the fast current. Often by the time their wings are dry
enough to fly, they are drifting on the surface in the fast water. More on this later.
The main point here is that unless you know where they have hatched during previous years,
and I don't mean streams, rather exact areas of the streams, you have to look for them.
Unfortunately, you only have an hour or two to see them hatching. What you see later on are
mayflies that previously hatched but usually they are fairly close by the water they hatched from.
They may still be duns or they may be spinners found the day after they hatched.
You may find them hatching in one run, yet the next five runs that look the same may not have
any. On the other hand, every other run may have them. It varies with no pattern to follow. You
just have to find them and you have a relatively short time to find them in. Some streams may
have ideal looking stretches of water a quarter of a mile long without any Quill Gordons.
Why this is the case, I haven't the slightest idea. It baffles me until this day. I have not figured it
out or ran into anyone that has. I have discussed this with some of the best known entomologist
specializing in aquatic insects in the Eastern U.S. I have discussed it with a few guys that have
written books on aquatic insects as relates to trout fishing. It isn't just a thing that's prevalent in
the Smokies. The same thing is common in streams from Georgia to Maine.
Copyright 2012 James Marsh