Hatches Made Easy:
As you probably know, most of the mayflies in the streams of the Smokies are
clingers. There are some swimmers and crawlers, and even a few burrower
mayflies. The pleuralis species of the Epeorus genus, or “Quill Gordon” is a very
prevalent member of the Heptageniidae family of mayflies that are quite plentiful
in the Smoky Mountains. One of the first larger mayflies to emerge, the “Quill
Gordon” starts to hatch anytime during the first of the month of March and some
years as early as the mid to the later part of February. This strictly depends on
the weather and the type of winter we have.
The water temperature is usually fifty degrees or higher when they start to
hatch. Keep in mind that early in the season the water temperature may rise to
fifty degrees and the Quill Gordons may not start to hatch. The nymphs must be
fully developed (their last instar) and the wing pads ready to open. If the winter
has been warmer than average, the hatch may well start as soon as the water
hits fifty degrees but if the winter has been unusually cold, then they may not
hatch the first time the water hits fifty degrees. The excessively cold water would
have slowed their growth.
Often, the water temperature will fluctuate up and down reaching fifty or higher
for a short time and then dropping. This will stop most of the nymphs from
hatching; however, those that were fully developed with their pads about to open
may hatch even when the water drops well below fifty degrees. This will usually
only be a small portion of the nymphs. In years where the weather fluctuates up
and down, the hatch may start and stop for as much as a month or longer. If the
water stay fifty degrees and above for a couple of weeks or more, the hatch may
occur and end in a given section of water in a much shorter period of time.
Remember that the elevation of the stream has an effect on the water
temperature. The higher the elevation of the stream, the lower the water
temperature usually is. Normally, the hatches will progress upstream as the
weather warms. In higher elevations, the hatch may not begin for several days
after the hatches have started at the lower elevations. Our "Reading Hatch
Charts" page provides more information on hatches.
Anglers love the Quill Gordon hatch because the mayflies are large and they
associate it with the start of the fly fishing season. In fact, I believe the mayflies
turn anglers on more than the trout. Larger trout do not necessarily feed on the
larger mayflies. In fact the size of the mayflies makes no difference in the size of
the fish you catch. There will be a lot more fish caught during the Quill Gordon
hatch than usual but simply because there will be a lot more anglers fishing. I
don't want to degrade the Quill Gordon by any means. They constitute as good
of a hatch as occurs in the Smokies although there are some other hatches at
least equal and some even arguably better. The manner in which they hatch
allows the duns to be caught in the fast water of the streams. Often, catching
fish feeding on the duns is a simple matter of tossing anything that remotely
resembles a Quill Gordon dun in the fast water current seams. Even a blind sow
will find an acorn during this hatch.
All Epeorus nymphs, unlike most other mayflies, have two tails. Until the time
they emerge, the nymphs usually stay down within the rocks on the bottom of the
stream where they are not readily available for trout to eat.
The clinger nymphs are not good swimmers. If they become unattached from
rocks on the bottom they tend to tumble in water and are on rare occasions
available for trout to eat. They are flat shaped and can cling to a rock to the
point they can be difficult to remove without having to pry them off.
Just prior to the time these nymphs emerge, they will crawl on the bottom and
move to slower moving water. They don't necessarily move to shallow water, just
slower water. In the Smokies, this usually means they move behind a boulder or
large rock to hatch.
When Angie and I first begin to take samples of aquatic insects, we came up
short on finding Quill Gordon nymphs. We proceeded to try to find samples of
them in the same water that we had watched them hatch in previous years. The
results were the same. We could not find any nymphs. The problem was that we
were looking for them in the normal riffles and shallow runs where the current
assisted us with our nets. The first time we placed our kick net in the current
seams downstream of a large boulder, we found over twenty of them in one
sample. They were congregated in small areas of calmer water but within the
fast water areas of the stream.
There is another important thing many anglers do not know about the Quill
Gordon. They hatch on the bottom or sometimes on their accent to the
surface. They do not hatch in the surface skim like most mayflies. Their wings
are open as the rise to the surface. That is why wet fly imitations work great
during the hatch. Their shucks come off on the bottom so a trailing shuck fly
pattern is of little use unless you are going to weight it down and fish it wet.
Yet another thing that we have noticed is that some sections of any given stream
just do not have any Quill Gordons although they are identical in appearance to
the sections of water that do have them. Quite honestly, we haven't figured out
why this is the case. The hatches seem to always occur in the same type of
water but in random locations in the streams.
You can fish the nymph weighted near the faster moving water in which they
spend most of their lives, but unless the hatch is about to begin, other caddis
larva and mayfly nymphs are usually more effective. We suggest that you don't
waste your time fishing imitations of the clinger nymph until its the time of year
for the hatches to start.
In the mornings and early afternoons before the nymphs have begun to
emerge, you should fish weighted imitations in slower moving water that is
located within fast water. This usually means in the current seams where that
water is carried downstream from calmer areas of water behind boulders or
rocks. Fish the nymph imitation only up until the time of day the hatch
begins and the trout begin to feed on the emerging nymphs. At that time you
will want to switch to a wet or dry fly imitation of the dun.
Coming Up Next:
Quill Gordon Emerging Nymphs
Copyright 2008 James Marsh
Thumbnails: Click on Images for large view
Quill Gordon Nymphs