Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1. Blue-winged Olives - mostly Little BWO - Isolated hatches
2. Giant Black Stoneflies - starting any day, nymphs active
3. Hendricksons - hatching
4. Cinnamon Caddis - Mostly Abrams Creek
5 Light Cahills - Starting any day
6. Midges - hatching in isolated locations
7. Little Short-horned Sedges - should hatch randomly for 2-3 months
8. American March Browns - hatching
9. Streamers - matching sculpin, baitfish and small crawfish
10. Little Yellow Stoneflies - starting any day, nymphs active
11. Eastern Green Drakes - starting any day Abrams Creek
Current Strategies and Flies for the Smokies:
Even though we list the insects that are hatching and/or about to hatch each day,
the email and telephone calls we receive daily indicates there is still a lot of
unanswered questions. As you may expect, most of the questions center around
the age old fly-fishing question - which fly do I use. For the Smokies, we currently
list eleven categories of insects and other trout food (see above list) that could be
important at this particular time. We also give you a "Flies you need now" prompt
that you can click on to see the flies you will need to imitate each them. When you
have flies that imitate all stages of the insects life, it does amount to a lot of
different flies. That is where most of the questions stem from. Many anglers are not
familiar with the stages of life the various insects go through. They tend to think
only in terms of mayfly duns and nymphs and caddisfly adults (dry flies). When they
say things like, "the mayflies were hatching today but the trout wasn't eating them",
they probably mean the trout wouldn't take the dry flies they were using to imitate
the hatch. They may have failed to consider that the trout could have been eating
the emerging nymphs, or emerging duns, whichever way you want to look at it.
Part of the Confusion:
If you only take a quick look at the list of insects and/or suggested flies we show for
the Smokies the information may tend to appear complicated or maybe just too
many flies and bugs to think about. If so, I understand the problem. Even if you are
familiar with the insects, the common names and local terminology anglers use can
make it even more confusing. For example, we have a Hendrickson hatch going on
now in the park. Some refer to the Hendrickson and the Red Quill as if they were
two different mayflies. The Red Quill is just a name some anglers use for the
Hendrickson males. That came about because the Hendrickson male dun looked
like an old Catskill style fly called a Red Quill. The common name came from the fly,
right opposite of the way it should be. But to make it far more complicated, many
anglers also use the name Red Quill as a spinner imitation or fly. Since a lot of
mayfly spinners turn a redish color, they started calling a rust or red spinner a Red
Quill. In the case of the Hendrickson hatch, the male dun and spinner is correctly
called a Red Quill (if there is such a thing as a correct common name). The female
is often called the Light Hendrickson and the male sometimes called the Dark
Hendrickson. That is why I use scientific names. The don't get mixed up. The
Hendrickson and Red Quill male Hendrickson is the Ephemerella subvaria. One and
the same mayfly.
That is just one example of a huge mess caused by common names. Blue-winged
Olives are hatching now but they are not the Baetis species that hatch on the
surface, they are Acentrella species. What is the difference? They hatch on the
bottom and deposit their eggs on the bottom and dry flies are not that effective for
them. Some of the other BWOs in the park, near hatching, are not even swimmers
or minnow like mayflies. They are Drunella species that are more similar to a Flav
or Small Western Green Drake than a Baetis mayfly. They are crawler mayflies.
Lumping them together is meaningless.
What Created The Problem:
For centuries anglers tied flies and then tried to determine what their fly imitated.
Anglers did well to know a mayfly from a caddisfly or stonefly. There was little
information available about the various aquatic insects and what information was
available was intended for scientific purposes. As more and more information came
about, mainly in the form of fly-fishing books, anglers begin to tie flies that imitated
a certain insect they thought the trout ate. They didn't know how an insect hatched
or what an emerging mayfly or caddisfly looked like. There were no digital images
and the macro film equipment was expensive and complicated to operate. So only
until fairly recently, did anyone have the information and images they needed to tie
flies that imitated certain stages of an insects life. Only recently did anglers
seriously attempt to tie flies that imitated emerging mayflies, caddis pupae, etc.
Even today, I would venture to say that most all flies tied are tied before the tier
determined exactly what he or she was trying to imitate. This age old problem
created the confusion of insect common names being taken from the names of flies
rather than the flies being named after the insect they imitate. I set out to change
that with the creation of my "Perfect Fly" company. I wanted to create flies
specifically for all of the insects and other foods fish ate. This included all the
stages of life of the insects that the fish ate.
Solving the Problem:
Some of the email activity and telephone calls we receive regarding the Smokies
comes from this website and some of it comes from our Perfect Fly website. We are
shipping several fly orders out each day but of course, only a portion of them are
for the Smokies. When customers purchase our flies, some of them ask for advice
and some don't. Some let us know where they are fishing and some don't. Often the
only clue we have is from the flies they order or their shipping address. The
shipping address can be very deceptive. We have shipped flies for the Smokies to
California, Maine, Wisconsin, Hawaii and many other areas (even countries) you
wouldn't link to the Smokies unless you were otherwise informed.
First of all, you don't have to have flies for everything we list. I am only telling
you which insects are important at the time. Some are very important and some are
not very important. For example, lets take the above list of eleven categories.
Two of the eleven, the Eastern Green Drakes and the Cinnamon Caddis, are
only important for Abrams Creek. If you are not fishing Abrams, you do not need to
Midges of one species or another are hatching just about every day of the year. I
list them just because they are subject to hatch but at this time of year, with several
other insects hatching, you can just disregard them. That cuts the list down to eight
I always list streamers because they imitate sculpin, minnows, crawfish and other
items the trout eat. You should always have a few streamers along with you
because they can be very important if the water is high or stained. They are also
effective early in the mornings and late in the day. They also catch big trout.
The two stoneflies that I list, Little Yellow Stoneflies (Yellow Sallys) and Giant
Black Stoneflies, are just starting to hatch. They are both important but much
more from a nymph standpoint than an adult. You shouldn't be very concerned with
the egg layers for a while. You do need some nymphs for each of these two
stoneflies - Yellow Sallys in a hook size 14 and Giant Stones in a hook size 6. This
totals six of the eleven categories and only a few flies.
The Hendricksons are important, provided you are fishing the right type of water
and provided you know how to fish the hatch. They don't hatch in the fast water.
Now I would personally carry several flies for this hatch because I would want
imitations of the various stages that come into play and for the different colors of
the males and females. Why? Because I could catch trout from daylight to dark with
that one set of flies. I wouldn't have to say, "the fish are bitting better in the
afternoons" or any number of other excuses mediocre anglers use for not catching
trout. You can fish the Hendrickson nymphs until they start hatching, swap to an
emerger, later to the dun and late in the day, swap to the spinner. The action
should be consistent all day long if you are in the right place and if you fish
the stages correctly. You should catch more numbers of trout on the nymph
imitation because of their exposure to the trout. If you don't know the behavior of
hatching Hendricksons and know how to fish the hatch, then I suggest that you only
carry a couple each of Hendrickson Nymphs and Duns (male or female dun) and
fish the duns only when you observe them hatching.
The American March Browns could be important. You would do just fine without
any imitations of them but they are hatching and I suggest you have some
imitations of them. They hatch here and there throughout the day and may or may
not hatch at all in any given location. They are quite unpredictable and hatch over
a long period of time. If I started seeing the duns from the day before on the banks
and trees, I would fish the emerging adult fly an hour or so early and a dun later
when they began to hatch. If I noticed a lot of them hatching during the day, I would
fish the spinner fall late in the day that day and try to make it to the same spot the
next evening. The spinner fall concentrates the otherwise sparsely hatching duns. If
you are not really familiar with their behavior, then I would suggest that you just
have a couple of duns along and fish them when you first start seeing them hatch.
These are a fast water mayfly, so you would find them in the current seams of the
runs and riffles.
The Light Cahills are just starting to hatch. You may or may not encounter them
this weekend. If you do, they would be very important. They are also a fast water
mayfly. Again, I would personally carry flies for all stages of their life - nymphs,
emergers (not actually a stage), duns and spinners. If you do see any of them you
should have imitations at least of the nymphs and duns. Even if you don't see them,
the nymphs are very active and are moving to slower water to hatch. Again, if you
are not really familiar with the behavior of this mayfly, you only need a few nymphs
and duns. Fish the duns only when you observe them hatching.
Blue-winged Olives could hatch, especially if the skies are cloudy but they are
not the baetis species and they are not easy to imitate. I would personally never go
trout fishing without flies for all stages of them. They hatch on the bottom and
deposit their eggs on the bottom. If you are fairly new at it, I suggest you only carry
a few duns, hook size 18. You probably want even see this hatch.
By the way, you may hear anglers mention Blue Quills and Quill Gordons. Forget them because
the are just about history for this year, even in the high elevations. You may see a stray
Gray-winged Yellow Quill (looks like a Quill Gordon) but they are few and far between, not worthy
of an imitation, and exist only in the high elevations.
The Little Short-horned Sedges will be hatching here and there. They are a fast
water caddisfly. I would have both pupa and adult imitations of them. If you know
how to fish the pupa, then I would suggest you have both flies. These are tiny flies,
hook size 20, that are not easy to fish. If you are just getting started, I would
suggest you ignore them. By the way, you will probably see some other caddisflies.
Little Browns, some Little Sisters, a few Cinnamon Caddis and possibly even some
Spotted sedges. Except for Abrams Creek, none of these would be worth imitating.
They exist only in sparse quantities. You may not even see any of them hatching.
That is it. You could do just fine with the flies I mentioned. I will summarize them for
you. This list is not what I would carry but what I recommend for those that really
don't know the various insects behavior.
Minimum Fly List:
4 Streamers - 2 each of Our Brown Sculpin and Yellow Marabou Sculpin
(for stained water).
2 Little Yellow Stonefly Nymphs (Yellow Sallys) - Size 14
2 Giant Black Stonefly Nymphs - Size 6
2 Hendrickson Duns (male or female) - Size 14
2 Hendrickson Nymphs - Size 14
2 American March Brown Duns - Size 12 (Optional)
2 Light Cahill Duns - Hook Size 16
2 Light Cahill Nymphs - Size 16
2 Blue-winged Olives - Hook Size 18 or 20
2 Little Short-horned Sedge Adults - Hook Size 20 (Optional)
Total 22 flies or 18 excluding the optional flies
In the mornings and up until you start seeing something hatch (probably 1:00 plus
or minus a couple of hours) fish either the Light Cahill nymph in the fast water runs
and riffles, or the Hendrickson nymph in the slower, more moderate water.
If you happen to see the Hendricksons, March Browns, Light Cahills or BWOs
hatching, go to the dun imitation of them.
After the hatches stop, go to the Giant Black Stonefly or Little Yellow Stonefly
Nymphs. There are more Yellow Sallys than Giants. (By the way, Yellow Sally
nymphs are not yellow, so don't fall for that)
Now keep in mind that this is not the best way to fish at this time. It is only for
those who are not that familiar with the insects and exactly how to go about imitating
the various stages of their life. If you can do that correctly, you can catch fish all
day long. Using the above procedures and flies, you will most likely only catch a few
until early afternoon, at which time you should do somewhat better.
You will never hear someone that really knows their aquatic insects say that generic
or attractor imitations are just as good as specific imitations of what food is most
plentiful, what is hatching or about to hatch. These false contentions always come
from those that don't really know or understand the insect's behavior. Maybe some
of them think they know the insects, but when it gets right down to it, you'll find that
their knowledge is at about the sixth grade level. Any 16 year old youngster that put
two or three weeks of time into studying the insects, would know far more than the
many, if not most anglers. Believe it or not, that includes some that have been
fishing for trout for forty years. Some anglers are perfectly content with catching
trout when anyone that can cast a fly could catch trout. Some of them are not
interesting in improving what they perceive as excellent. In their minds they think
they have it all down pat. There is really nothing wrong with that. Fishing should be
relaxing and fun. It is not necessary for anyone to do anything other than what they
want to do.
I hope this short list of flies and tips helps some of you. For the next month or so,
with maybe the exception of the Little Yellow Stoneflies, there will be a big variety of
different insects on the water but there will actually be fewer and fewer of them in
terms of quantities. In about a month there will be even less because of the rising
water temperatures. Few insects hatch in water over 55-60 degrees.
Copyright 2009 James Marsh