Hatches Made Easy:
The Papaleptophlebia genus of the Leptophlebiidae family includes some
species of mayflies that hatch at various times, depending upon the species,
from spring until fall. Wow, if that Latin name doesn't turn you away,
nothing will, so forget the Latin and just call it the Blue Quill hatch. Other
species of this genus that live in the Smokies are sometimes called Mahogany
Duns, Slate-Winged Mahogany Duns, and Little Blue Quills.
The most important species in the Smokies is the adoptiva commonly called
the Blue Quill. It is one of the first hatches of the year. It may start a little earlier
than the Quill Gordon hatch, but generally about the same time. That is one
reason it is often ignored in preference to the larger Quill Gordon. The water is
usually close to 50 degrees F. when this hatch occurs but it needs to be the
right time of the year, generally February or early March, for nymphs to reach
their final instar and develop their wing pads. Just because the water
temperature jumps up to 50 degrees doesn't mean they will hatch if it is too early
in their life cycle. Their life cycle doesn't change instantly with water temperature.
There is also a late summer to fall hatch of the Mahogany Duns, a different
species of the same genus, but we will discuss that later in the year before they
I can tell you from the very beginning that most anglers I have talked to use too
large of a fly for this hatch. That is about the biggest single mistake you can
make. These mayflies are normally a hook size 18. They are closer to a 20 than
they are a 16. One reason, as with the Blue-winged Olives, is that most fly shops
sell the Blue Quill patterns in too large a size.
We feel like this hatch is at least as important as the Quill Gordon hatch if
not more important. The reason for it is that they will continue to hatch over a
much longer period of time than the Quill Gordons. They may hatch as much as
a month or more beyond the climax of the Quill Gordon hatch. The trout will eat
them just as readily as the Quill Gordons. Some anglers tend to think the larger
mayflies attract the larger fish but that is just not true.
The nymphs are crawlers that always stay near the current but on the bottom
down in the rocks, gravel and other bottom structure. They prefer freestone
streams with fast to moderate currents. The nymphs are a yellowish, brown color
and are a hook size 18. These look more like swimming nymphs than crawlers in
terms of their shape. They are very slim but they do not swim.
We have found good quantities of these small nymphs in every stream we have
tested in the park. That includes all the major ones and many other smaller
streams. Now notice that we said that they exist in good quantities There are not
any huge quantities of them anywhere in the park. However, they are consistent
and more plentiful than any of the other crawler nymphs, including the large
Eastern BWOs, the Hendricksons, Sulfers and Eastern Pale Evening Duns.
Prior to hatch times, concentrate on fishing the calmer areas of water that are
near riffles and runs such as calm pockets, eddies, and calm areas near the
banks. The nymphs will move to this type of water to hatch. At times you may
see them hatching in water so shallow you wouldn't think anything would live
there. Trout will often swim into this shallow water and make a run at the nymphs.
Catching trout feeding on the blue quill nymphs in this calm to moderate water is
not easy. You will spook a lot of fish. One reason it that when you cast into a
calm pocket and try to get the natural slower drift, the fast water will grab your
line and jerk the nymph out of the calm water like an Iran speedboat. This is why
you need to try to keep as much line out of the water possible. This is almost
impossible to do in the slow moving shallow water where they hatch. Try to move
up to these areas staying hidden behind rocks and boulders. Stay back away
from the banks and cast in the calm pockets along the banks.
Another problem we mentioned above is that the trout won't hold in the very
shallow water. They tend to run in and grab a nymph and then retreat to their
holding water. Not all of them hatch in shallow water. Prior to the time they hatch
they may hatch just about anywhere there is not fast, turbulent water.
If the hatch hasn't started, you will want to use a weighted imitation of the nymph
or weight your leader just enough to get the fly down near the bottom. These
mayflies hatch in water very similar to the Blue-winged Olives except usually
shallower. In the shallow, calmer water, a strike indicator such as a fairly visible
dry fly will work to keep track of the little nymph imitations; however, you are
much better off just watching your line for a strike.
Fish imitations of the nymph when it is time for a hatch (Late Feb./early
March when the water ranges from 45 to 48 degrees. Once the hatch
starts, you will want to change to an emerger or dun imitation.
As we said, the nymphs migrate to slower, calmer water before emerging. They
may make several attempts to emerge. Normally they swim to the surface
several times before shedding their shucks. This is especially true when the
hatch first starts and the water is still cold. They may have a very difficult time
shedding their shucks and breaking through the surface skim, especially if the
water is very calm. This hatch usually occurs during the early afternoon or
during the warmest part of the day.
Normally, it is difficult to detect the trout feeding on the emergers. If the water is
very shallow, you may see the fish dart in and out but if there is any depth to it,
you may not see anything. More often, will see a flash of the fish feeding on the
emergers. If the water suddenly warms to 50 degrees or higher during the hatch
period, the trout may eat the duns better than the emergers. This makes it a lot
easier on those anglers that must see their fly in order to detect a strike. The
emerger patterns require a lot of concentration. You can miss strikes easily. At
times, especially when the water is very cold (from 50 degrees down to 45
degrees) the emerger imitations may the only thing they will eat.
Unweighted Imitations of the nymph can be used to imitate the emerging nymphs
if you fish them a few inches below the surface. Fish the emerger imitations wet
without any added weight by casting them up and across the current on the
swing. You will be better off if you will use a good imitation of the emerge,
provided you can find one. We will discuss that later.
You want the fly to stay in the smooth, slower water on the outside of the current
seams, not the fast water. Mend your line to get the fly down. Again, as with the
weighted nymphs, this isn't easy to do without spooking the fish in many cases.
You will need to make all kinds of creative cast. Slack line, pile, curve and reach
cast may help you present the emerger (and nymph) into the slow water
bordering the fast water without drag. The type of cast needed strictly depends
on the particular current situation.
Coming Up Next:
Blue Quill: Duns and Spinners
Copyright 2008 James Marsh