As the sun sunk beyond the tree line, the daylight continued to hold on. Rising fish sporadically splashed in front of me. I knew the clock was ticking and that as darkness took over, it was likely that rising fish would no longer give any identification of their location to us terrestrial creatures. My mental fly box was spinning to attempt to identify what fly the aggressive fish were taking. Caddis flies, slate drake spinners, and small white flies were fluttering around me, but I could see nothing on the water. Some of the fish launched themselves clear of the water, landing several body lengths away from where they originally appeared. Others subtly poked their noses above the water surface and appeared to sip in a meal. So, what fly to use? Aggressive takes can mean the fish are chasing emerging flies, while subtle takes indicate the fish are likely taking spent adults.
My first attempt at a fly was a size 18 tan elk hair caddis. I spotted a fish about 50 feet upstream of me rise repeatedly. Stalking its position, the best I could, I waded approximately 35 feet downstream of the fish. After two casts in proximity of the feeding fish the water became calm, with no sign of the fish. I had put the fish down. Slightly to my right, another fish rose. I made another two casts and quickly put down the fish. I switched through several flies. Each switch produced the same result. In the minutes I used to tie on new flies, cast two to four times to the fish, and quietly move into an advantageous position, the remaining daylight had faded.
I had tried various versions of caddis, klinkhammers, and cdc duns. My lessons learned from evening sulphur and green drake hatches apparently didn’t stick too well. The onset of darkness triggered my memories. Spinner falls are the final stage of the mayfly life cycle, as the spent adult has reproduced and utilized all of its energy and falls to the water surface. I forgot to try a spinner fly. Often these flies will be a light color (coffin fly) for drakes or a reddish-brown rusty color for other mayflies.
After several attempts to thread the tippet through the eye of the hook in the evening light, somehow, I managed to tie on the spinner fly. Fewer fish were rising, but I made a last-ditch attempt. The presentation I put forth didn’t facilitate a feeding response from the fish. Swing and a miss. Carefully, I made my way back to the truck in near darkness. With each step across the river, I questioned myself as to why I hadn’t tied on the spinner earlier. I met up with my friend Mark at the roadside parking area and offered up a defeated, “anything?” Which was both a question and the answer to his potential in-kind response. His response echoed the thought in my head. “Nothing. Why didn’t I go to the spinner earlier?”
I laughed and told him I’d been thinking that on my walk of shame back to the truck. As I drove back to the campsite I went through many memories of catching trout with a dry fly. I believe that the rusty spinner has been my most successful dry fly. Why didn’t I use it earlier? My frustration with myself was building in the car, but as soon as we got back to the campground, Mark’s energetic story telling distracted my ruminating brain and cleared my negative emotions.
Catching trout on a dry fly is the pinnacle of fly fishing and an absolute thrill, but it can be maddening. It can make all the years of fishing, reading, and researching feel like they’ve added up to nothing or when you catch fish repeatedly, you’re the next Lefty Kreh. One thing I know is that especially as I’m aging and my eyesight is waning that for every evening hatch (or spinner fall), I need to tie the spinner on earlier.