Early warm weather in April caused insects in streambeds to push through the first phases of their life cycles a little faster this year. This made for prime hatching conditions and created more windows of opportunities for fly fishermen.
A mayfly called the March brown was one of the insects that emerged early and in great numbers, said Glenn McConnell, fly fisherman and guide and co-owner of McConnell's Country Store and Fly Shop on Pine Creek in Waterville.
The browns' hatch normally begins the last week in April, but this year it started around April 4, he said.
"It started the season very early and, for some reason, it extended that hatching period for those insects," McConnell said.
As of May 23, the insect still was seen on the creek, which means the species has extended itself from a normal three-week life cycle to a six-week cycle.
In the 11 years McConnell has had his business, this year's fishing has been the best.
"It's a really, really great year," he said.
On the morning of May 23, McConnell and a customer discussed how the fishing has been pretty prime, thanks to perfect water levels and temperatures.
"You can tell by my fly boxes - they are empty - and I order the same amount of flies every year," McConnell said.
He told the customer he had some first-time fly fishermen on the water just days ago and they were catching a lot of trout.
"As long as the water stays cool enough and we get a shot of rain every once and while," McConnell said, the good fishing can last.
The fly and the fish
There are mounds of equipment that can be used to fly fish. Just looking at the walls, rows of shelves and display cases in McConnell's store, it's easy to be overwhelmed.
But, it's pretty simple for the trout.
To a fish, it isn't about what an angler is wearing or what brand of gear is being used. It's about offering the fish something interesting to eat.
The lures used for fly fishing are, in most cases, a representation of insects that trout naturally eat.
Attracting a fish to a fly takes into consideration everything from the shape and color of the fly's wings, the ribbing in its body and the way the tail is made, McConnell said.
Materials can be either synthetic or natural.
Joe Williams, of Beech Creek, is a self-taught fly fisherman and tier. While working on a fly and helping a first-time tier, he pulled out a cluster of rusty-colored feathers.
"That is a rooster's neck. You can see the hide on the back," he said.
Also in his arsenal of supplies was a calf's tail and a cluster of feathers from a partridge.
Natural, undyed feathers can mimic the colors of a mayfly or other types of insects. Some types of feathers, such as those from the underside of a duck, are good for floating a fly on the surface of the water.
"It has oil in the feather and it is hollow; therefore, they float. And they shed water really well," Williams said.
The Country Store and Fly Shop stocks more than 350 types of flies depicting a variety of insects in various stages of their life cycles.
"The purpose of fly fishing and fly tying is to imitate the natural bait, whether it would be caddisfly or mayfly," Williams said.
Tying flies can be meticulous and time consuming.
"There are some people who are very experienced in fly tying, moreso than I am, and can tie many," Williams said.
"There are tiers out there when they tie a fly, you can take that fly and put it up against the live fly and they look identical," McConnell said.
Williams, who ties flies at a small desk in his home, was willing to show a newcomer how it's done. The goal, he said, is to be sure to taper it a bit to form a body of the fly.
"People can use way too much dubbing and it will make the body look fat. If you look at a mayfly, it has a slender body and is skinny," he said.
Dubbing is a material used to create the body for a dry fly or sometimes for a nymph.
For the wings, Williams broke off pieces of partridge feathers. He planned to place them on the backside, facing outward.
"That is because it's the natural curve of the wings of the insect," he said. "I want to get them to lay just about perfectly straight out."
The most common tied fly is the Adam's fly, which can be a representation of a number of species. McConnell said there is no insect in the wild that actually is called an Adam's fly.
"It's just a fly that was designed by someone (and) that gives the general appearance and size that can imitate three or four, and sometimes five, different actual species," he said.
From a newcomer's point-of-view, the work can look tedious, but McConnell doesn't think that really is an accurate representation of tying flies.
He started tying flies when he was in high school, but he stopped because he didn't have the time.
Just recently he started tying again and, like Williams, he can sit down and tie a few, or many.
"I enjoy tying and catching a fish on a fly I tied. That is one of the big things you get satisfaction out of," McConnell said.
It can be an art, too.
"The prime example of that, is the Atlantic salmon fly," he said. "They don't look like anything in nature. They are just a beautiful fly. It's the color and size and everything mixed together that gets a salmon's attention."
A fly can be used when fishing for many species of fish, including saltwater species, panfish, bass and even carp.
"It doesn't have to be perfect to catch a fish," McConnell said.
The real key to catching fish on a fly is paying attention.
A good fly fisherman pays attention to what is happening in the environment, including what the water temperature is and what insects are hatching.
"If you didn't pay attention to that, you wouldn't catch any fish. It is as simple as that," McConnell said.
Flies can imitate any part of an insect's life cycle, starting from the bottom of the stream all the way through when they emerge from the water as adults.
Williams references books to estimate what insects will be hatching at a given time of the year, so he knows what he might be tying before going out.
"The fish can get very picky. Trout can be very picky," Williams said.
At the fly shop in Waterville, McConnell lists water temperatures, hatch activity and species on a board behind the counter.
While fishermen are out in the field, he said, they should be watching what the fish are doing.
Polarized glasses that allow anglers to see through the water all the way to the bottom are useful pieces of equipment.
"You can see the fish on the bottom and see if they are feeding or just laying there," McConnell said.
If fish are coming to the surface, it's called a rise form. They may make a splash as they surface to feed and that can tell you if they are taking an emerging adult, he said.
"The life cycle of a fly starts on the bottom of the stream, as a nymph," McConnell said. "When it matures, it breaks out of the nymph case and breaks to the surface."
While out fishing that day, Williams watched the top of the water on Marsh Creek in Clinton County to see what insects were hatching. As one landed on his waders, he looked at it and said he had a fly just like it already tied in his fly box.
"A lot of times we will be fishing and all of a sudden you will see a fly on the water and a fish will take that fly," McConnell said. "So what you have to do is ID what that fly was as soon as you see it and then go from there."