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The Stoneflies Importance in Winter Dry Fly Fishing

Published by Maurice Chioda [Maurice] on 11/30/2017 (741 reads)
Fly fishing during the winter can be an enjoyable endeavor if you put some effort into finding where the wily trout feed during the cold water temperatures. An important “hatch” in winter is that of the early black and brown stoneflies.

Stoneflies both little and large are the canary in the coal mine for water quality. They are one of the first species to disappear on impaired streams. They thrive as nymphs in highly oxygenated fast moving waters like rapids or heavy riffles and often where the thick moss grows on the rocks. I presume this helps them keep their footing while foraging on the bottom in the fast water. This is where I always find them and where I look for them to be effective when fishing larger freestone streams.

"Little Winter Stones" Illustration by Dave Weaver
"Little Winter Stones" Illustration by Dave Weaver


Limestone spring creeks are slow moving with low gradient and few if any riffles over their short length. This is why you don’t see them in great numbers there. Larger freestone streams are more likely to get too warm in summer and are not great fall or winter trout streams, unless they receive a fall stocking or have a limestone spring influence (i.e. Penns Creek).

So where you find little black stonefly "hatches" to be prolific you likely are not fishing because they are mainly stocked trout streams. And few are stocked in fall or winter after the summer "trout drought."

Their onstream behavior is an egg laying, more than a mating ritual or traditional hatch. That's why they are seen as solitary, usually downstream and across courses where the fly daps the water or skitters. If you observe their behavior and how the fish take them it’s pretty easy to mimmick but it is not a typical mayfly behavior to be sure. But it is similar to caddis fly egg laying.

This hatch is more like fishing a streamer or a wetfly that doesn't sink. I really enjoy this hatch and fish it with a #16 black bodied Henryville special with a Z-lon wing. Sometimes I trail a black bodied soft hackle on a dead drift while waiting for the initial reaction strike and then I slowly lift and drop the rod tip as the fly swings across the slower waters where the stoneflies lay their eggs. Most of the strikes come on the swing to be sure.

If you see half a dozen at a time in the air and hitting the water at a time during a still, sunny period of the day, you've hit it right.

There are several stonefly species that hatch in the winter/early spring. The tiny winter black / snowflies, aka needle flies that are smaller and hatch in the middle of winter are a good example. You can often see them crawling on the banks in the snow.

Usually a little later in the winter to early spring, the early brown and black stoneflies hatch. They are a little larger.

I have had little success fishing the tiny winter blacks vs the early brown and black (nymph or dry). The main reason, in my opinion, is the lower water temps in mid winter vs. late winter when the days are longer and temps warmer. But to be sure, often the best results come on sunny, snowy days with temps above 45 degrees, regardless of the water temp.

So find a big freestone stream with a fall/winter stocking of brown trout (more likely to rise) and on a warm sunny day in the winter/late winter, January through March. Swing ‘em if ya got ‘em.
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