All content © Robert Williamson

All content © Robert Williamson

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Why would a trout postion its feeding lie inches off the far bank, in a five foot space, between two overhanging water birch limbs with submerged branches?

I found out as I gently placed a blue-winged olive imitation right behind the upstream set of branches. The imitation mayfly sat motionless for a second, then slowly started downstream. Its migration was stopped when I saw the head of a trout pop up through the water's surface tension. I knew he was a good trout by the size of the head. Plus, the take was deliberate and subtle; not the splashy rise of the smaller trout I had caught earlier. I lifted the rod tip and watched the slow seam of water erupt into the air. The good-sized brown trout followed. I put pressure on quick. The trout had two options: head upstream and into submerged branches or downstream into submerged branches. Either way, I was in trouble. The trout headed downstream which made sense. Upstream the water was shallow, downstream the water was deep. I figured a trout this size had moved up out of the deeper water to feed. I tried to horse the trout out into the open riffle where I was standing, but he was smart and fast. I watched as he rolled around in the submerged branches. He had snagged me up. I waded closer to the sunken trouble. The trout spun a couple of more times and then darted downstream into the deep water. He was gone and my fly and leader was hung up in the branches. I retrieved my fly and came away with catching a gob of moss. It didn't matter. My wife had tagged along to take some pictures and after four photographs of earlier caught smaller trout, the camera batteries had gone dead. This trout was destined to be a fish story.Winter seemed long to me, even though it was a mild winter, and one with below normal snow. Getting out and finding a Spring blue-winged olive hatch was very much needed. I had spent my lunch hour watching feeding trout the day before the outing. The hatch started at about 2:00 PM. I watched several trout and made mental note of where the larger ones were feeding. I went back to work and dreamed the rest of the day, and into the night, about getting back to the river the next day to fly fish. I awoke early and tied some flies to match the hatch. I knew the best fishing would be in the afternoon so I spent the rest of the morning helping do yardwork at my parent's house. At noon, I went home and ate a quick lunch. I invited my wife to go with me and to take some pictures.

We arrived at the area I planned to fish and I quickly put on my waders and rigged up my gear. I felt like a kid as I strung the rod and tied on the fly. I was excited. I mentioned to my wife, the excitement I felt. "Why, after all these years of fly fishing, do I still feel so excited about it?" I asked. It was really an unanswerable question. I'm not sure I know the answer, so I didn't expect her to have one either. The question was my way of letting her know fly fishing still fascinates me and brings me a joy and satisfaction I don't get in my "normal" life. She knows that already and accepts it. In that regard I have been lucky. She has always allowed me to go on my fly fishing adventures, only questioning my propensity to go alone so often. Still, she accepts it and understands it in her own way. On this outing, I waded the river and she walked the bank. With each missed trout or hooked trout, I would glance back at her and smile. It was fun to share the smiles and a couple of hours together. In so many aspects of my life, I have a tendency to look back and wonder how I ended up where I am. I sometimes wonder if I could have been more than what I am. Should I have been a doctor? A lawyer? An indian chief?  What would that change? Standing in the river, and knowing of the joy, happiness, serenity, and excitement I still feel when pursuing and catching trout, I realized I was right where I belong.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I admit it. You have to remember, I was a teenager at the time. I was wading up a river just after run-off had dropped it to a safer level. With fly rod in my right hand, I reached into a willow tree to get my balance. I glanced at the branch and reached for it at the same time. I jerked my hand back and a shiver shot up my spine. The willow branches were crawling with some type of large insect. My initial response was to get away from it before the bugs swarmed me, but running in waders was not my forte. Beside, the bugs seemed harmless once I took a second look. Still, they scared me. I was unfamiliar with aquatic insects at that age. I figured they were some type of locust, or worse yet, an invading alien army; small creatures from another planet hiding out in the canyon near the river waiting for the rest of there kind to arrive. When they had amassed the proper numbers, they would take over the world. Like I said, I was a teenager and I liked science fiction.As I became more observant, I noticed the dried remains of another insect on the streamside rocks and clinging on the lower reaches of the willow branches. Something weird was going on. Whatever these winged insects were doing, they had wiped out another species. The dead remains were everywhere. I watched as one of the live bugs took flight. It was not a pretty sight. Flapping its wings madly, it slowly gained altitude, and moved out over the water. It headed upstream but I could tell it was not comfortable being airborne. Just as I had that thought, a robin darted out over the water and plucked the clumsy bug out of the air. There was hope. The invading aliens could be controlled by birds. Seagulls began to appear flying overhead. They too were eating the insects out of the air. It was amazing. Whatever these creatures had planned, it was being stopped, atleast to some degree, by the birds. The world would be saved, and I would learn through study, and by talking to other fly fishers who were more knowledgeable than me, all about the life cyle of the stonefly, Pteronarcy californica. (See, even the scientific name sounds scary.) As with most western fly fishers, I became interested in the stoneflies. They have held my interest for over thirty years now. Each year I look forward to the hatch of these big aquatic insects and spend some of my winter nights tying up the patterns I use to attack the hatch. I have found that you have to spend the time necessary to know when the hatch will come off, and then don't give up on it. Plan to fish the big nymphs before the adults show up, after the adults are around, and then after the adults are gone. Mixed in with the nymphs, know when to start throwing the big dry fly imitations, and don't stop throwing them just because the hatching adults are not found anymore.This is how I attack the stonefly hatch. On my local stonefly waters, I know the hatch can occur anytime from the first couple of weeks in May through the first couple of weeks in June. Experience tells me that most of the time I will see the hatch mid-May to the end of May. I start driving to the river the first few days in May. I check the willows for adults. I look on the base of the willows and exposed river rocks for dried nymph shucks. I will turn over a few stream rocks and look for live nymphs near the edges of the river. I will do this daily if I can. If I have time to fish I will start to throw the big nymphs and gauge how aggressive the fish seem to be. If they are aggressive, then I assume the nymphs are starting to migrate and the fish are getting used to seeing a few. If the fishing is slow, I figure the fish are not seeing quantities of the nymphs yet. Eventually, I will be at the right place, at the right time, and the stars and planets line up and I smile. The adults will be in the trees, the fish have been feeding on the nymphs, and will soon be used to seeing some adults on the water too. Adults will end up in the water by losing their grip on streamside foilage, wind gusts, birds misjudging them in flight, and mishaps during mating and egg laying. When I fish a dry stonefly, I will cover a lot of water. I cast close to the bank and then work out toward the center of the river hitting all likely seams and pockets. If the water looks particularly fish worthy, I will make several casts, but most water I hit with a few good drifts and then move on. I figure if a trout is there and he has taken a few naturals, then he will hit my imitation. If I'm nymphing, I give the seams and runs a little more effort, especailly if they are deep with good undercut banks. Some fly fishers will use a dry dropper rig. This can be a good approach if you are better at setting up the rig than I am. I seem to spend more time untangling and trying to cast accurately and it takes away my enjoyment. I love to fire the dries around  and up under overhanging foilage. Watching a trout come out and up near overhanging brush always gets my adrenalin gowing. It seems the biggest trout take these secure lies and hooking one and then keeping him from snagging in the brush adds to the excitement.The patterns I have pictured here are some of my favorites. I like the way they look and enjoy the durability. I don't know if they are any better than some of the simple ties, but they have been effective enough for me that I keep on tying and using them. The nymphs are tied on size six and eight hooks. I like the Tiemco 200R style or something equal. The dry flies are tied on size four and six hooks with 2X long shanks. I have equal success with the air-filled and twisted foam bodies. I have determined that silhouette is the key factor when tying and fishing the large stoneflies. These patterns catch that important feature. As the title of this peice says, I like to attack the stonefly hatch. It is one of my favorite times to be on the water. I fish these patterns aggressively. I am stubborn and willl stay with them and fish them hard. I just have to believe the trout want to eat these bugs. They are the steak and potato meal the trout have been waiting for. I love to cater up my imitation meal and almost force them to eat if I have to.