All content © Robert Williamson

All content © Robert Williamson

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.


jabberwock said...

Those woven stonefly nymphs are dead sexy. And no other pattern has worked so well for me as the 02 stone.

Looking forward to May.

Cutthroat Stalker said...

It's funny your initial reaction as a kid, but mine was almost the same even though I was looking for the things. About peed my pants the first time one landed on me unexpectedly.

Those flies look as sweet as the hoppers I have sitting in my box some generous soul gave me last year.

I didn't really do much with the salmonfly last year, so I'm looking forward to it this year. I'm waiting for Kevin to invite me up for the SF hatch since last year didn't work out (was it the high water or our schedules?).

kolobflyfishing said...

Those are sick looking patterns, keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

With the low snowpack, I'm thinking the BSF will be very fishable during the stone hatch this year. Let me get you some of these flies to try over there. Maybe we can plan a time to fish it, provided we have access somewhere.

Thanks for the comment Jab and Kolo.

Cutthroat Stalker said...

So, you're officially known as "anonymous" now?

I'll keep my eye on the BSF. You're absolutely right about the low snowpack providing a better opportunity this year. Luckily, the new access law doesn't start until May (11th?). My favorite spot to fish the hatch is right in the middle of some "private" stretches (saying that sure tastes bad in my mouth), so I'll definitely look for some new water.

jabberwock said...

oh you guys know you are all invited up for the SF stone fly hatch. Standing invitations.

I don't remember what happened last year. Most likely high water.

The question this year is whether or not we will still be in the area come June............. (Which has what has kept me from emailing and asking for a dozen of this that and the other)

but that is a story for another time, and my worries may be premature.

Nathan Ira said...

Great little blog here! Don't know how I didn't stumble across it before now! Subscribed now though so I'll be back.

Dig your patterns you've got here. Seeing as you like the big bugs there's one a buddy came up with that I think you'll probably like. We have a tutorial for it here:

I've been tying them up in darker colors for the big salmonflies. Now I just can't wait till they get here! Check it out an see what you think!