Potomac-Patuxent Chapter Trout Unlimited
Getting to Boiling Springs at about 3pm we checked out all the snazzy goods in the Yellow Breeches Outfitter’s before heading down to the river. We had expected more of a crowd and were pleasantly surprised to find the river open enough below the Allenberry Inn that we were all able to stay close together. Lou and Roger on point upriver, Will and Zack anchored us on the lower stretch, the rest of us in between. A local fisherman taking his last casts just as we arrived pointed us to some good fish sipping in the shallows against the bank and under the trees.
The fish were more than a little selective. I wouldn’t say the fishing was off, but you had to give them what they wanted, close wouldn’t do. Thirty minutes went by without a hook up, Charlie finally broke the ice by picking up a fish on a size #22 simple three hackle. Giving up on my beetle I offered a #22 BWO and fooled one skating it a foot or two at the end of its drift, both were browns, then a lull.
Charlie went up a couple sizes to a #18 simple three hackle and took a few drifting it downstream, one a beautifully spotted brown of 17 inches. I had switched to sub surface patterns after spooking my risers and dredged up a brown on a shellback scud, but after Charlie’s third hook up I tied on the smallest simple three hackle I had, a size #16, and got my best and last fish of the night. Listening to all the chatter up and down the line it sounded like Charlie and I had all the fish corralled up between us.
By this time the big Hexagenia’s were dancing in the sky and I stopped fishing for a while just to watch. Behind me I heard Ken pointing out there weren’t any birds swooping in taking the easy meal, which was curious. These flies are huge, two inches counting tails, and after climbing for altitude they spread their wings and tails and free fall back toward the river in a series of undulations clearly visible against the lighter sky. I don’t know if anything was after the Hex spinners or not and I couldn’t see any surface activity, but soon after they began to fall schools of little fish three to four inches long began to explode out of the shallower water next to me, my guess trying to escape the large predators moving in to feed.
As the evening came on so did more anglers. Being public water this is a social affair requiring at a minimum patience if not civility, as late comers move in to fill any pocket of water not already covered by someone else. At deep dusk the whiteflies finally came off. This is a true event and beautiful to observe. As the hatch intensified, fish begin to appear on the surface and I don’t think it exaggeration to say I had hundreds of flies and fifty plus fish within casting distance. The flies came off in waves. As each fresh horde of flies emerged the water erupted with five or six fish in the air at the same time chasing the duns; another 50 fish tearing up the surface with splashy rises. I had a half dozen fish rising so close to my legs I couldn’t present a fly to them.
This is a classic eastern setting that people come from all over the country, maybe the world, to experience. There was a wedding in process up at the Inn when we arrived. Later the bride and groom appeared on stream; the bride holding the gathered folds of her gown above water line while a photographer snapped their picture. Every year in the dim light just before full dark the scene reminds me of those water color paintings in the slick magazines. No real definition, just color and shapes melding together in the fading light, a headlamp glowing yellow here and there, shadows closing in. It’s still deep summer but I could feel autumn lurking along the bank in the scent of the ripening weeds.
From what I’ve read there is no intermediate molt from Sub Imago to Imago that requires time in the bushes. Apparently it’s only the males that molt and that’s mostly an airborne process. The females are capable of mating and oviposition on emergence, it all being over within a few hours.
This means the duns and spinners are on the water at the same time, and in order to match what the fish are taking you have to be aware when the fish switch from dun to spinner. The way I guess is mostly things get a little quieter, less jumping and more slurping.
Charlie said he thought I was in the best spot on the river for all the good it was doing me. This was the first time I’d ever fished this late in the hatch and it wasn’t long before I realized they wouldn’t take my store bought patterns. The guy at the shop said they had sold 60 dozen flies in the past week or two, and these fish seemed well acquainted with them. As I floated them through pods of rising fish tearing up the surface pouncing on naturals, they recognized my offerings as confederate every time without so much as a bump. I tried skittering them and hoping them across thinking in the dark they would fool somebody out there, but only a 3 inch fish, that probably wasn’t even a trout, fell for the ruse.
No one that I could see up and down the river had any early successes, and it was looking like a bust when Charlie began to get hook ups on his own sparsely tied duns and spinners, taking five or six browns before tangling up his leader. Ken added one to the count taking a good brown on his own #14 spinner, and then it was well into dark.
Afterwards we stopped at the Tavern in Boiling springs for an excellent supper and conversation. There is still time to fish this hatch, and even as difficult as the fishing might be I think it well worth the trip.
The following is a short video from this outing.
© Potomac-Patuxent Chapter of Trout Unlimited 1999-2018
P.O. Box 2865 Wheaton, MD 20915
This document last modified 08/27/10