I’m no entomologist, but like most fly fishers I have a natural curiosity about water-borne bugs and the critters trout eat. Whether an insect has two tails or three probably doesn’t mean much to the housewife with the fly swatter, but it makes all the difference to a trout-obsessed devotee. I’ll assume that if you’re going to read on you fall into that category, and won’t be offended by descriptions like it has a generous abdomen, or nymphs are easily recognized by their slender bodies and out-turned legs.
I set out by myself yesterday in search of nymphs, duns, spinners, and every other life stage of your typical mayfly. The Columbia River is teeming with them right now, and it’s hard to justify hunching over a pool with a camera in your hands when two clients are tapping on the drift boat gunnels. Thus the solo outing …
I like fishing alone. Preferably on foot. Preferably to sighted trout rising to naturals. It’s why I’ll spend a week backpacking into remote South Island watersheds instead of hanging out at steelhead camps; it’s why I don’t equate fishing success with numbers or outstretched palms. In angling, as in life, each to his or her own. I also like: pissing where I want; eating when I want; the thrill of watching a fish without feeling that I have to cast to it; watching a client light a cigar, laugh out loud for no reason in particular, and leave thoughts of work and guilt a thousand miles away.
Mayflies. So many of them on the Columbia right now. There are: the last smattering of Blue-winged Olives (overcast and drizzly); multitudes of Pale Morning Duns (bankers’ hours in skinny water); sulfurs; Green Drakes (just getting started); Pale Evening Duns (two tails to the PMD’s three) – a striking ginger-bodied mayfly that, when it catches the sun just right, glows luminously pink.
PEDs emerge from calm, shallow water right beside riffles and runs, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Columbia anglers spook trout feeding on them in their haste to reach deeper and faster flows.
Many fly-rodders only associate the Columbia with evening caddis hatches, and yet the daytime dry-fly fishing can be spectacular – particularly early and late in the season. And unlike other Western rivers that remain clear during the runoff, on the Columbia between Castlegar and the U.S. border crowds are non-existent. Many a day and dependent on the stretch we access by jet boat, you won’t see another angler. Hard to believe, I know, but true: the Mighty ‘C’ just isn’t a river for do-it-yourself-ers, and the handful of guides working the river have over 30 miles of prime tailwater to divvy up.
The redbands rising 20 feet from me seemed oblivious to the telephoto lens peering into their world. Perhaps they sensed, somehow, that I wasn’t a threat in that particular run at that particular instant. It’s the same as a monster whitetail taking apples from your hand in August then vanishing for the next five months.
I photographed my share of slender bodies and splayed legs, but only to a point … Of course when I put down the camera and picked up the fly rod again, the little f__kers had stopped rising. I laughed out loud but didn’t light a cigar, though I probably would have if a client had proffered one.
I set out yesterday in search of myself. And that’s exactly what I found.