It’s Blue-Wing time on the Arkansas

Coming up in a few weeks, the Ark will be in the midst of one of the most renowned dry fly hatches in the West – the Mother’s Day caddis hatch. But right now there is another, less spectacular, but no less enjoyable hatch going on – the early spring blue-winged olive hatch.

Blue-wings are mayflies, and make up the second most important part of an Arkansas River trout’s diet, after caddis. Up close, blue-wings are a beautiful insect, delicate and short-lived. While some species may live for up to a year subsurface as nymphs, once they hatch into adults, the clock is ticking. The adult has no mouth parts with which to eat and sustain itself, so their life span in usually little more than twenty four hours. As you might imagine, they are on a mission.

That mission is to find a mate, do the business and lay eggs back in the river for the next generation before departing this mortal coil. There is no time for drawn out courtship rituals here – think spring break at Cancun or Ibiza.

Generally, blue-wings prefer to hatch on cooler, cloudy days. Once breaking through the surface film, they have to wait anywhere from thirty seconds to a few minutes while their wings inflate and dry out. It is at this time that they are most vulnerable, and as they hatch and float helplessly down the river, trout will line up along the foam lines and eddy lines to languidly sip them down.

Lately, we haven’t been having enough cooler, cloudy days, but they have been hatching anyway – when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, I guess. On this day that Caveman, Pinky and I floated, we had what you would call a typical blue wing kind of day. In the morning, small nymphs were working best, like pheasant tails and juju baetis. Once the adult blue-wings started to appear on the surface, we switched to dry flies and had a great couple of hours of top water action.

I’d also like to add that anyone can catch a trout on this river. It takes real skill and technique, however, to hook a sucker fish, let alone hook it in the tail. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


Maui: How Bad Can it Be?

“It seems like an exercise in futility to me” said my wife, shrugging her shoulders. Not wishing to dwell too deeply on her observation, I took refuge in the fact that not everyone gets fishing.

On the surface, it was hard to argue with her. The wind was blowing steadily onshore, 15 to 20 knots, gusting to 40, or so said the weather forecast. A group of surfers were huddled in the questionable shelter of some trees along the beachfront, staring forlornly at the messy shore break. The ocean beyond was an iron grey,  a belt of approaching showers blurring the line between sea and sky.

If I wasn’t going to catch any fish, however, the elements were the last thing I could blame. Ignorance headed that list. We’d been in Maui a little over a week, and in that time the weather had been unseasonable windy and wet. I’d been putting off going fishing for several days, waiting for favorable tides and conditions, but had finally decided to strap on my man pants and get out there.

The Hawaiian Islands in general, and Maui in particular, are not regarded as prime salt water fly fishing destinations. The land rises steeply out of the sea, meaning very little in the way of flats for wading, and in many places the rocks sharp, the remnants of ongoing volcanic activity. Speaking to a couple of locals on a previous trip, I’d learned that this time of the year isn’t the best time for finding fish in close to the shore anyway.

I had a nine weight with a sink tip, a handful of clousers and a fresh spool of 20 pound test. I turned to my wife as I got out of the car and replied “I know, but how bad can it be?” In my youth I’d hiked shorelines very similar, armed with a hand line or surfcaster, some heavy weights and a packet of frozen pilchards for bait. Back then, I was fishing for snapper, gurnard and rock cod, bottom feeders mostly.

Here, it was a whole new ball game. The reefs abounded with strange fish of every color combination imaginable, ranging in size from smaller than my clousers to a pound or so. But it was the fish that fed on these guys that I was hoping would be around. It felt good to be in the water, wading out to rock outcrops, leaping from boulder to boulder, timing my movements with the ebb and flow of the waves.

The dark clouser didn’t do much, but after a while I switched to a neon green, easier to see in the overcast, and I started to get a few chasers – nothing huge, and I couldn’t figure out if they were interested or just saying “wtf is that?” The hundred yards or so between the surf break and the shore was a labyrinth of reefs and channels, the water surging and draining, the fish riding the waves in and retreating with the outflow.

Alas, despite the chasers, I couldn’t get a fish to hook up to help counter my wife’s skepticism. An exercise in futility it was, if putting dinner on the table had been the objective. But for a Kiwi boy land-locked in the Rockies, it was great to taste the salt air and experience its sting on my skin, to feel the surge of the ocean against my legs and stand and stare back across the limitless ocean towards home.

So, no photos of fish to share, no tales of Ahab and Leviathan, but how about that sunset? Taken from the deck of our holiday home, through a mai tai infused lense. As I said before, “How bad can it be?”


Of Things Pink, and Golden…

With the evenings getting longer, and the days incrementally warmer, thoughts are turning more and more to the river, and away from the ski area. So much so that even with the report of a foot of fresh powder in the hills, I decided to forego a drive up the pass to Monarch, and instead turned the truck in the opposite direction, heading down the canyon a little way to Howard.

My buddy Pink, after taking a five year sabbatical back to his home state of Vermont, returned to the valley recently and purchased himself a little place down on the river. After inspecting the lay of the land, and deciding the best place to excavate for his new boat ramp, we rigged up and headed upstream, nymphing as we went.

It’s hard to tell whether the river is fishing better than it did ten years ago, or if I am just getting to be a better fisherman. Probably a little of both, but whatever the reason, we enjoyed a great hour or so on the river, each catching multiple fish – primarily browns, with a couple of rainbows thrown into the mix.

This is the time of the year when golden stonefly nymphs tend to work well. The nymphs undergo periodic molts, called ‘in – stars’, during which they shed their old skins to grow into a new one. Their new skin is quite yellow in color until it hardens and darkens, and the fish seem to find them particularly tasty at this time, kind of like a good feed of lamb before it has a chance to turn into mutton.

Trailing below the stone fly was the ever reliable pheasant tail, and each pattern caught multiple fish. In tandem with my inaugural 2011 float a month ago, the fishing season is off to a great start, and it won’t be too long until the blue wings start popping, and a man can tie on a dry fly, and really look the world in the eye again.