It’s Stonefly Time on the Arkansas River

June 12, 2009

There are two floats that a fisherman looks forward to the most throughout the year. The first is the inaugural spring float, that rite of passage as we emerge from winter’s long dark tunnel to the burgeoning dawn of the new day. The second is the first float after runoff. The river is still high, but dropping and clearing, and the fish haven’t had much to do for the last month or so except hunker down, spit grit out their gills and get hungry.

While kayakers and rafters may be lamenting the decreasing flows, we fishermen are pretty excited. Not only are the fish hungry thanks to their enforced Ramadan or Lent, but the higher flows force them to seek shelter along the banks out of the main current, where they lie stacked like cordwood. Add to this the fact that June is the time of the year when the stoneflies hatch, and you have a pretty good combination. Runoff came early this year. Normally the river doesn’t peak till around mid – late June, so we don’t often get to fish the stonefly hatch. Not so this year.

The great thing about stoneflies is that they are generally big and ungainly. For fish persevering on a diet of small mayflies and caddis flies, a stonefly is like a cheeseburger or wings after several months of tofu slivers and brown rice. For the fisher person, it is the chance to ditch the 5x and 6x and size 18 patterns for 3x and size 10s. Stoneflies are the predators of the nymph world. No grazing on vegetables for these guys. They grow to pretty impressive sizes, and feed on other nymphs for up to three years before crawling from the river onto rocks along the banks of the river, usually at night, to shed their skins, fly away and procreate.

The Arkansas River has two main types of stones – golden and yellow sallies. While not as large as a salmonfly, the goldens in particular can grow to a pretty respectable size, providing a good shot of protein for a hungry fish. As you can see from the video, the river is still pretty high and fast, which makes wading a bit of a sketchy proposition. I would not recommend setting foot in the water at this level, but rather fishing carefully up the banks, keeping your feet dry. As all the fish are stacked along the banks anyway, there’s no need to wade out into the stream – they’re all right there under your nose.

As for float fishing, things happen pretty fast – a drift of five seconds duration is  good. Hence the importance of getting the fly on the bank and right in front of the fish. We fished single dry flies all afternoon, and it didn’t seem to matter too much what size or color. Stimulators, pmxs and yellow foam flies all worked well, both big and small. As the river continues to drop and settle, the fishing will only get better. While the caddis hatch is fun, for me this is the best time of the year to fish. No more snow storms,  measuring the water temperature and trying to decipher the feeding patterns, now it’s fishing for the attention deficit. Just tie on a piece of 3x, stick on something big, hairy and dry, and throw it out there. For more up to the minute fishing conditions, click here.


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