Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Bug Of The Month - Pteronarcys Californica
The Madison River in South Western Montana is my favorite trout river, and home of Pteronarcys Californica - The Salmonfly. The Madison is basically a 50 mile riffle and ideal habitat for this big bug, I have taken some of my biggest trout in my life using the nymph here. But the love of the hatch, as almost always, is fishing the big dry. To see a 24" brown lazily nose over to your fly and suck it down with so much authority, that you know in your heart that these fish want this bug for the large size and its nutritional value! In fact the Native Americans that once roamed the shores of Hat Creek in California hunted these bugs to eat. They would wait on the banks near a willow and when they saw a Salmon fly hatch at the right time, they gulped it down! It was best this way as the bug was still soft and buttery, right out of the shuck.
Rivers in spring are filled with melting snow that has accumulated on peaks during the winter, as these flows recede Salmonflies stage up underneath rocks that are close to shore, the bigger the rock the better. This can occur from May through July depending on the snow pack. The hatch is often a hit or miss for mega stone hatches that happen on rivers like the Madison, the hatch starts at the lower river and works its way upstream - Sometimes the pace is often very fast and the bugs can cover miles in a day. One thing I have learned is that I let the crowds of anglers chase that dream, and when they are gone I set up camp, and fish the Salmonfly exclusively. The fish remember that bug for weeks after it has flown through, and you can bet on that!
Illustration by Christine Elder
Nymphs occupy the faster oxygenated riffles and pocket water and live 2- 4 years before emerging as adults. Nymphs are terrible swimmers and are subject to being washed away into the currents and finding its new home in a trout's belly. Feeding on stream debris, and leaf matter the Salmonfly measures 1.75-2.50 inches. The emergence usually occurs after Sunset into the night or early morning when it is still dark out. They crawl out of their exoskeleton and dry their wings before taking flight and finding a secluded area to adapt to their new world, many times mating between male and females occurs right away. I have seen freshly hatched males wait for a female to shed her shuck and start mating!
Adult Salmonflies live 1-2 weeks, and just like their swimming, they are clumsy fliers at best. The female lays her eggs by dabbing the water with her abdomen, dozens of times. She is most vulnerable at this point as her wings can get sucked down into the water where she is a helpless, struggling, prime rib dinner for Mr. Rainbow Trout. There are many fly patterns out there one can choose for this hatch. For the nymph I like a pattern that has rubber legs, tail and antennae, a big juicy and succulent body, and not too heavy so it can seek out the natural feeding lanes when high sticked. For the adult I like a foam bodied Stimulator in a size 6 (females are bigger) with a burnt orange body, a dark hackle in front, and moose for the wing. I have always caught my biggest fish on the dry right at dark. You see the take, and set the hook, the large trout turns and puts on the after burners downstream! Your hands tremble, and your short of breath! You dig deep and keep your cool and there it is at your feet after a long battle.....A two foot long trout at 5 pounds, and a great way to end the day on the Madison River.........