Salomone: Mother’s Day marks the time for Spongebobs, Prince nymphs and the Fly Formerly Known as Prince
Vail Valley Anglers
I don’t have to tell you that it has been an unusual year, historic in scale. I’m not here to dwell upon the uncontrollable past. The effects have separated loved ones, canceled travel plans and eliminated the enjoyment found in food. However, I am prepared to move forward with a positive tone. I am looking forward to seeing my mother and doing a little dry-fly fishing.
Mom’s birthday is May 16. Mother’s day is May 9. The Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Eagle River starts to swing into gear when the water temperature reaches 56 degrees. Water temperatures in the upper 50s provide the ideal conditions for the massive emergence.
The Eagle River possesses a truly epic hatch of caddisflies in early May. Some years the emergence is so heavy it appears to be a snowstorm, obscuring the far side of the river. Anglers swarm bankside looking for dry-fly activity that is hard to compare.
Preparing your fly box for such an event is an intelligent idea. Waiting until the hatch has started is too late. Dry fly bins will be picked over. Nymphs become nonexistent. Necessary tippet becomes hard to locate. And your favorite pattern will be completely gone. Don’t wait.
Caddis are active insects. The nymphs move about in the warming water. Crawling in the detritus; leaves, sand and rocks. Swift currents knock nymphs loose and into the river. Caddis make trout act crazy.
Whether it is an early morning nymph bite, the mid-day emerger feeding pattern or all out dry-fly activity, Eagle River trout gorge on caddis. A significant percentage of a trout’s summer growth can be directly attributed to caddis.
Starting in late April and moving into the month of May, the Eagle River caddis hatch reaches world class status. Comparable to the storied caddis hatches of the Arkansas River, our freestone river is one of the absolute best. Water levels are high enough to accommodate float fishing as well as spectacular wade fishing.
Intelligent anglers approach the river with the caddis life cycle in mind. The stages of caddis development create a well defined path to success. Choosing a few fly patterns that represent each stage is a good way to stock your box.
Nymphs are covered by the most recognized nymph around, the Prince Nymph. Carried in a variety of sizes, the Prince is the no. 1 subsurface caddis imitation. The fly Formerly Known as Prince is tied with flashy wing material instead of the standard white and also a good choice when trout get finicky. A Copper John in green or a simple Hare’s Ear Nymph fool enough trout to keep rods bent up and down the Eagle River.
When the hatch starts to pick up speed, trout transition to feeding on emergers. The immense number of suspended emergers is overwhelming. To be able to look across a flowing river with snorkel gear would be mind blowing for most. Swift swimming trout make easy meals from the overabundance.
Soft Hackle Pheasant Tails and Soft Hackle Hare’s Ear nymphs breathe in the water during the drift, giving the illusion of movement and life. Swinging a Soft Hackle to the complete end of the drift catches numerous fish. The increasingly popular X-caddis works wonders during the emergence, imitating a true emerger silhouette with a partially protruding elk hair wing and antron trailing shuck. The X-caddis should be in every Eagle River anglers fly box around Mother’s Day.
As far as dry flies go for the Eagle River and Mother’s Day, the king of caddis patterns is the Elk Hair Caddis. Tied in size 12-14 the Elk Hair Caddis will account for more dry fly eats in May than any other pattern. A Pearl & Elk or Puterbaugh’s Foam Bodied Caddis aka the Spongebob are two personal favorites for non-stop dry fly activity during the Mother’s Day caddis hatch.
Small Stimulators, that don’t necessarily represent caddis, appear buggy enough to fool aggressive, feeding trout. Stimulators ride high on the surface even in fast wate, fooling trout along the way.
Keep your eye on the water temperature because the trout don’t have a calendar. Mother’s Day is a general term for when the emergence is expected. Stock your fly box before the rush. Plan ahead and be ready for the game. One last word of advice, go ahead and send those Mother’s Day flowers, too.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in numerous magazines and websites including; Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow labrador retrievers.