Vail Valley fishing report: Salmonflies are a trout’s version of a filet mignon |

Vail Valley fishing report: Salmonflies are a trout’s version of a filet mignon

Alpine River Outfitters
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Runoff is slowly creeping into our area’s watersheds and the water levels are all rising. This year has been a little different than past years, and with the cold temperatures we’ve experienced, the water levels have stayed relatively low and the clarity has been great considering it’s the middle of May. Most of the rivers in our area are currently flowing at about half of what their average flow is this time of year. This has proved to be nothing but good for the fish, and the fishing and we hope it will prolong what we assumed would be a short floating season on the Eagle this year.

The famed Salmonfly hatch is something that all anglers in the West look forward to if they’re lucky enough to have a river nearby that produces great numbers of these hummingbird-size bugs. We are lucky enough to have that in our backyard: Gore Canyon on the Colorado River. Each year, these bugs hatch at a time determined by water conditions and time of day. Some years prove to have more prolific hatches than others. Typically, these fish will key in on these bugs in the nymph (subsurface) form for a few weeks prior to the “hatch” itself before they gorge themselves on the huge adult flies – some of which approach 2-3 inches or more in size. They acquire a bright orange glow, which adds to the allure of these insects. If you’re an angler, and that doesn’t sound appealing to you, you should probably take up golf.

Entomology anyone? The terms “Salmonfly” and “Stonefly” are common names used interchangeably to refer to the “Pteronarcys californica”, or the Giant Salmonfly. These nymphs live in the water, below the surface, for three to four years before their emergence. During these years, they grow by feeding on detritus, or stream debris that is partially broken down by other organisms in the water. This feeding activity has given them the nickname of “shredders.” Just before these nymphs decide to emerge and hatch, they’ll move from the fast water in the middle of the river and migrate closer and closer to the shore and the shallow water before they eventually crawl out of the water and begin the process of shedding their exoskeleton. Once this metamorphosis begins, the fish also take note and start to look up for the adult version of the stonefly … one that flies away with hopes of finding mates who will help continue the tradition. This is also when the fishermen follow close behind … not to find mates, but to find fish – so get out there while it’s hot and take advantage of the opportunity to throw huge orange dry flies at big, hungry brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout!

Typically, their backs are darker in color and their bellies, as they get closer to emergence, will turn an orange color, which can really give you a good idea of how close these bugs are to hatching. Flipping over a few rocks can reveal a whole world of information relative to your day on the water. If you’re not familiar with your local entomology, stop by your local fly shop and ask for information from the guys who are on the water every day. They should provide a wealth of information from their experience on the water.

Only Mother Nature determines when these bugs crawl to the banks and hatch. All we humans have are past memories and fishing journal records to reference in order to make an educated guess as to when these elusive flies hatch and become the daily menu option for the resident trout. Give us a call here in the shop for up-to-date information on the upcoming Giant Salmonfly hatch!

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