By Bruce Schneck
Hitting some special regulation waters and stocked streams during early days of the early season in the southeast region we find surface activity to be limited but at times some very fishable hatches will appear. Of course the first surface activity will be little black stoneflies and black caddis. Some midges as well as limited little blue wing olives will get us to the time we start SEEING SOME OF THE EARLY grays. These early grays, the blue quills, quill gordons and both Hendricksons and red quills provide the first good dry fly fishing of the year. In Schuylkill County usually by the first week of April we will have been seeing Blue Quills in limited numbers for a few weeks but now they start showing in numbers to turn on the trout. Usually we are told that blue quills start emerging late morning through early afternoon. Here in Schuylkill County I find the Blue Quills show earlier than most think, often some will be on the water not long after daylight. Many times anglers will be waiting along streams for opening hour on the first day of the season and will see some surface activity. We can almost be certain that this activity is directed to little black stoneflies and blue quills. Blue quills are very noticeable hovering over the streams. Seldom will it be a heavy feeding bout but certainly can provide some fun.
It almost seems unfair that the first surface activity of the year will be on very small flies. Little Black Stoneflies and black caddis mostly in size 18 with some 16s, midges 18 to 24s , Little Blue Winged Olives in size 18 and Blue Quills mostly in size 18 with some 16s. For season stat it would be nice if we were fishing the easier to see size 12 through 16 flies but no such luck. These bigger flies don’t show until a bit later in the season.
Out of the early grays we first run into blue quills then Quill Gordons and finally the hendricksons and red quills. Often we will see all three hatches coming off on same day, one following the other. Local streams have pretty good hatches of Blue Quills followed by weak hatches of Quill Gordons and then nice numbers of Red Quills and Hendricksons.
If you are tying your own blue quills have them rather heavily hackled or if purchasing them pick out the ones with a bit more hackle. Heavy hackle makes them float better and be a bit more visible, both big assets early in the season. A far as keeping flies floating well on cooler days keep your Gink or whatever floatant you are using in a shirt pocket rather than on a lanyard or in your vest. Floatants are rough to apply to flies when cold.
Both heading to the stream and along the stream we will most likely see Forsythia plants with lots of buds and even a few flowers when the Blue Quills are at their best.
If you want to match the nymph of these flies a pheasant tail nymph in size 16 or 18 does a good job.
Be alert when fishing to a blue quill hatch you will start to notice the insects seem bigger and trout turn off on your quills. What has happened is that the quill hatch has ended for the day and Hendricksons have taken over both in available numbers and being attractive to the trout.
At times we hit cool damp days that cause May flies to struggle when emerging. Floating longer distances when drying their wings they really turn the fish on. Not as comfortable of days for the angler but certainly leads to productive fishing.
Let’s look at some fly patterns that match the Blue Quills. At times some will be as large AS a SIZE 14, not common but it does happen. Size 16 is probably the best size to fish and is usually productive while size 18 is closer to most of the naturals that will be appearing.
Hooks will be normal dry fly such as Mustad 94840. Thread should be dark gray and probably 8/0 in size. Wings give you several options. The standard Catskill type has wings made from a matched pair of gray mallard wing quill segments, upright and divided. Dark gray hackle tips have provided a popular pattern for many years. Poly-pro in medium to dark gray (dun) provides a suitable and durable wings. I really like to use med to dark dun turkey flats for wings on these guys. Tail will usually be blue dun hackle fibers but micro fibets in the same color work very well. Dubbed dark gray poly is a normal body on these flies but a more traditional and probably a bit more attractive body will be made by using a quill from a peacock eye that has had small fibers stripped. A pencil eraser does a very good job of removing these fibers. Moistening the quill before tying it in prevents the quill from splitting. After body has been wrapped a coating of head cement will help body withstand sharp teeth of the fish. Some tiers strip a blue dun hackle to make the body. Here again the material should be soaked and then coated with head cement. Some tiers counter wrap the body with very fine gold wire to help protect the quill.
Probably the first really good dry fly fishing of the season will be provided by the Blue Quills, ENJOY.