Let’s talk about a common spring situation, when weather changes quickly, and the sun you had over your shoulder all morning is just an orange glow behind deep clouds by noon. Boat is in the water, rain is coming, and you haven’t seen a big bug anywhere. Then the rain starts up. Lucky for you it’s just that ever-present drizzle, but it’s enough to take the air out of your hopes for big fish on big fliers for a bit. You might be tempted to grab the streamer rig and just rip beers and big flies all afternoon, and I wouldn’t blame you. But before you do, this sounds like the perfect opportunity to catch a Blue Wing Olive hatch in action.
|Small but mighty. Size 20 BWO Thor, tied with CDC and a whole lot of patience.
For the fly angler’s purposes, we lump together a whole bunch of individual species of mayfly into what is technically called the Family Baetidae. Though they vary slightly in coloration, what is common about them all is their slight size, (I tie them from 16 to 20) their olive bodies, and their smokey wings. You’ll hear guides on the river hollering back and forth about baetis, pseudos, or just BWOs, but for the layperson identifying the individual bug isn’t going to matter when it comes to fly selection. Fly shops all carry lots of variations in the Blue Wing Olive-flavored dubbing and it all works just fine.
What makes this tiny mayfly so important on western rivers in spring? Same thing that makes it important all year round- they are in the system and hatch most often in that ugly kind of weather that makes you wish you’d worn another layer. Steady rain, gusting winds, a mixture of everything and still they will be there, and fishing them correctly can make your day if you hit it just right. On some rivers, this can be silly-good. On all rivers, this time of year it is worth tying on the small bugs and giving them a try before you call it in. Here are three quick tips to keep in mind when seeking out BWO-munching trout.
Look to the Slow Stuff
This tip seems so obvious for almost all fishing situations this time of year, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth hammering home. Far too often when the fishing is slow I see anglers going back to their comfort zones- and for most of us, fishing that good looking summer water is what we know. Beautiful cutbank with a deep hole and lots of tumbling water running into it? Skip it. Look for back eddies, the tail-outs of slack pools, and my favorite: foam patches. Run an emerger subsurface in these situations and hold on.
Add Some Slack
When fishing the small stuff in spring, a drag-free drift is essential. Given where we have the most success when fishing BWOs, it makes sense to give yourself as much slack as possible so that the fly can drift the funky currents of a backwater eddy unencumbered. If possible, an up and across approach will also help your fly find a fish’s face.
I carry a couple of permanent markers in my pack, and they come in handy when the fish are gulping down BWOs in piles of foam. For some reason, a fly that is a bit darker than the naturals you are seeing sometimes makes the difference. I like cripples much better when they are tied with a slightly darker body, and a quick slash with a brown permanent marker can turn a parachute adams into a better BWO in a pinch.
Parachute flies and visible wings really help when you’re using the 6x or 7x, but so does a lot of patience. If you’re out there in the rain already, what have you got to lose? Keep an eye out for these BWO hatches, tie on something silly-small and let her rip.