What is a Trico? Know your Fly Fishing Bug.

What is a Trico? 
The Trico is a small mayfly that hatch on rivers from July to October in large numbers. Fly anglers refer to these bugs as “tricos” as a shortened version of their scientific family name, Tricorythodes. The trico dun body is light olive/grey with light grey wings. The bugs hatch in early morning and evening, rise into the air in columns to mate, and return to the water to deposit their eggs. Then they die, and litter the water as “spinners”. The spinner falls happen when the air temperature hits 68 degrees F, according to the scientists. This spinner fall is when trout key in on the bugs that have fallen back to the water floating in the surface film. In a typical late summer morning, Tricos emerge early in the morning, mate in columns of adults, return to the water surface to deposit their eggs, and then die off in “spinner falls” that leave the water littered with their spent bodies of lovely fish food.

Trico spinners on the water. Photo via Scumliner Media’s video, “Dead Flies Don’t Swim”

Why are Tricos Important for Fishing?
What makes the trico hatch such a “fishable” event is the frequency of the hatch and it’s sheer size. Because of the abundance of food during a trico hatch, they become an important food source and fish key in on them exclusively for the duration. Because of their small size, fish become less wary as they concentrate on the sheer amount of food available, and often form into pods of feeding fish in riffles and pools that can be noticeably eating with abandon. With so much food available and podded fish competing for the bugs, there can be great opportunities to catch big fish that normally would be much more wary. Though it can be maddening to fish smaller flies and tippet sizes with long leaders, the sheer number of fish eating in an area can make a trico hatch some of the most challenging but rewarding fishing of the season.

How Can I Tell Fish Are Eating Tricos?
When Fish are keyed in on tricos, they’ll often group into pods and sit where the spinners are most available. Like many mayflies, tricos hatch and emerge in riffles, and when a hatch is on the adults can be seen in columns above the water in these areas. Look for choppy water with persistent current to find the adults, and then concentrate on the water behind these areas. Sunglasses with Polarized lenses are crucial for this aspect of identifying the trico hatch. Look for the columns of bugs as your first indicator of a trico hatch, but it also can be likely that the amount of bugs in the air is less than the amount on the water. On some rivers the spinners can be easy to see due to their sheer numbers. The trico hatches on some tailwaters are legendary. Look for the bugs on the water- their splayed wings are the easiest aspect to see. Oftentimes, the most visible part of the trico hatch are the pods of rising fish that form wherever the bugs are present. These fish key in on the emergence and the spinner fall and their rises are usually subtle but loaded with intent. Look for splashy rises from the little fish, and subtle gulps from the larger fish. It is crucial to be patient and focused while searching out these pods of fish- sporadic rises can mean the hatch is “in between” stages. If lots of adults are present but fish aren’t rising regularly, most likely the emergence is finished and you’ll just have to wait for the spent adults to return to the water as air temperatures rise.

What Flies Do I Need For the Hatch?
 For most anglers, the small size of these bugs is the most noticeable characteristic, and we’re talking very small: size 18 is the entry to trico world, they are most commonly fished in a size 22-24 fly size. Most often, a small black thread-bodied fly will do the trick when fishing to imitate the trico, and there are many patterns that cover this type of hatch and spinner fall. Most patterns concentrate on the thin bodies, long tails and horizontal splayed wings of the spent Trico spinner, and the difference in patterns most often comes down to the materials used for the wings and body. One of my favorite trico patterns is the Sparkle Wing Trico. For a great tutorial on this pattern, see my post here. Another great tutorial for a Trico Spinner is available here. Tying small flies can be a challenge, so be sure to read my tips for tying twenties as well.

How Do I Fish the Trico Hatch?
Fishing the Trico hatch is an exercise in true fly fishing form. It can be a challenge, but it is ultimately a very rewarding experience and even the novice can find fish if they apply the fundamentals well. To excel at fishing a trico hatch requires all of the same elements that fishing any other hatch does, magnified. Longer leaders, smaller tippet sizes, and small flies work in tandem with reading water, approaching from the right angle, and executing a decent cast, drift, and hook set. Sounds easy, right? It can be.

Leader Setup
Lets start with equipment. Longer leaders will give you a great advantage when fishing the trico hatch, and I prefer the 12 ft. Rio Power flex leader in 4x to begin with. A 5x leader in the same size also can be deadly, though often the 4x will get you there and allow you to tie on a long section of tippet to get the job done. Many anglers will tell you to size down the leader even more for such tiny flies, and this certainly is great advice, though leaders in 6x and 7x can be tough to manage and aren’t often used except for during these micro fly situations. I prefer to use a bulkier leader for trico fishing due to their flexibility to be used all day. Often after a trico morning I’ll fish hoppers in the afternoon, and clipping back tippet to a 4x leader makes this possible without a complete leader changup.

Certainly, if you’re exclusively fishing the trico hatch, size down the leader to 5x or  6x and get after it. A couple of fresh spools of 6x and 7x tippet is a great idea every August for trico fishing. Tie good knots and add two to four feet of tippet to your leader. 16 feet of trout finding goodness will give you good drifts. Test your knots! With small flies and small tippets, the last thing you want is to get the big ones to eat and lose them to a cruddy knot. A single trico pattern is best to target these fish, though if seeing your fly is impossible, you can tie a larger indicator fly on to assist you. My advice is to stick with the single pattern, and strike on anything that looks like it might be your fly, rather than get overly concerned with seeing your pattern.

This is your spinner, and their trout dinner. Look for patterns that imitate this stage and you’ll find willing fish.
Photo via GoodPixGallery.com

Now to find the fish. Look for inside bends, riffles, and anywhere that fish are podding up and rising steadily, and plan your approach for long drifts. A long, drag free presentation will help fool trout that have their pick of lots of spinners coming down the current. Practice your presentation in the riffles and tag a couple of smaller fish to get the hang of using this long leader/small fly setup, and once you’ve dunked some dinks and gotten used to the set, start targeting the bigger fish in the pods. Here’s what to look for: subtle, deliberate rises. Slow and easy. Slurping fish. Fish that leave very little surface disturbance, unlike their splashy little friends. This takes patience, but will help develop your skills as a trout stalker. Take your time, think about your approach, your cast, and your drift, and let them take the fly.

The Cast and Drift
When fish are keyed in on tricos, they don’t have to move much or work hard to get their food. Sometimes, they won’t even move an inch to grab one. Fish will sit in skinny water, where the food comes to them regularly. Look for their rises, and consider that area their “feeding lane”. Now it’s all about bowling between the gutters. The best way to do this is find a spot and stand still. Upstream, with a reachable target area for a long drift. Learn your reach cast. Here are the best explanation and drills for the reach cast on the web, from Sexyloops. Long drifts with no drag is the name of the game, and if you’ve set up your leader and tippet correctly, you’ll do yourself a lot of favors in this department. So stick with it. Don’t cast directly at the rise, rather go ten feet or more upward from it with your cast and get a dead drift into the lane. Concentrate on a nice, snappy cast that lays the line out right the first time, and feed line down the lane as the drift goes over the fish’s heads. If the fish refuses it or does not rise, let the line float past and down before picking it up. Recast. You’ll get ’em.

Want Some Trico Fishing in Action?
You asked for it, you get it. Trico hatches on the Missouri River are legendary, as are the fishing skills of the Headhunters crew. Check out the Scumliner Media video, “Dead Flies Don’t Swim” to see a little of both.

You’re Ready!!!
The trico hatch doesn’t have to be a maddening proposition, and armed with a little information you can get into fish in no time. Visit your local flyshop and pick up some long leaders, some tiny tippet and some of their favorite trico patterns, and give the tiny fly game a try this weekend. You may never go back to the chubby again. (No promises. The chubby chernobyl is still king of all ugly flies.) Trico fishing is one of my favorite times of the year, and the challenge is part of the fun. Risk/reward in fly fishing sometimes means hitting the river with the full knowledge that it will be frustrating, but the reward can be worth all the tippet tangles in the world.


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