Here is an Older Article I wrote about the Delaware and Spring Hatches
Get Started Fly Fishing the Delaware River
“It’s all about the bugs”.
March Brown Dun - photo Ken tutalo
The Delaware River is a big, beautiful, pristine waterway that attracts countless thousands of visitors seeking recreation to her banks each year. The Delaware is an incredible ecosystem with cold clean water that supports a vast population of aquatic insects. These insects are the food base to the largest wild Trout population found in the east. These insects also support a vast array of migratory birds that flood the river valley each spring to raise their young.
Every spring as the days grow longer a progression of different insect species begin to emerge from her waters. To Fly Fishermen the arrival of the insect hatches is like catching up with an old friend that you have not seen in a while.
Most fly anglers plan their fishing trips to coincide with the heavy spring insect hatches since this is when the Trout will be eating insects from the water’s surface throughout the day. Fly Anglers of all skill levels will agree that the challenge of casting a floating fly onto the rivers surface and drawing a mature Trout to it, is the pinnacle of our sport.
For those just starting out or thinking about picking up the fly rod, the action usually begins in mid to late April. The timing will vary year to year but if the water is at a flow where you feel comfortable wading then the action should be on!
The species of insect that are of the most interest to fishermen in the Upper Delaware are Mayflies. These are beautiful, delicate insects. They emerge from the bottom of the river and sit on the water’s surface drying their wings for their first flight as adults. (During this stage the insects are called Duns) Once the mayflies take flight they seek shelter in the trees and vegetation along the river’s edge. This is where they go through their last metamorphous, becoming sexually mature. (This stage is called a spinner) The mature insects then assemble above the water in mass and complete their life cycle by mating and returning to the water with the fertilized eggs for the next generation.
The insect emergence and the act of laying the eggs is when the insects are most vulnerable and available to the Trout. The Delaware trout know this and will feed heavily while the emergence and spinner fall are underway.
The actions of emerging and egg laying are the stages in the insect’s life that our Dry Flies imitate and the best time for us to be casting our flies.
This is what is referred to as match the hatch dry fly fishing.
Delaware Brown Trout fooled by a March Brown Parachute Dry Fly photo Ken Tutalo
During the spring months most all of our larger Mayflies will go through their life cycles. The time that each species is available to the trout varies. Some species are prolific and emerge by the millions at a specific time of day while others emerge sparsely throughout the day. Some species will emerge every day over several weeks while other species emerge in mass over just a few days. During spring it is normal for multiple species to overlap and be on the water at the same time. This is truly a time of plenty for the Trout and the Fly Fishermen.
One of the very interesting facts about these insects is that they emerge in the exact same order every year.
For the new fly fishermen the huge amount of information involving the insects can be overwhelming. Therein lies the beauty of fly fishing for trout. We as anglers can make the activity quite simple or we can dive in and explore the scientific side of the fishery as much as we want. I have been at this for 40+ years and I never stop learning.
As I look back over my time fly fishing I can’t count how many times I stumble upon some new bit of information and think to myself, I wish I knew that 40 years ago.
With the beginner in mind here is an outline of the important spring hatches and some tips I can offer to take some of uncertainty out of your Delaware excursions.
April – May
When we first see Trout steadily surface feeding each year it is always to one of 3 insects and perhaps to a combination of all 3. These are Blue Quills, Quill Gordons and Hendrickson’s. These always emerge when the water is very cold and the place to find the action is in the slower water. The action often starts in the tailouts of the pools in the mid afternoon. All three insects look similar with dark bodies and dark grey wings. You will need both #12 and #16 flies that meet this description. Additionally these early insects have a lot of cripples during emergence. Fishing crippled dun patterns will get you a lot of takes.
These species are prolific and every year we can expect to see this combination hatch to last for over a month.
Hendrickson's emerging in mass. photo - Ken Tutalo
March Browns and Sulfurs will begin to emerge in May. March Browns are impossible to miss due to their large size. At first they almost seem out of place. It does not take the trout long to realize that there is a big meal on the water. This insect emerges in smaller numbers throughout the day. They are most often found in and around riffles and pocket water. Once the fish get acclimated to feeding on these big boys you can have great luck blind casting a big March Brown Dry into the riffle water. These insects also have a habit of emerging especially heavy during cloudy / rainy weather.
The Sulfurs also show up in May with 2 species, one very big and the other pretty small. These bright yellow insects are afternoon emergers that will regularly be on the water until dark. These are a prolific hatch and they are normally emerging in fishable numbers from May through autumn. Best imitated with #14 through #18 fly patterns.
May – June
Green Drakes, Brown Drakes and Isonychia – The Drakes are our biggest mayflies. These creatures are absolutely huge and it is a sight to see when the Trout are feeding on them. The drakes are a quick hatch that only happens in a particular location for a few days. The best locations are slower water with fine silty bottoms. The Spinners of the Green Drake (coffin fly) causes heavy feeding activity just at or after dark. Drakes are best imitated with #6 -#10 Dry Flies, White Wulffs are a good choice at dark.
The Isonychia are a Rainbow Trout Favorite and an insect that will be on the water right through until autumn. Another big insect with a dark mahogany body and grey wings. Best imitated with #10 - #12 flies.
This is one of the best flies to fish blindly during non hatch periods in and around fast water..
There are many other fly species that may be on the water in spring but the ones outlined are the big players and the most important to fly fishermen.
If you are planning on trying your luck on the Delaware this spring these flies are best presented on a #5 or a #6 weight fly rod. These rods are appropriate for windy spring weather and playing big Delaware Trout.