It’s the end of June and about time for streams to drop and clear. It seems like forever since we have been able to fish local creeks and rivers.
On Monday I took a trip to Tongue River Canyon to see how the river looked. As I turned off Highway 14 in Dayton, Wyo., to drive upstream, I could tell that the river was in good shape with at least 3 feet of visibility. Though the water was on the high side (USGS gauge said 570 cfs), there were plenty of pockets of calm water along the banks.
In Tongue River Canyon the river was pretty noisy, but again I saw pockets and pools that would hold trout. I hoped to photograph some stoneflies, so I walked the banks and checked the bushes overhanging the water. I quickly found a stonefly nymph exoskeleton that was attached to a cottonwood branch, but further searching netted no adult stoneflies.
A chunky insect hidden in the cottonwood branches caught my eye. Initially I thought I had found a stonefly, but the fat shape said otherwise. My critter had veined wings that were quite clear, but that was the only resemblance to a stonefly; the dark body and cylindrical shape cued me that I was looking at a cicada.
Well, I thought, if you can’t fish a stonefly hatch, a cicada hatch is a great second choice. Fishing cicada patterns can bring an angler just as much or more action as stoneflies. I know the carp in Bighorn Reservoir sure like to feed on cicadas when they fall on the water. It seems like every fish that looks up goes after cicadas.
Not only did I discover cicadas, but I noted a small, tan caddis flitting along the river. The Tongue River has some fabulous caddis hatches and many anglers will tell you that the one dry fly you need to have when fishing the Tongue is a tan elk hair caddis.
Other insects I suspect that are hatching or soon will be hatching are yellow Sallies. As the canyon streams drop and warm up a bit, stoneflies start hatching. One of the first to hatch is the yellow Sally, which is a size 14/16 yellow-bodied stonefly that is an especially juicy morsel to trout.
Some of the bigger stoneflies should be hatching, too. This is the time of the year for the golden stoneflies to be hatching as well as the salmonflies. Golden stoneflies can be as big as size 6, while salmonflies are at least size 4. I have seen both species in the canyon streams of the Bighorn Mountains.
The main stonefly that inhabits most of the canyon streams in the region is the brown stonefly. I have seen mega hatches of this insect on streams as small as Canyon Creek near Tensleep to larger streams like the Little Big Horn and Tongue. This size 8/10 stonefly can really put the trout on a feeding frenzy.
Another insect that starts popping up on the Tongue River as the water drops, clears and warms is the western green drake, Drunella grandis. The nymph of this size 10 mayfly is a clinger par excellence, so seldom do the trout get a chance to feed on it. But when the nymphs emerge and hatch, the trout really go after them.
Along with the aquatic insect hatches, the warmer weather will also prompt an influx of terrestrials. You can bet that there will be ants, beetles, moths, leaf hoppers, lady bugs and other terrestrial insects falling into the water.
In short, the trout have fattened up because the high flows wash in a lot of food. They are probably in the best shape they will be all year. A smart angler should get out and fish the small and midsize creeks and rivers this weekend for some of the best fishing of the entire year.