Thursday, January 23, 2014


        My guides were frozen; and my fly line was a synthetic toothpick hardened by the cold, held fast in their icy grip.  Unslinging my pack, I found a boulder in the river's shallow overflow and covered it in fly boxes and tools, digging for some pre-packaged energy.  I caught movement in the corner of my eye; and a gray bug came into focus, short but slender--an illusion of spring.  A little brown stonefly.

Meet the Bug

Photo by Matt Reilly
        The little brown stonefly, a collective term for stoneflies in the Capniidae family, is a little known secret among many seasonal anglers, but well-known by those who stick it out throughout the winter months--and the trout.  They rarely exceed 1.5 centimeters in lenght; and their body color ranges from their namesake, brown, to a darker black, which helps them absorb heat in the frigid world in which they live.  

        Capniidae hatch throughout the winter--January through April--across the country, and can often be observed crawling around on boulders, vegetation, and snowbanks during that time.  Although hatches are not magnificent and storied, like that of the green drake in the West, or even the sulfur here in the eastern mountains, trout will readily take a stonefly nymph for its calorie-packing size, as opposed to seasonal midges, which seem to be a bit more mainstream in the winter fishing world. 

What Flies?

Photo by Matt Reilly
        According to Robert Younghanz, a.k.a. "The Bug Guy," a western entomologist and guide, these small stoneflies mate under cloudy, cold conditions.  As waters begin to warm towards the end of the stonefly's hatching season, these conditions will have fish keying in on adult females laying eggs on the water's surface.  Brown/black themed Stimulators, Goddard Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis, and other highly-buoyant hackled dry flies in sizes 14-16 are worthy imitations.  My own pattern uses mottled turkey fan feather fibers for a wing parallel to the hook, a brown hackle collar for buoyancy and legs, and hackle quills for antennae.

        Hatches occur on bright, sunny days, when the temperature rises into the mid-30s or 40s.  On these days, appropriately-colored emerging nymph patterns such as the Rubber Legged Stonefly Nymph, Kaufman's Stone, the CK Nymph,  and A.P. Hare's Ear Nymph in sizes 14-16 will be hot tickets.

        Under such conditions, anyway, dark patterns are a must.  Bright light and clear water contrast heavily with black patterns; and as fish will not (generally) actively cruise for food during this time, a highly-visible pattern is vital.

        Winter fishing is a mystery to many; but the regularly-occurring, dependable food source of little brown stones is a standby relevant across the country and on almost every stream.

        Fly high.

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