The early chalk stream English school called the hatch the “white curse”. When Halford and G.S. Marryat hung out and fished the hallowed waters of the River Test, they often pulled up chairs by the Ghillie’s Huts and told tales of fish lost, fish selective and uncatchable, but always with fine brews, a dram of whiskey and some of the Ghillie’s smoked eel and salmon that came up the lower Test, and don’t forget the watercress and cucumber canape accompaniments. It was usually at the end of the day when they exchanged notes on the rise activity of their beloved brown trout. “Did you see that curse again this morning before the Iron Blues came off?- I say my chap what the bloody hell could the trout see in those minuscule dastardly pests- yet those ghost rise forms dappled the water until the real mayflies came”, was probably a conversation clip from these guys when speaking of the Caenis mayflies that hatch in summer.
Initially and almost always assumed and mistaken for the much more minuscule Caenis hatch ( like a #32-36 size- literally impossible to imitate hatch), Tricorythodes are much larger relatively speaking and look like the Caenis ( Caenis can run a little browner in body color as does the western fallax) with males having all black bodies and females white abdomens and a peacock black thorax. Stygiatus/allectus are the eastern version and fallax/texanus the western Trico mayflies. The Trico (Caenis) can be a super hatch of minutiae on rivers throughout the globe and can bring some very decent sized trout over 20 inches to feeding on them like tiny manna from the heavens that fall consistently from late June through late October/early November.
The ecological dynamics of the Trico hatch is rather simple. They are pre-dawn emergers as nymphs hatch very early in the morning- often when the trout are still dormant.
“There are late summer hatches of the Caenidae family ( Tricos), minute mayflies that greatly complicate the problems of selectivity, tiny flies and delicate leaders. These ( Schwiebert describing Falling Spring Run limestone Cumberland Valley trout) are hyperselective trout, and as Swisher and Richards argue in their book “Selective Trout”, when the hatch consists of minute mayflies of less than three-sixteenths inch in length, an error of a single hook size in imitation becomes a mistake of thirty-odd percent” (Nymphs-1973-Winchester Press)
The nymphs love a good combination of silt, fine gravel and aquatic weeds like found on most spring creeks, tailwaters and freestone rivers. They feed on the microorganisms/plankton etc. that accumulate on the foliage. The trout start the feeding at dawn when the nymphs emerge in the bio drift. The bigger trout can become packed on the millions of nymphs that become available even before the hatch’s amazing clouds of spinners. A tiny black stripped peacock quill/biot nymph with black thread dead drifted dropper-style below a Trico hair stacker or poly spinner, is deadly in early morning pre-hatch periods.
The hatch itself is usually underway early -also dependent on air and water temperature (cooler weather and water temps the longer and latter the hatch). On very hot days the hatch will be early after dawn and peak around 7:30. In normal summer weather ( if there is such a thing!) usually 8;30-9:00 AM. On colder mornings the hatch and spinner fall will linger longer and later to the noon hours. As soon as the duns emerge they can transform into imago spinners in a few minutes and start the spinning “white curse clouds” of spinners. These clouds often greet anglers walking into the stream from shore or getting in their drift boats and they are often a very exciting and encouraging sight to see.
My first encounter with the Trico hatch occurred on a legendary Vermont iconic hallowed waters river- the famous Battenkill. I have read several time’s of the amazing Trico hatches on this river back in the 70’s when I was in high school by a legendary late gentlemen angler/author named John Merwin. He wrote for Field and Stream and often mentioned the outstanding ” Caenis” hatch ( as it was commonly known) on the Battenkill.
The Trico or “Caenis” hatch really took notice when Vince Marinaro ( later in life a true special mentor of mine) wrote a piece on “The Caenis Hatch” for Outdoor Life in 1969. It was inspired by his fishing on the Falling Spring Branch of the Cumberland Valley, PA. It put the “white curse” into the forerunner stage as a must for true dry fly fanatics. I read that piece in my local library which I stalked every inch of for fly fishing knowledge and harassed the poor librarian to get more books on it, since us poor European immigrants like my family were just not accustomed to the luxury of magazine purchases and subscriptions-besides, knowledge came from the government in the old Communist/Dictatorial society we were used to.
On one summer vacation I begged by parents to drive from our home in Niagara/Grand Island and go to Manchester, Vermont to see the storied Orvis empire so we can fish the Battenkill. It was a like a pilgrimage to Mecca for a 16 year old kid that was infatuated with Orvis and already tied flies for them commercially since the age of 12, for a local fly shop. That morning when I got out of the car in the section by an iron bridge by a large dairy farm, just after the New York state border, it was probably 10 AM an there they were!- clouds of “white curse” and trout dimpling the long flats in the pasture by the cows. I was in paradise!- but got my butt smoked since my casts were rough and agility was yet to be learned in my hyper-post-pubescent state.
But when I returned back to Western New York I had an Orvis ” Think Trout” sticker on my Dad’s car and on my first trip back to my favorite hallowed water spring-fed Wiscoy Creek, I caught my first brownie on a Trico I got at the Manchester Orvis shop- a stunning 16 inch wild beauty in the Trout Brook pool on 7x. I was in heaven and the bumper sticker and Trico I got there brought me good Tricolicity karma- I was small fly addicted for life!
” Tricorythodes is not for the occasional dry fly angler ventured forth with a “baker’s dozen” of assorted traditional patterns. It is for the more serious angler dissatisfied with wrapping up his season prematurely as the traditional hatches have waned in June. For this serious fly fisher the Tricorythodes hatch is a major revelation, offering some of the most reliable, challenging and fulfilling hatches of the year” (Hatches- Caucci and Nastasi)
So picture this…there you are! -on a famous Trico stream. You have the right patterns, right weight rod, right tippet material and you are ready for battle- not so fast! Let’s look at the essentials. First you must BE ABLE TO SEE!- yes!, make sure you have your bi-focal and reader lens with you. Many companies have magnifiers you can strap to your existing lenses like Orvis. For rods I like very flexible action/traditional tapers with long tips to protect the finest 6-7-8x tippets. My favorite is 2-3 weight, 8-1/2 to 12 foot rods. Or a good flexible 10-11 foot 4 weight is perfect for bigger rivers and spring creeks. Lines should be olive/drab green/gray to stealth cloak your drifts and presentation since you will be casting over pods of fish at the same time.
Leaders should be green or dark brown and all monofilament until the tippet section which is Fluorocarbon. I use 5-7 feet of tippet and usually use 14-18 foot leaders no matter on river size. The longer butt sections fish like fly line and cast remarkably well with light rods. My favorite tippets are Varivas and Cortland Fluorocarbon.7x is a must for Tricos’ but 6x is sometimes a must on big rivers and spring creeks with bigger, fatter trout.
Now that you’ve tied on your Trico male or female ( black bodies male, white with peacock females-either will work!) if the fish haven’t started to rise and “dimple” the water in a steady cadence-so I start with the dry/nymph dropper mentioned earlier. One thing for new Trico fishers is that you will be surprised by the rise forms. Many dry fly dudes used to “big gulps and slashing rise” bubbles will be disappointed. The Trico rise forms look like chubs and minnows rising and are so gentle you might not even notice them- therefore “TRUST NO RISE FORM!”. The real pig 16-20 inch trout have learned to feed so hydrodynamically efficient they barely break the surface. But if you are trophy hunting, concentrate on the rise forms that are usually away from the main pods of trout in the smaller class size- these are usually the big brutes that protect their territory relentlessly and dont allow smaller year class fish to infiltrate their prime feeding lies day-after-day. Also their backs will move water and have slight wakes.
“You must get the hook into the soft, tough tissue in the corner of the trout’s mouth. Once imbedded the fly will remain there and nothing will shake it loose” (In the Ring of the Rise- Marinaro)
What you will notice is the mating swarms are located near shore and progressively move outward. When the massive dimpling rises start you are in the midst of the spinner fall and seine the water for spinners. Concentrate on one good fish at a time- not shooting at the whole flock of birds! If you can, use long down-and-across reach casts not to line fish and make sure your trout sees the spinner first before it sees the leader- leaders will back-scrape fish and put them down. Now the difficult part- hook setting! A high upward hook set will blow your fish hook-ups! You must set the hook slow and deliberately down at a horizontal plane using the surface water tension to seal the hook. Set the hook at low right/;eft angles to the fish-period! Fight your fish very gently yet firmly and use the rod tip to protect the battle. Check knots and hook sharpness relentlessly, along with abraded tippets and knot strength over-and over ( for all size #20 hooks I go through the eye twice on my tippet- matter of fact I do that for all my knots!
But once the hatch is over you dont have to stop! I have come up with a midge/Trico cluster approach using my “WMD midge” (from my Nexus books and Fly Fisherman/and now my Hallowed Waters Magazine articles which I publish) With 18 foot leaders I cast down-and across and do a high-stick upstream mend to skitter the cluster and then let it dead drift. It is very deadly and the fly “wakes” like a steelhead gulper/foam waker ( see Hallowed Waters Journal for the exact imitation recipe and method of fishing it)
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The Trico hatch is one of the most exciting dry fly events of the whole year. Master its nuances and you will loose sleep thinking about waking at dawn to match the hatch!-plus its the most ethical time of day to fish when the water temperatures are usually coldest in summer- to good “Trico-licity” karma and joining the 20 incher on a #20 club!