Tag Archives: BWO

Blue Wings

It was about a quarter to 10 on Friday evening, and just ahead in the darkness I could see the large Welcome to Oregon sign looming.

“Let’s stop and grab a quick picture,” I said to my friend Mike Kingsbury, who was driving.

Mike nodded, we pulled over to the side of the road, and straddled the state line between Idaho and Oregon, posing for a few quick pictures.

We were on our way to a lonely tailwater in Oregon, where we were going to meet our good friend Ryan McCullough and his son Josh for a quick day of fishing on Saturday. There was a rumor that the stonefly hatch was hot and that was at least part of why we were making the 1,000 mile round trip drive on a weekend.

But the real reason for the trip went deeper than fishing. Ryan McCullough is a dear friend of mine, whom I first fished with on the Fryingpan River in February of this year. He’s got an obsession with Winston rods that’s rubbed off on me, and he’s the best dry fly fisherman I know.

buddiesRyan (Angler in Blue Jacket) also happens to be a missionary for the Assemblies of God church, and is set to leave for Germany sometime this summer. This trip to Oregon was the last time we’d be able to fish together until he returns three years from now. The trip was more of a farewell to arms, if you will.

Mike and I had left Mike’s place in Roy, Utah around 4:30 that afternoon, and we pulled up to the river in Oregon right around 11 that night. Ryan had told me he’d be driving a blue Buick, and as we drove along the river to the spot where we said we’d meet, I kept looking for the Buick with Washington plates.

Finally, I saw something that looked blue and Buick-like, so I told Mike to pull over and I got out of the car. As I walked towards the blue Buick, I could see it had Washington plates, and there was a small tent pitched next to it.

“Hey Mike, I think it’s them!” I shouted. “It’s a blue Buick with Washington plates.”

From inside the tent came Ryan’s voice in reply, “Ya think?”

Ryan and Josh got out of the tent, greeted us, helped Mike and I get situated, and then we all fell fast asleep, ready for what we assumed would be a glorious Saturday of stonefly fishing.

I woke up before anyone else on Saturday, so I took a stroll to the river for a moment. Ryan and Josh had driven 11 hours from their place in Olympia, while Mike and I had driven 7 hours from Utah just to come together to fish for about 10 hours on an overcast Saturday in Oregon.

But it was worth it.

As I walked along the river, I could see fish holding in the shallow runs, long brown trout hunkered down in the very slight morning chill. A few of them saw me, and slowly swam off to deeper water.


I waltzed back to camp, only to find Ryan, Mike, and Josh awake, cooking bacon and eggs on a small stove. We all took our time eating, waiting for the morning to warm up to what we thought was appropriate stonefly hatching levels. Eventually, after we broke down camp and rigged up our rods, we went back down to the river and started fishing.

The stoneflies weren’t out, and neither was much else. We saw a few risers, but nothing to get excited about. I switched from dries to a couple of my custom midge emerger patterns, and found a few willing mouths quickly. After that, the action kind of died.

Then the rain started.

It was a drizzle at first, but then it turned into a steady onslaught. It wasn’t debilitating, but annoying enough that my flies seemed to be getting wet more quickly than normal. The fishing was slow, I was wet, and I needed to step away for a moment and rethink the fishing situation.

Ryan chose that moment to stop and think as well.

“You think we wanna head upstream and fish by the oak tree?” I asked him.

snakeHe nodded. “Give it a half hour, then yeah.”

I went back to tell Mike and Josh the plans, and settled back into roll casting some midges. For the next few minutes, the river was dead. Then suddenly, I heard a holler from upstream. I turned to see Ryan with a fish on, and he yelled, “Took a blue wing emerger!”

mikeMike, Josh, and I all hurriedly switched flies, and within minutes we’d all hooked into some nice fish.

For the next three hours, the blue winged olives came off, hatching like crazy, turning the fish that are normally pickier than those on the Green into voraciously careless feeding machines. It was without a doubt the greatest blue wing hatch of my life.

The hatch winded down, as all great hatches do, and eventually we realized it was over and the fish were full. So we left the river, not wanting to overextend a good thing, and proceeded to pack up the wet waders and fly rods for the journey home.

brownThe cars got packed up, and we all stood around shooting the bull, not really ready for the trip to end but knowing we all better hit the road soon. Ryan and Josh had to head back into Idaho to pick up Ryan’s wife, and Mike and I had to head back home that way anyways, so we all decided we’d say “goodbye” then.

The drive to Idaho passed without incident, except for Mike running a stop sign. We ended up meeting Ryan’s wife in a Starbucks parking lot in Nampa, the evening going from calm in Oregon to blustery in Idaho.

Finally, the time came for real goodbyes. I gave Ryan and Josh both a hug, they climbed in their car, and just like that, they were gone.

As Mike and I drove east on I84, I shook my head and laughed as I recalled the blue wing hatch that morning.

IMG_4804I can’t think of a better way to send off a group of friends than by fishing an incredible hatch together.

Mothers Day and the Caddis Hatch on the Arkansas River

The Mothers Day caddis hatch on Arkansas River in Colorado is famous. Slowly the hatch creeps up steam in late April and early May dictated by the magical water temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. A little extra snow melt cools the water and postpones the movement of cocooned caddis pupa squirming to the surface to shed their shucks and lifting airborne. But don’t worry; with 2 decades of water quality and structure improvement, the 102 miles of the Gold Medal freestone river from the Pueblo Reservoir to Leadville has a plethora of spring hatching bugs. Blue-wing-olives, caddis, golden stones, smaller dark stoneflies and midges now populate the waterway plus Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently introduced salmonflies which seem to like the Ark.

Spring Time Brown
Spring Time on the Arkansas

Dark (purple, brown or black) BWO nymphs size 20 to 26 and bright (chartreuse, orange or red) midge larva, also size 20-26, are always in the water column, moving up or down and deciding if the time is right to surface and hatch. The improvement of water quality on the river that endured a century and a half of mineral mining byproducts has changed the trout from smaller, short lived browns to a mixture of healthy rainbows and browns enjoying a longer life and growing to sixteen inches or more.

Until you see rising fish, Czech or high stick nymphing are the best techniques. Fishing with a long line and an indicator has limitations and works only in certain areas. Use a heavy attractor pattern like a golden stone, smaller dark stone or San Juan worm as the lead fly and a BWO nymph or midge larva pattern 12 to 18 inches lower. Methodically fish and try to reach all the parts of deep tail-outs below riffles, seams and deeper holding water. During the middle of a May day the trout will key into the specific hatch, either caddis, midges or BWOs. A dry fly as an indicator with the emerger of the same insect as the dropper is a good method. The sub-surface tends to be where the action occurs with so much competition with naturals on the surface. Dead drift with long leaders, good knots and fine (6x or 7x) tippets to weary trout.

Nymphing a Run
Nymphing a Run

The tailwater below Pueblo Reservoir is open to angling year round. The spring runoff captured from Arkansas River flows out of the dam at a fairly consistent temperature and generally close to gin clear. When high, discolored water surges through the freestone river section; this is the place to be. Public fishing is available for nearly all the water that meanders through the City of Pueblo. Anglers must pay a small fee in some areas. Colorado Parks and Wildlife have built structures for a decade, studied fish populations and created a first class fishery. The same techniques and fly patterns apply here as the mountainous head waters. The big difference is the city resides at a 5000 foot elevation and frequently has 50 degree air temperatures in January and February. Fly fishers feeling the effect of winter cabin fever, but hesitant to angle in cold weather will find they don’t have to wait for Mothers Day to catch big trout.

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