Posts Tagged ‘colorado fly fishing’

Most anglers ask what are you using today as you are laying waste to some really nice fish.  One of the more obscure answers is a Black Fly Larva.  The next response is usually “what the hell is a Black Fly Larva?”   This question has been asked more than once here in Colorado on the famous Chesman Canyon Section of the South Platte.

Blackflies teeter on the margins of angler awareness–outcasts in spite of their standing with fish. black fly larvaThey don’t fit into the aesthetic of the mainstream angling world, where priority is given to prettier bugs that drift sacrificially on meandering currents.

Among the many insects that fly anglers ignore, perhaps none is more important to trout than the black fly. Let those anglers with aesthetic hang-ups keep doing their thing. The rest of us will let the trout dictate what flies to fish!!

In a recent study, black flies were consistently consumed by trout at a much higher rate than their proportion in the drift. While Blackflies composed about 10% of the drift, they made up nearly 70% of the trout diets in June and July!

If that isn’t enough for you, consider that on the same stream, Baetis–the orthodox angler’s security blanket–made up 70% of the drift and contributed a mere 20% of the total trout diet while other common drifters Ephemerella (PMD) mayflies, were nearly unscathed.

Are Black flies important on “real” trout streams? In the Chesman Canyon Section of the South Platte River, black fly larvae were the most consumed aquatic food among rainbow trout that were two or more years old during the summer months.

With this staggering wealth of scientific observation plainly accessible to angling researchers, how could black flies have been overlooked by experts and recreational fly fishers for so long?

Several factors contribute to this neglect. First, most anglers probably mistake black fly larvae for caddis larvae, which look quite similar to the untrained eye.

Also, black flies are in the order Diptera. Thus many well-intentioned writers and researchers who take the time to consult professional papers and science books, often see “Diptera” in stomach samples and connect it with “midge.” In the process, they forget that the order Diptera casts a wide shadow and includes midges, mosquitoes, phantom midges, net-winged midges, craneflies, as well as our new friend the black fly.

Another reason is that “kicking riffles”–the preferred sampling technique of most anglers–often doesn’t knock many of these larvae off the rocks because they are tough clingers in the fastest currents.

Probably more important than these factors is the fact that there is little dry fly fishing (or even fish rises) during a black fly emergence. This cannot be underestimated; so much angling literature has only valued insects that provided dry fly action.

Finally, black fly activity isn’t really a concentrated hatch like most aquatic insects. They will go through 4-14 generations a year, with larval growth, emergence, and egg-laying overlapping between generations. This means that black flies maintain a constant role in the year-round diets of most river-dwelling trout. All these factors go a long way to explain why anglers have overlooked black flies, while trout happily indulge in this abundant prey.

Life Cycle of the Black Fly:

Larva to Pupablack fly larva from Umpqua feather merchants

Black fly larvae are medium-sized insects, from 4-15mm in length. They are a distinctly shaped grub with feathery fan gills, prolegs at the head, and a fat butt (the rear 1/3 of Simuliidae larvae can be almost twice the thickness of the front). Colors range from smoky olive, dirty yellow, creamish, and black. Most mistake the small black larvae for microcaddis larvae, which also have a distinguishing fat butt.

The larvae are the most important stage for most trout, especially for trout living in streams with many fast riffles. Larvae attach themselves to rocks with the hooks of their posterior disc, then trail their heads and fans downstream to filter the current for food. To move short distances, black fly larvae excrete a strand of silk and “rappel” downstream, in much the same manner as some caddis larvae.

Besides bouldered riffle water, black flies can be extremely abundant on bedrock slabs where their silken pad and anal hooks give them excellent holding power against strong currents. Larvae are also unusually visible at night when they are heavily fed upon by both fry and adult trout. This feeding may be because the light-colored, semi translucent larvae are easy to detect.

After 3-10 weeks of larval development, black flies undergo pupation which lasts anywhere between 2 and 8 days. Unlike many other aquatic insects the Black Fly larvae don’t migrate to pupate. They just build their cocoon wherever they happen to be at pupation time.


Black flies have a unique and fascinating method of emergence that is vitally important for fly anglers to understand. Fully formed adults burst from their pupal casing and are shot to the surface enclosed in a bubble of air. This is a similar process to caddis emergence, with two major differences. First, the shimmering “air bubble” effect is much more pronounced for black flies. Secondly, a caddis rides to the surface as a pupa, while the black fly rides to the surface as a fully developed adult. If you do a stomach sample that reveals adult black flies, it is virtually impossible to tell if the trout captured the black fly when it was rising or floating. Emergence occurs in the morning from 6:00 a.m. to noon and rarely occurs at night or in the evening. Emergence accounts for heavy feeding action throughout the water column even when no surface action is visible.

There is usually no visual hint of emergence with trout rising as the air bubble keeps their bodies and wings dry, so the adults arrive at the surface and instantly fly off. The lack of surface activity is undoubtedly a reason this insect has been overlooked by so many for so long.

Final Thought for you the Angler to Consider

Are Blackflies the most critical food sources for trout? Probably not  but they are more important as a family than many of the species of insects that we fly anglers fuss over.

Simuliids are significantly more important, in terms of annual consumption, than salmonflies, hoppers, and even the much-lauded midge. It would be safe to say that simuliids on average throughout the United States contribute more to a stream trout’s diet than any single species of mayfly except Baetis. When you consider that there are large numbers of Blackflies available to trout for the entire year while most mayflies and caddis are too small to feed a descent sized trout for half the year, putting your faith in a blackfly larva makes alot more sense.


The most frequently asked questions in a fly shop is  “What flies should I have?”. This time of year it takes longer to answer this common question. Fall is one of the most exciting times of the year to go fly fishing. But it can also be one of the most challenging. Water flows are low and clear and the fish can be spooky.  But there is more going on in the fall than at any other time of the year. The river can be a “buffet” with many different offerings on the table. Mid summer hatches of Pale Morning  Duns, Red Quills, Green Drakes, and Caddis flies can still be prevalent. Morning hatches of  Trico Mayflies become a regular occurence with the Spinner Fall coming  later in the day as the days get shorter.  The reappearance of the Blue Wing Olives, especially on overcast days is a not so welcome sign that winter is just around the corner. Midge hatches that were lost  in higher water will once again become a prominent food source continuing throughout the coming winter. A few terrestrials such as hoppers, ants, and beetles may still he around but most rivers here in Colorado excluding the lower elevation streams have had their first frost so terrestrial fishing is tapering off right now.  Brown trout, Brook Trout and Whitefishwill all begin spawning soon so they are on the feed right now looking for anything to satisfy their constant hunger. Fall is the dry fly anglers paradise as the amount and variety of aquatic insects on the surface  combined with low, clear water creat ea perfect environment for trout to “risk it all ” to pluck a struggling morsel from the water’s surface.

Fall Patterns

          Patterns for fall fishing cover the broadest range of Aquatic Insects and Terrestrials. Aquatic patterns available to the trout can be a combination of Midges, Mayflies, Caddis Flies, Terrestrial, Stoneflies, Minnows, Eggs and Aquatic earthworms.  The best fishing is usually on those first overcast, nasty, days of the fall when a variety of Mayflies including Blue Wing Olives, Tiny Psuedocoleons BWO’s and Trico’s are abundant. Here is a list of recommended flies for a fantastic fall:


  • Eggs: Nuclear egg, Flash Tail Egg
  • Scuds: Olive, Orange as well as Dorsey’s UV Scud
  • Baetis Nymphs: RandySmith’s Baetis Nymph, Barr’s BWO Emerger, Sparkle Wing RS2, Mercury Baetis, Pheasant Tails ,JuJu Baetis, Mercer’s Tungsten Micro Mayfly, Black Copper Johns, Soft Hackle Pheasant Tails.
  •  Midge Larvae and Pupae: Dorsey’s Mercury Black Beauty, Dye’s Pearl Jam in Pearl, Red, Green. Dorsey’s        Mercury Midge, Dorsey’s Top Secret Midge, Dorsey’s Medallion Midge, Dorsey’s Blood Midge, Rainbow Warriors, Barr’s Pure Midge Larva in red, WD-40, Chocolate Johnny Flash, JuJube Midge, Brassies, Dorsey’s  Mercury Midge and Parrott’s Chironoflash
  • PMD Nymphs:  Pheasant Tails, Dorsey’s Mercury PMD Nymph, Barr’s PMD Emerger, Mitchell’s Split Case PMD, JuJu PMD Nymph and Bead Head Trigger Nymph.
  • Cased and free-living caddis: Dorsey’s Mercury Caddis,   Barr’s uncased Caddis, Barr’s Net Building Caddis, Barr’s Graphic Caddis.
  • Trico’s: Engle’s Drowned Trico – Black and Chartreuse, Barr’s Trico Emerger

Dry Flies:

  • BWO’s: Matthew’s  Sparkle Dun, Cannon’s Snowshoe Dun BWO, Parachute Adams, Dry Emerger Baetis, Cripples,      Sprout’s BWO Emerger, Barr’s Visa Dun BWO and A.K.‘s Olive Dun Quill.
  • Trico’s: Cannon’s Snowshoe Trico Dun, CDC Trico Dun, CDC   Trico Spinner and Barr’s Visa Dun Trico.
  • PMD’s: Cannon’s Snowshoe PMD Dun, Matthew’s Sparkle Dun PMD, Sprout’s PMD, Schmidt’s Dry Emerger PMD.
  • Caddis Flies: Peacock Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis Brown, Tan Grey, Slow Water Caddis.
  • Midges: Cannon’s Snowshoe Midge Emerger, Griffith’s Gnat, Matt’s Midge, Trailing Shuck Midge, Cannon’s Snowshoe     Midge Cluster. 

Attractors, Hoppers, Ants, Beetles:

  • Amy’s Ant, Dave’s Hopper, Pilatzke’s Beetles, Parachute Ant.  


  • Heng’s Autumn Splendor, Barr’s Slump Buster, Conehead Black Wolley Bugger, Sparkle Bugger, Clouser Minnows.

Fall is a great time to get out, enjoy some great fishing and beautiful scenery as the leaves begin to change.  Winter will be upon us before we know it so get out on the water and create some really great fishing memories for 2010!!!

Don’t forget to take the Blue Quill Angler Quiz to win free gear.  Correct answers will be automatically registered for a drawing at the end of October to win a FREE RIO Gold Fly line of your choice.

Nice 21" Gunnison Bow

Nice 21" Gunnison Bow

I had the chance to spend a few days last week out on the river with some friends from back home.  We left Wednesday morning to head out to the Gunnison Gorge to try and hit the salmon fly hatch.  We hiked down into the Gorge Wednesday afternoon at the Ute Trail access point in time to get an hour or so of fishing before dark.  Between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. the fishing was great!  Between the group we got two fish over 20″ within the first hour on the river.  The hot patterns were Pats Rubber Legs in a #6 with brown or black bodies and Orange Crystal Stimulators in a #12.

We hit the river the next day hoping to get some action on Salmon Fly dries.  There were bugs flying around, clumped up in the bushes, everywhere but on the water where we needed them.  Try as we might, those fish wanted nothing to do with the patterns we were throwing.  We were still able to pick up fish on Pat’s Rubber Legs, Yellow Sallies in #16’s and #18’s, Mecury PMD’s in #16’s and #18’s and Elk Hair Caddis in #16 with dark bodies.

As for the salmon flies they should begin laying eggs any day now.  The weather down in the gorge has been nice and warm which should start the bugs moving back to the water which in-turn should start the fish slamming size 4 dry flies!  The flows on the river should be holding pretty steady over the next few weeks around 2,200 CFS which should also help the fishing.

For the last day of the trip we drove up to the Frying Pan River to get a little change of scenery.  The fishing on the Pan was great!  Fish were keying in on mysis shrimp and red pure midge larva and blood midges close to the dam and caddis and small parachute adams down river.  With the flows being a little high this time of year, the fish were keying in on bigger shrimp and nymphs. If you have some time, I would definitely recommend spending some time on the rivers out west.

Dave Dickensheets

After coming off my last stint at Grey reef I am now heading back to the fantastic Colorado River.  The last couple of days on the Colorado, from Parshall to Hot Sulphur, the fish are keying in on PMD’s ,Yellow Sallies, and a few larger stone flies. I am always amazed the fish one can catch in this water. It is high, fast, but the fish find other lies in which to feed in, this is the time to fish! Most anglers wait out the high water for more favorable conditions, but this is the time to find solitude on a great piece of water, work the edges with a dry dropper, or mini rig. Flies to use consist of Pats Rubber Legs, Yellow Sallie nymphs, Barrs PMD emerger, and an multitude of beaded flies. Fish have not left the building, they have just switched lies!    Blue Quill Guide Bob Dye

I had the chance this week to get out this week and do a couple days of fishing with fellow Blue Quill employee Cody Scott.  The mission behind the trip was to get up to the Colorado to fish the Salmon Fly hatch.  This was the first time that either Cody or I had fished the hatch and we are now both hooked.  Cody went up Tuesday during the day and hooked a number of fish on big dries.  The Colorado is really ripping this time of year but there were still fish to be found along the banks and behind rocks in the slow moving water.  I met Cody up there Tuesday night and fished all day on Wednesday.  Since it was our first time fishing the hatch we were stubborn and only fished dry flies for most of the day.  The morning started out pretty slow for all of us.  We saw a lot of bugs on the bushes and shucks on the rock and the trees, but not a lot of activity on the water.  I picked up a fish on a Pat’s Rubber Legs in the late morning.  Around 2:00 pm things picked up for us on the dry flies a little bit.  I landed a nice brown on a Parachute Giant Stone shortly there after.  After that Cody and I continued to hook fish for the next hour or so on big dries like Fuzzy Wuzzys or B-1 Bombers.  Overall the fishing was slow but we were still hooking fish.  The key was to really work water and work the banks and the slow water behind rocks.  If you are patient and are willing to work at it, it can be a fun day.

Salmon Flies!

Originally we were planning on spending a second day at the Colorado, but the weather had other plans.  After running from the thunderstorms we made our way up to Williams Fork Reservoir Wednesday night to chase some pike.  We fished up there Wednesday night and Thursday until about noon before getting chased out by weather once again.  We spotted a few fish in the shallows but overall they are still out pretty deep.  Give it another week or so and the fishing should pick up.

BQA Employee Dave Dickensheets

With winter just around the corner, most will hang up the fishing gear and call it a season.  For those hard core anglers who just can’t get enough, you will be greatly rewarded. Although the fishing tends to be a little slower, you will find a whole new generation of insect larvae moving around the stream bottom , actively feeding and growing, even with the cooling water temperatures.  There are also a few species that emerge as adults through the winter.  The hatches will not be as dense as during the summer but they can still prompt a trout to rise to a dry.


Fishing in the morning will be one of the coldest times of the day.  Since the insects and fish are cold-blooded, their body temperatures will be the same as the water temperature so they will not be very active.  When the first few rays of sun hit the water and it begins to warm, the fish will also begin to move and feed.  The main source of food will be the nymphal form of the insects that are on the bottom or drifting in the currents.  It may be beneficial to seine some insects from the water column to see what in most abundant.  With the insect populations being more diverse during the winter months, figuring out just what the fish might be feeding on may take a little more time to figure out.  You will certainly polish your nymph fishing skills during the winter.  With the trout being sluggish due to the colder water, the take will be subtle and you will practically have to drift the nymph right in front of the fish because they are not going to move far to feed.  Make sure you are using some sort of strike indicator or you will miss a lot of the takes.


With the arrival of midday, the water temperatures will have risen, the fish should be more active and any insects that are going to hatch should between 11:00 and 2:00.  You should not have a problem determining what insects are hatching since there is usually one Predominant species on the water.  When the weather turns cold, you should look for three species of bugs: midges, winter stoneflies and blue winged olives.   If you see midges on the water, make sure you collect a sample of the naturals floating downstream to determine their exact size and color.  To make the most of fishing midges, fish the pupa just under the surface with a small dry or indicator on top during the hatch. 


Fishing the midge pupa in the surface is another very effective tactic in the winter because the naturals tend to hang longer in the surface film due to the colder water temperatures.  There are also a lot of stillborn adults that cannot escape from their pupal shucks and are either dead or dying in the surface film.  A hatching midge pattern can be very effective to imitate this.  

The winter stoneflies are usually very small and dark brown to black in color.  They will emerge and fly to the bank to mate.  A dark colored stonefly patter in a size 16 to 20 can be very productive.  Just tie a pattern using peacock hearl for the body and put a very sparse wing on the top out of dark deer hair of CDC.


The Blue Winged Olive hatch in the winter can be a real joy.  Depending on the stream, hatches will usually occur between November and March with some of the hatches almost reaching those that occur in the spring.  Always start fishing with a small BWO nymph until the hatch starts.  It would be wise then to switch to a BWO emerger just under the surface.  When the trout begin keying in on the adults floating on the surface, switch to a dry like a comparadun BWO or a parachute BWO in the correct size.  Make sure you make a good presentation and get a drift right down a trout’s feeding lane when fishing dries since the fish are still going to be sluggish with the colder water temperatures.


When the sun begins to disappear, the stream will begin to cool quickly as well as the hatches.  The usual spinner falls of spring and summer will generally not happen at dusk during the winter.  If they have not happened by late afternoon, they will usually wait until the next day.   During this period, you may want to switch back to fishing nymphs near the bottom or just head home and warm yourself up.