by Levi Opstanik.
Around the end of March, whenever Mother Nature flips the switch to end winter and begin spring, a fresh form of life emerges from most of Pennsylvania’s creeks: the Blue Winged Olive mayfly (Baetis Tricaudatus). After a long and glum winter, this hatch is one of the initial driving forces that gets the trout to begin to look upward. With the trout starting to condition themselves to look up and an abundance of insects on the water, anglers can start to rely on days of fishing filled with rising fish and tight lines. This hatch is a bit difficult to predict exactly when it will begin; however, nature is kind enough to provide us with a sure fire signal to alert this bug’s arrival. This natural flag is raised at the initial blooming of the First Coltsfoot, and following this flower’s appearance, fly fishers can begin to count on days loaded with fish.
During the first week or so, the fish usually gorge themselves with reckless abandon. This makes for a wonderful scenario for anglers because you can capitalize on the thoughtless behavior of these fish and get in some memorable fishing. This hatch, beginning around noon, generally makes for several hours of fishing with dry flies. In the initial stages of this hatch, when the insects are beginning to work their way up to the water’s surface, the fish can be found feeding on the newly emerged duns or the struggling nymphs. At this time, even though it can often appear that fish are rising, fishing nymphs and emerger patterns is key. A good nymphal representation of this insect is the pheasant tail nymph, which operates as a good pattern to coax the fish into eating early in the hatch. The emerger patterns, on the other hand, can be a little more general and are usually imitated with a down-wing fly with an olive body, dun wing, and brown antron tail.
Later in the day, once most of the nymphs have emerged and an abundance of adult mayflies are navigating the water’s surface, it is a good idea to switch to a dun or adult imitation. This allows you to “match the hatch” and usually affords the first opportunity of the year to catch a fish on a dry fly. For the next hour or two, fishing adult Blue Winged Olive imitations will prove fruitful; the adults can be imitated with just about any up-wing mayfly that has an olive body with dun tails and wings. The fun does not exactly end whenever the bugs cease to hatch since these small mayflies still must mate. During the mating process, just about all of the adults make their way back to the water’s surface for one last dance before they fall on the surface to be gobbled up by trout. This situation also provides the angler with another chance to grease their flies and fish them on the surface. The spinners of these insects are similar to the adults, except for a rusty brown hue and slimmer appearance. This stage of the insect’s life can easily be matched with a rusty spinner fly, and fishing this representation can occasionally result in unfathomable success.
Whenever it comes to fishing the Blue Winged Olive there are a few things outside of the fly fishing realm that will come in handy. Since the Blue Winged Olives generally love to hatch on days that are a bit gloomy, a good jacket is more than essential. Look for one that is breathable but also wind- and water-resistant to withstand the elements. A Patagonia Jacket like the Patagonia Adze jacket is a great option that takes on the wind and features a DWR finish to stand up against light rain. Also, a pair of polarized sunglasses should be a staple to assist in seeing the fish as well as bugs. You’ll be able to see right into the water without having to worry about any glare from the sun peeking through. I prefer to use glasses with brown lenses since I have found them to be more effective during partly cloudy days.
The Blue Winged Olive is a tiny, yet very elegant mayfly that marks the start of a productive fishing season. Fortunately, the Blue Winged Olive can be found in most flowing bodies of water in Pennsylvania. With its timing, the Blue Winged Olive is a wonderful cure to cabin fever and will be sure to excite anyone who has a knack for chasing trout with a fly rod.