Whip Finish


Ralph. Long - April 11, 2011

It's been said, and commonly quoted, that "April showers', bring May flowers". And while that may in fact be true, to a fly fisherman they bring something far more important than any flower. What they bring, is the Green Drake hatch.

What is it about the Drakes that capture our attention? Here in the Northeast, it can be a fickle hatch year to year. Add to that the volatility of the weather and subsequent water conditions, and the hatch can often come-&-go with no real chance to fish it at all on any given year. I've talked to fisherman close to a number of waters where there is at least an identifiable Green Drake hatch, and come to find that many of them have never been on the water to fish the actual hatch. With the Drakes, timing is everything. And a tad bit of luck doesn't hurt either. Nevertheless, it's one of those hatches that make for great stories on the water, with images of huge mayflies and descriptions of aggressive takes. I think it's both the mystique of the hatch along with those images that not only make for great anticipation, but also some great memories on those times on the water when you happen to hit the hatch perfectly. 

While I've been fortunate to hit a number of these hatches in the past, for me, those April showers pull me more toward the tying bench than anticipation of the water. They are an impressive pattern to tie, with so many variations to be had that a person could spend the entire month of April at the bench and never get to them all. There are few things as satisfying as a cluster of Drakes sitting on your bench. They are the perfect example of a mayfly pattern, and likewise the reason they are so often seen gracing the covers of magazines. They are also a nice break for a tyer who is accustomed to those tiny dry & emerger patterns that are most often the subject of our attention in the spring. They are a chance to "stretch our legs" so-to-speak, and get to tying those "big bugs".

Last year for me was a no-show for the Drakes. It seemed that everywhere I was afforded time on the water, I was just missing them. So my boxes really were not depleted in any way, and my efforts at the bench were mainly to sort out the "lesser ties" on my behalf. Along with the few flies that were fairly beaten up after being flogged along the streams as an attractor or search pattern through the course of the past year. I'm a disciple of the dry fly when it comes to the Green Drake hatch. Not out of a "purist" sense in any way, but more due to the fact that I have always done so poorly with anything else when fortunate enough to hit the hatch. Some fishing partners may say it is more due to my nymphing technique….but I tend to simply accept the facts as they are presented, and stick with dries. Besides, it's much easier for me to tie and fish dries than it is to improve technique.

Be that as it may, I found myself pulling materials for my favorite patterns.  I have had the most luck with a particular biot-bodied comparadun pattern over the years, named the West Branch Drake after the branch of the Pine in which it originated on. My 2nd pattern is a Green Drake spinner pattern that I tie as a classic dry, and either fish it as such or clip it into a spinner if need be once on the stream. It carries the more cream body of the spinner and Silver Badger hackle without a wing. So once again, I was now in my comfort zone at the tying bench. Those times of the year when I get to attend to a favorite pattern and tying becomes as much a joy of art as it is a utilitarian function of fly fishing. I was no longer just tying for the fish, but for myself as well.  Knowing that when it was over and I closed my bench, I would see that small but effective cluster of flies on my vise. An image not unlike those that captured my imagination in years past as I read about others fishing over a Green Drake hatch on some well-known trout water. But these would be all mine, complete with Sally Hansen's Hard-as-Nails securing the whip finish. And just maybe I would be fortunate enough to revisit the Drakes again. That is if the April showers let up, the water clears up just enough. And maybe…just maybe, things will work out perfectly, and one of those flies in that cluster will see the nose of a trout.

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