Sand Creek is a pretty little piece of trout water that harbors some very fussy fish. Clear water in a small creek demands a quiet approach; casting from the bank is a good strategy when fishing small flies to springtime trout. Photo by Russ Forney
Springtime in Wyoming can be pretty elusive. Just when the first flush of prairie wildflowers sweetens the air, the next storm buries them under a foot of snow. Somewhere between the first Meadowlark and the last new calf, winter finally begins to relax its icy grip. Down at the creek, warmer temperatures stir the Baetis mayflies, or olives in angler jargon, into emergence. Mother Nature’s little messengers take wing and herald the approaching season. When olives swarm, be assured spring has finally arrived.
Olives are the first true mayfly hatch of the year, a welcomed sight for winter-weary anglers. These small mayflies hatch in prolific numbers in Wyoming and are a significant food source for trout throughout the spring and summer months. Not only do spring olives chase the ice of the water, they also satisfy the dry fly itch that has been lingering since the caddisflies disappeared last October. Floating flies and hungry trout are a welcomed combination for spring fly fishing.
One of my favorite spring olive waters is Sand Creek in the northeast corner of the State. This little gem escapes South Dakota by flowing underground along the western edge of the Black Hills and bubbles up just south of historic Ranch A. Sand Creek winds its way northward through the town of Beulah before emptying into Red Water Creek and reentering South Dakota.
The Game and Fish Department maintains the Sand Creek Wildlife Habitat and Access Management Area, providing almost two miles of creek access on public land. Another two and a half miles of Sand Creek is accessible at designated access points through agreements with local ranchers. The walk-in areas are well marked; you are responsible for knowing, and respecting, the private property rights.
Sand Creek runs very clear, even through most of the spring runoff. As appealing as this sounds, it is tough to charm small stream trout living in crystal clear water. These fish are spooky and will run and hide just for the exercise. Stay out of the water when you can, wading stirs up clouds of silt that signals downstream trout that something is amiss. If you do get into the water, be aware the footing can be tricky with plenty of snags, mud bottoms, and rocks lurking in the flow.
My spring olive fly box includes bead head hare’s ear and pheasant tail nymphs, CDC biot emergers, woven paraloop emergers, and trim little olive parachutes, all in sizes 16-20. A 3-weight fly rod is a perfect choice for small water like Sand Creek and is well-matched to small flies. Work the early season hatches slowly and patiently, follow the drift through the run, and pick up your line gracefully for the next cast. Spring trout are hungry, but still demand your best small stream presentation.
The POP (pheasant-ostrich-peacock) fly is a variation of the pheasant tail nymph, tied as an emerger on a curved hook. It is an excellent spring olive pattern and is designed to favor the front end of the hatch, as nymphs rise to the surface and olives begin emerging from the surface film. The accompanying photographs illustrate the tying sequence for the POP; give this pattern a try, Wyoming trout give it a rousing endorsement.
Wyoming is beautiful in her showy spring colors and nature’s reawakening cures cabin fever unlike any other elixir. The days are getting longer, prairie grasses are greening, and there is an audible sign of relief from the once frozen hillsides. Fly anglers feel the magic in the spring air, and know it is borne on the wings of little olive mayflies.
Recipe for the POP (Pheasant-Ostrich-Peacock) Emerger:
Hook: Curved emerger or scud hook, sizes 14 through 18.
Thread: Black, 6/0 Danville flat-waxed nylon.
Trailing shuck: A combination of white Antron fibers and pheasant tail tips; the shuck is about half the length of the body.
Abdomen: Twisted bundle of pheasant tail fibers.
Thorax: Peacock herl.
Legs: Five or six dark hackle fibers tied to each side of the body.
Wing: Ostrich herl tied paraloop-style over the thorax.
Step 1. Start the tying thread about one third of the way down the hook shank. Wrap a smooth thread base, covering about half of the body area. Make a trailing shuck with a small bundle of white Antron fibers, extending about half of the length of the body.
Step 2. Now add four pheasant tail fibers on top of the Antron to complete the trailing shuck; allow the pheasant tips to extend about half a body-length beyond the hook, even with the Antron. Bind the pheasant tail securely to the hook shank with several wraps of tying thread.
Step 3. Tie a second group of four pheasant tail fibers to the end of the fly, gather the pheasant tail bundle above the hook shank and twist a half-dozen times to reinforce the collected strands. Wrap the pheasant tail bundle up the hook shank in touching turns to make the abdomen, covering half of the tying area. Once you anchor the pheasant tail bundle with tying thread, you can trim the excess body bundle from the hook.
Step 4. Secure a three-inch loop of black 3/0 monocord to the top of the fly, the thread loop is used to form the paraloop wing. (Note: The author used light brown thread so it would be more obvious in the remainder tying sequence.)
Step 5. Prepare an ostrich herl by stripping the fuzz from a one half inch section of the herl and then secure the ostrich herl by the bare stem to the hook at the base of the paraloop.
Step 6. Warp the ostrich herl stem up the thread paraloop in five or six open spirals using the bare section of the herl. Counter-wrap the herl back down the paraloop in tight spiral wraps, producing a dense herl brush the length of the abdomen. Tie off the herl at the base of the paraloop and trim off any excess herl.
Step 7. Now add five or six stiff hackle fibers along each side of the thorax area to represent emerging legs. Tie in two peacock herl at the base of the paraloop, twist gently to reinforce, and wrap the peacock bundle around the hook shank to form a thorax. Secure and trim the excess peacock herl behind the hook eye, leaving a hook-eye’s worth of distance between the end of the thorax and the eye.
Step 8. Pull the ostrich herl brush forward over the peacock thorax and secure the paraloop with several wraps of tying thread. Now trim the excess loop and complete the fly with a thread head and whip finish.
Acknowledgments: A version of this article was originally published in the May/June 2009 issue of Wyoming Wildlife News; the tying sequence for the POP Emerger first appeared in Fly Tyer magazine, Spring 2009.
Other small streams offer good spring olive hatches, like Clear Creek near Buffalo, WY. Photo by Russ Forney