Trico Tricks

Trico Tricks

Seven tips to beat summer's hottest hatch

  • By: Chad Mason
Every year, sometime around late July, my brother and I drive two hours and sleep overnight in a cheap motel to fish the Tricorythodes hatch on our favorite spring creek. We don't see each other as often as we should, so our annual "Trico trip" is about more than just fish. But if you could see us fishing, you'd swear it was all about the fish. Last year was especially good. Colors were not yet discernible as we parked the truck near the creek, stepped out into the humid darkness, and strung up our rods in front of the headlights.The morning twilight was on its way. With long tippets and tiny dries knotted on, we walked through chest-high meadow grass holding our rods above our heads, carefully dodging bull thistle and wild parsnip as we went. In the twilight's deep, muggy blueness, the stream's course was marked by a lighter blue ribbon of cool fog.

We entered the fog and took our first glimpse of the stream at a riffle where the steady undulations of current were broken repeatedly by the splashy rises of trout. "You take this riffle, and I'll go farther down," said my brother. He's a fine young man who defers to his elders. Standing on a small sandbar downstream from the riffle, I began lengthening line as the landscape slowly took back its colors from the night. The fog thinned, changing from pale blue to a luminous peach, and a million little Trico fairies danced in it. My size 20 Parachute Adams landed on the inside seam at the head of the riffle and disappeared in a silver swirl before it had rafted even six inches. Fast to the day's first trout, I looked downstream. Little brother was already out of sight. I slid the trout--a leopard-spotted wild brown of about 12 inches--onto the edge of the sandbar and, without touching him, released him with a quick tug of the hook.

The diminutive Tricorythodes mayfly provides some of the year's most dependable dryfly action throughout North America. You might travel many miles for an April Hendrickson hatch and completely miss it, but there's no missing the Trico. Hatching from mid-July through September, this bug is extraordinarily widespread, occurring in diverse streams all over trout country. Although many freestone rivers have Trico hatches--the densest Trico hatches occur on fertile spring creeks and tailwaters. Tricos thrive best in streams where summer is warm and vegetation abundant. Despite the bank-on-it surety of this hatch, however, some anglers find it frustrating. The insect in question is quite tiny--size 20 to 24--and also extraordinarily abundant. Consequently, a Trico hatch carries the same challenge as any dense hatch of small insects, namely, selective trout that will neither vary their feeding rhythm nor move far from their feeding lanes to take even the best-tied imitation. Accurate fly-tying, precise casting and good timing are all required. In addition, the Trico hatch offers other unique challenges as well.Following are seven tips to help you meet the special challenges of summer's hottest hatch: 1) Tie 'full-figured' flies Shop through the fly bins at many fly shops and you'll note the daintiness of Trico patterns. Ranging in size from 20 to 24, they are often tied with slim black bodies of beaver fur or synthetic dubbing, and spread wings of poly yarn or Antron. There's only one problem with these flies: Their silhouette often isn't right. To a trout, silhouette may not be everything, but it is the most important thing. Tricos are small, but they are not slim. Close-up examination will show them to be robust, chesty critters. They are fat little footballs with broad wings, and your patterns--nymphs, duns and spinners--should mimic their husky shape. For years, when I lived in the West, the Renegade was widely touted as a passable pattern to use during Trico spinner falls if you had nothing more specific in your vest. Tied in size 16 or 18, this venerable "attractor" pattern would indeed bring Trico-feeding trout to the surface during the spinner fall. Anglers explained the Renegade's effectiveness by saying its fore-and-aft hackles represented a pair of spent Trico spinners stuck together, tail-to-tail. That may be true, but I suspect the pattern's utility owes as much to its chunky profile. The Renegade is tied with a "ball" of peacock hackle for a body, and the consequent bulging silhouette looks very much like the fat thorax of the real thing. 2) Get up early -- I mean really early Another thing you'll notice about fly-shop Tricos is that they are almost exclusively spinner patterns, designed to imitate the spent imago, or second adult stage of the insect. Rarely will you find an upright dun pattern. The reason for this is that few people get out of bed early enough to see the dun emergence, anyway. If you're on the water at sunrise, you may already have missed it. And if you miss the dun emergence of Tricos, that's really a shame. As soon as it's light enough to cast accurately and detect a strike, it's time to fish the Trico hatch. This time corresponds to what the military calls "Begin Civil Twilight." Civil twilight begins roughly one-half hour before sunrise. You can ascertain the precise beginning of civil twilight for any place by visiting weatherunderground.com. If you're on the stream and ready to roll when civil twilight begins, you'll enjoy at least half an hour of fast-paced dryfly action on Trico duns at a time when even large trout will sometimes feed on the surface. The Trico dun differs in appearance from the spinner. Whereas the spinner has a glistening black body with transparent wings and tail, the dun has milky-white wings and tail. Female duns have a pale green abdomen. The dun floats relatively high on the water and shows the familiar "sailboat" profile of a recently emerged mayfly. (The spent spinner, on the other hand, sits flush in the surface film--or even "drowns" a bit below--and looks like an airplane.) During the dun emergence, I've often found the old reliable Parachute Adams to work well in size 20 or 22, especially if it is tied fatly with dark muskrat fur. I've also enjoyed good catches with a very simple emerger pattern, consisting of a poly-yarn wing over a black body with light dun Microfibbets for a tail. This pattern, too, should be tied in sizes 20 and 22. 3) Start in the riffles The thought of a Trico hatch evokes images of long casts over slick water. But during the dun hatch, I've had my best success closer to broken water. My favorite spots for a dun or emerger presentation are the inside seams of riffles, where the main current abuts the slack water over a sandbar, or at the tail ends of riffles where they begin to slow. Here in the riffles, where the surface is dimpled, I am able to approach feeding fish a bit more closely to make precise, controlled presentations with a dun or emerger. 4) Try a nymph Perhaps the most overlooked Trico pattern of all is the nymph, and it can also be the most deadly in some circumstances. During the twilight hatch, it's easy to be lured into dryfly fishing by all the rising fish. However, many trout--especially the big ones--will key on the nymphs as they swim from the stream bottom toward the surface. Mimic the nymph to catch larger trout. Trico nymphs range from size 18 to 22, with 20 being my personal favorite. A tiny Pheasant Tail will often do the job, but a specific Trico nymph pattern is even better. It should have a bulging thorax, no visible legs, and the thorax should be dark brown contrasting with a light olive abdomen. If a dead-drift presentation doesn't work, try swinging the nymph slowly down-and-across the current, or retrieve it with short jerks of the fly line. Strangely, I've often found the nymph pattern to work well even after the hatch has ended. I prefer knotless tapered leaders when fishing all my Trico patterns, and especially when I'm nymph fishing. By mid-summer, a good Trico stream will be fully abloom with aquatic vegetation, and I can do without the annoyance of picking globs of salad off a knotted leader. Check your nymph often to make sure it isn't fouled with moss. Use 6X or 7X tippets, since Trico-feeding trout will often be leader-shy. 5) Watch for the spinner fall As the sun creeps above the horizon, pay close attention to the hatch. With daylight coming, the dun emergence will wane as the spinner fall commences. If formerly cooperative fish begin to snub your Adams, emerger, or nymph pattern, catch a fluttering Trico in your hat and look to see if it's a spinner. Chances are, you're fishing "behind" the hatch and need to change to a spinner pattern. A spinner pattern should be black-bodied, with spent-style wings of poly yarn and splayed Microfibbet tails. Synthetic yarns become transparent when wet, perfectly imitating the clear wings of the real thing. The spinner may be one size smaller than the dun; sizes 22 and 24 should cover the bases. You may also need to change your location. Dead spinners will wash out below riffles and collect in quiet pools and eddies. You'll need to follow the trout--but be warned that long casts may be necessary now. Slick, slow water means wary trout. The fish may become more selective at this stage of the hatch because, unlike emerging duns, the spinners aren't going anywhere. 6) Wade carefully--if at all One summer morning I arrived at my favorite spring creek to fish under a dense cloud of Tricos. Trout rose steadily in a deep run along the far bank. In order to avoid overhanging brush on my backcast, I entered the stream on a shallow bar and startled a good-size trout that had been lying in the slow-moving shallows. Perhaps he had been feeding on drowned spinners there. Like a torpedo he raced into the deep run, and the rises stopped for a while. I had been so distracted by the rising fish along the far bank that I had not even thought to look in the shallows before I entered the stream. Trout do not lose all wariness in the predawn twilight. Riffles are somewhat forgiving, but even there stealthy wading is critical to success during the Trico hatch. Look before you enter the stream. Whenever possible, stay out of the water altogether. During the Trico hatch, your casting arm is more valuable than your feet. 7) Don't 'flock shoot' When I was learning to hunt quail, my father repeatedly told me to pick one bird and not to shoot at the whole covey. Any of you who have hunted quail can appreciate that this advice is easier heard than followed. When a covey bursts, picking one bird can be like trying to watch one snowflake in a blizzard. Although it may seem like a cinch that you will hit something if you fire in the flock's general direction, such practice normally proves fruitless. "Flock shooting" is equally tempting--and unproductive--during a Trico hatch. I've seen trout rise to this hatch in such numbers that the surface of the stream seemed to boil. One might think that hooking a fish would be a simple matter at such times. But I've also watched many a well-tied fly float perfectly drag-free over the whole boiling mess. When you approach a pod of fish rising to Tricos, don't start casting right away. If you can see the fish, choose one and watch it for a while. If the angle of the sun does not permit you to see the fish, choose a rise form. Watch it dissipate and then reappear. Get a feel for the feeding rhythm of a particular fish. Then make your cast to intercept the rhythm. Fly Patterns (flies tied by Joel Mason) Trico Nymph HOOK: Nymph hook, 1X long, size 20 THREAD: 12/0 or finer, black TAIL: Three pheasant tail fibers, relatively short ABDOMEN: Yellow-olive rabbit fur RIB: Fine copper wire WING CASE: Black goose biot THORAX: Brown Australian opossum or other thick fur, tied "full-bodied" Trico Emerger (female shown) HOOK: Standard fine-wire dryfly hook, size 22 THREAD: 8/0 or finer, pale green (Use black thread for male dun pattern.) TAIL: White or pale dun Microfibbets, divided ABDOMEN: Tying thread THORAX: Black Super-Fine dryfly dubbing, tied "full-bodied" WING: Small tuft of white poly yarn (Optional: Add a few strands of pearl Krystal Flash.) Trico Spinner HOOK: Standard fine-wire dryfly hook, size 24 THREAD: 12/0 or finer, light gray TAIL: White Microfibbets, divided ABDOMEN: Tying thread THORAX: Black Super-Fine dryfly dubbing, tied "full-bodied" WINGS: White poly yarn, divided, in spent position