I was fishing in Cheesman Canyon last winter and came upon two fly fishermen that seemed to be struggling. “How’s the fishing?” I asked. “Well, not so good.” One replied. He went on to tell me that he and his friend had been sight fishing to trout all day and that the fish would refuse to eat their midge emerger patterns no matter how perfect the drift even though midges were coming off the river by the millions. They had managed only 2 fish and that was because the hook drifted literally right into the mouths of the trout. The problem that these two guys encountered is typical on heavily fished tail waters.
Hundreds of boots wading back and forth across the river day after day kicks loose every large organism that lives in the substrate of the river. This is what many fish, especially the larger ones, come to rely on. They eat a steady diet of Stoneflies, Caddis larvae, aquatic worms, and the juiciest of them all, the Crane fly Larvae.
A Crane fly larva is perhaps the most under utilized tail water pattern that I know of. Virtually every river that lies beneath a dam is loaded with them. The adult Crane fly is a long legged, thin insect that looks like a giant red mosquito. But in its larval form it takes the shape of a big caterpillar. Why would a trout take hundreds of risks eating a bunch of tiny emergers when it can eat a “river hotdog” with very little risk? Exactly. Most tail water anglers’ fish with 6 and even 7x tied to a size 20 or smaller. I fish an egg trailed by a size 4 Crane fly or caddis on 3x and I don’t even have to get a perfect drift. I have watched countless trout literally chase my pattern down from 6 feet away. They simply cannot help themselves. Now all tail waters are not the same. For instance the big protein bug kicked loose by anglers on the Arkansas is not Crane Flies, but caddis larvae. I always carry a stomach pump and take a sample from a fish. The pump does not lie! Often I’ll see 3 or 4 tiny midge emergers and 20 or more caddis larvae in the sample. The point is that no matter where you fish, if there is a lot of angling pressure, there will be a “boot hatch.” Keying on this secondary emergence can make all the difference between a good day and a great day.