Tygh Creek Gray Drake
by Dave Hughes
Tygh Creek, on the Wilderness Unlimited property in Tygh Valley, is one of my favorite places in Oregon to collect and photograph aquatic insects. It has a great diversity of mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and a few other sorts of flies that trout make a living eating. Carrying the right fly pattern when one of these insects happens to be hatching will go a long way toward increasing your catch...though I’d never go so far as to say that you won’t do well enough on trout, and have plenty of fun doing it, with standard Elk and Deer Hair Caddis, Royal Wulff, and Adams dry flies, along with a few fall back nymphs such as the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear and dependable A. P. Black.
But I enjoy poking around to see what sort of insects are dominant in the streams that I fish, and I enjoy fishing a match for them when it seems beneficial. I find that trout approve the process, by taking my flies, though they haven’t reported enjoying it as much as I do.
I was surprised one day, toward the end of May in a recent season, to swish my insect net through an eddied backwater, off to the side of the main current, and have it come up squirming with mayfly nymphs. They were big enough, and I had sufficient familiarity with them from other waters, to know they were gray drakes (Sipholonurus occidentalis if you’d like some Latin). They were about size 12, allowing for tying on long shank hooks. The standard pattern is Polly Rosborough’s Near Enough. I use my own concoction called an All-Fur Swimmer. The natural nymphs swim like minnows. Imitations of them are fished just like streamers.
It’s rare to find mayfly nymphs in the total absence of duns and spinners, so I returned to Tygh Creek a week later and found both. The duns were coming out in evening, in the same soft edge waters where I’d found the nymphs. Because they crawl out on grass stems, rather than emerging in open water, trout don’t get a good shot at them unless the wind is up, blowing them away from the banks. Some days it happens, some days it doesn’t.
It doesn’t hurt to carry a few Adams, which are a close enough imitation, in size 10 and 12. A Royal Wulff in the same size will often work well enough on Tygh Creek trout. They live in small water, and are lightly pestered, so they’re not often selective. Whenever duns are around, spinners are also busy mating and laying their eggs. On Tygh Creek, you’ll usually see them around 3:00 in the afternoon, rising and lowering themselves over shallow riffles, right out in bright sunshine. They’re big insects, and they fall to the water spent, with their wings outspread. Trout take them on the long pools that feed out from those riffles. It’s likely you could fish for them with the same dun patterns, especially if you clip the hackles off the bottom of the Adams, to let the body float flush in the surface film. I prefer fishing them with a modification of Polly Rosborough’s Black Drake Spinner, because it was tied to imitate this specific insect. Again they’re large; carry size 10 and 12 patterns for them. The body tends toward a wine color, so it’s imitated with a rust body.
I’ve collected the gray drake on Tygh Creek in the last week of May and the first week of June. But that reflects my attendance more than it does the duration of the hatch. I’d guess you could run into them any time from the middle of May to the middle of June.
I usually start fishing Tygh Creek at the low end of the WU property and work my way upstream with dry flies. If I’m not having much luck, I switch to the All-Fur Wet and fish it upstream along grassy banks, retrieving it back like a little streamer, swimming it just a bit faster than the current. I also cast it into any deep sidewaters and let it wash back into pools covered by overhanging willow limbs. Tygh Creek has lots of those sorts of trout lies.
If I see duns on the water, I switch to a floating imitation, and find that works even if the naturals are scant. When spinners begin to dance over riffles, I switch to the Black Drake Spinner, and fish it in all the pools and holding lies downstream from riffles. If you’re like me, you’ll find the nymph pattern most important, the dun least important, and the spinner most fun, because of the splashy takes it draws from trout.