BRJ May and June 2006: The Naturalist’s Corner

Without a doubt, the months of May and June have long been the favorite months of many outdoor enthusiasts including fly fishermen. As the Sun makes its journey towards the Summer Solstice on June 21-22 a profusion of plant growth brings the forest and meadows to life. The accelerating plant growth increases insect activity, which in turn attracts many returning birds returning from a long winter in Central and South America. What had been a half empty stage is once again bustling with activity. Along the streams, we have begun to see Muskrat, Beaver and Mink once again. River Otters tend to be a little more secretive. A few years ago I saw a family of Mink: mom, dad and three kits bounding along the bank in search of crayfish and other aquatic delicacies. Snapping Turtles will become active and seek ancestral nest sites often what has now become someone’s lawn. With so many young families around, chances for an encounter increase and younger animals tend to be more curious than older ones. Frankly as long as respectful distances are maintained and the animals are not prodded or disturbed all should be well. Please exercise extreme care when dealing with our resident bruin, the Black Bear and never feed them. For many of us, seeing and observing wildlife while fishing or hunting is as much a part of experience as is the pursuit of the intended quarry.

I spoke with Don Freiday, Director of NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Center in Bernardsville and I was impressed with his knowledge of our natural world. When I asked Don about what was happening from a naturalist’s perspective in May and June he said quite simply: “Everything.” Wildflowers known as the Spring Ephemera because they flower briefly before the full leafy canopy develops in the forest take center stage in May. Species such as Spring Beauty, Common Blue Violet and yes, the Trout Lilly all appear in May followed by orchids like the Pink Lady Slipper in June. Towards the end of June watch as the lilies especially the Tiger Lilly begins to bloom. Think about all of the trees in our region and all of those leaves being palatable to some kind of insect. Now you know why there are a great many birds especially songbirds feeding on them. Many of these birds have returned from wintering thousands of miles away in Central and South America. They arrive in May to feed just as the abundance of the season is beginning to be evident and then nest in June some like the Eastern Bluebird may even raise more than one brood of young. Highlights of May arrivals are the warblers. The Black and White, Blue Winged, and Black Throated Green are among the more prominent of the many varieties to visit our area. In June the deep forest species such as the Scarlet Tanager will construct its nest. It requires mature forest to breed. Interestingly enough, two of our year round resident raptors, the Great Horned Owl and the Red Tailed Hawk actually raise their young to maturity or “fledging” earlier in the year so the newly independent predators can try their luck and hone their skills during the region’s most abundant season. Please visit the Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Refuge and take part in any of their great outdoor programs. This place is truly a center of wildlife stewardship in New Jersey. They offer numerous programs and events at their centers throughout the state. Contact them at

 What’s hatching?

May and June are the most active months for mayfly activity in the East. May often begins nondescriptly enough but by the middle of the month the Sulphur hatch is getting into full swing and it is not unusual through the rest of the period soon to be discussed to see many different mayflies on the water. John Collins and I fished an evening in late May last year and counted nine different species at one stage of hatching or another over a two hour period!  While mayfly activity is certainly center stage, don’t neglect stoneflies or caddis. Both families hatch abundantly over this period.

A significant difference between the early season and this peak period is that activity often begins in the morning with small Blue Winged Olives and Caddis. The Olives are actually small Baetis, the true Olives hatch later and well into June. Use small BWO’s or Blue Quills sized 16-22 for the duns and small Pheasant Tail nymphs and BWO emergers in the same sizes if nothing seems to taking on the surface. There is usually a lull in mayfly activity after the Hendrickson hatch and it is at this time that the various Caddis species take center stage. Use an Elk Hair Caddis in Olive, Grey, or Tan sized 14-16. Simply observe current activity and match the hatch! Many Caddis actually swim down to the bottom as adults so fishing an Elk Hair Caddis wet is not a bad idea. Traditional soft hackled flies match the emerging pupa very effectively. Try Olive, Grey and Yellow.

A little later into May, the Mother’s Day Caddis appears. Imitate the natural with a size 12-14 Grey Elk Hair Caddis fished near a bank with good structure such as stone, brush or logs can be very productive. This technique is good to practice for two reasons. First, trout orient often toward structure especially the larger fish. Secondly, many mayfly species migrate toward the sides and back eddies of a stream to hatch. Finally, how do you tell a caddis from a mayfly? The caddis doesn’t have a tail, the antennae are often pronounced and the wings are large located more in the center of the body and they often dip and fly erratically. The most consistent larval or nymph-like imitation is the Olive Caddis Beadhead size 14-18. Many caddis species also build a home or a case out of debris, so a cased caddis can be a good option as they are frequently washed off of the rocks they are built upon and float helplessly downstream.

The first major mayfly hatch of May is the March Brown (Stenonema Vicarium). They are large flies sized 10-12 usually but on some streams they can be often as large as size 8. I look for rocky bank areas with overhanging structure and riffle/rock sections of a stream with hard bottom, knowing the preferred habitat of the mayflies is as important as understanding where the fish are. This insect migrates to the sides and back eddies and a nymph fished in shallow water can be deadly. The March Brown Emerger fished through the same type of water is one of my favorite ways to catch trout as they key on this large clumsy insect trying to emerge from its nymphal shuck. The duns hatch sporadically all day and should be fished close to the bank for best results. The spinners gather over the riffles at dusk in large bomber squadrons. Try an Ausable Wulf or a March Brown Parachute size 10-12 for this stage but you need to wait and watch for the spinners to drop.

Center stage at this time of year belongs to the Sulphurs. They are a signature Eastern Hatch and more people look forward to this hatch than all the rest. There are good reasons for this. They are tolerant of a variety of water conditions and stream types; both freestone and limestone streams have good hatches. They also hatch in the afternoon into dusk so many anglers can work all day and still catch the peak of activity which often begins after 5pm. We spend many nights fishing this hatch; George Cassa, Eric Hildebrant and I along with our usual crew John Collins, John Heaney, Mike McAuliffe, Joe Scarangella, and Bob Van Doren. Chris Shannon and I were chased out of the Trestle Pool in the Gorge one night by the numerous bats swooping after the Sulphur Spinners. I’ll have more on bat fishing in a later article. Bill Sell, our shop manager sets up with his cane rod and Hardy reel although he doesn’t seem to match the hatch he still catches fish. The Sulphur hatch is comprised of three species; the Ephemerella invaria and rotunda begin first followed closely by the more numerous E. dorothea. Sulphurs are so named because they are all a pale yellow in color and activity can be dense so much so that they can produce a “Blanket Hatch”. The rotunda and invaria prefer moderate to fast currents while the Dorothea prefers moderate currents. Pheasant Tail nymphs in size 12 and 14 cover the rotunda and invaria effectively. Light Cahill wets are a good choice for the emerger stage as is a Yellow CDC Emerger. CDC feathers come from the tail of the duck so they are naturally buoyant and they are great for all types of emergers. Chris Sauerwein of Chris’ Creative Flies introduced us to these a couple of years ago and they are deadly in size 12-16. The Dorothea is the smallest of the three; size 16 is a good bet on most water. For the dun use a Light Cahill or Sulphur Parachute size 12 for the rotunda, size 14 for the invaria and size 16 for the Dorothea. Les Shannon’s Lemon Cahill is simply the deadliest Sulphur pattern that I know of although the Snowshoe Rabbit emerger is great too. For us the Lemon Cahill is the best and I remember having to tie some after Les ran out. They weren’t pretty but they caught fish. The Sulphurs gather over the riffles at dusk preparing for the spinner fall and they are a darker color being more of a yellowish orange however the Dorothea duns will still be coming off. Stick with a dun in the failing light and you will still catch fish.

In June, the Sulphurs will continue but the Light Cahill begins to be more prominent. Stenonema Ithaca and Stenacron Interpunctatum/canadense are the dominant species. They are a lighter cream in color distinguishing them from the Sulphurs. Basically use a Light Cahill size 12-14 or Light Cahill Parachute size 12-14. Pheasant Tails work well for the nymph as does the Light Cahill Wet for the emerger stage. In the morning, look for the true Blue Winged Olives Ephemerella Cornuta and Attenuatta. The Cornuta is a size 12-14 and the Attenuatta is smaller size 14-16. They are a lighter green when they first emerge and darken to an olive shade within a few seconds. Pheasant Tails and Olive Flashback nymphs should be fished in the morning and an Olive CDC Emerger is deadly in the late morning or as the trailer in a tandem rig set twenty inches behind the nymph. The Yellow, Dark Green and Golden Drakes will appear in June but some of the best action can be found with the Isonychia hatch. Fish the emerger and this fly in a similar manner to the March Brown. Substitute an Iso Nymph or Prince size 10-12, an Iso Emerger and then a Dun Variant or Adams for the dry. John Collins’ Iso Biot Parachute is deadly. Check out our website for events such as contests or tackle demonstrations and enjoy the peak of our season.-JH  


Fly of the Month:

Les Shannon’s Lemon Cahill

Hook: Mustad 94840 size 12-16, Daichi 1100 size 12-16

Thread: Light Cahill Uni-thread 6/0, 8/0

Body: Shannon’s Lemon Cahill dubbing by Eric Hildebrant

Tail: Whiting Golden Straw Spade or Ginger Spade Hackle

Hackle: Whiting Golden Straw

Wing: Wood Duck or Mallard Dyed Wooduck


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