Black River Journal

Summer 2008 - by Jim Holland

“Skill at the riverside, or at the fly-table, never came, nor ever will come to us by any road than that of practice.”- George M. Kelson, The Salmon Fly- 1895

 One of the great benefits of working in education is the summer vacation. I begin my summer in early June and it is a great time to be out on the water. The days are the longest of the year and by now the fish rise steadily almost every evening. There are few places that I would rather be than the Gorge early in the morning and usually the fish cooperate. The primary benefit is really in adjusting to the river’s rhythm full time. I am frequently greeted by a Belted Kingfisher usually end up sharing the water with a variety of wildlife such as herons, beaver, deer, raccoons and mink. Spending an unhurried evening on the water is one of life’s great pleasures. The barn swallows, catbirds and cedar wax-wings signal the start of the hatch of mayflies; usually Sulphurs early in the summer and as it progresses Cahills, Slate Drakes and the oversize Golden and Yellow Drakes.

Much of this largesse is due to the groups that help conserve our area rivers and their resources. Trout Unlimited has of course been very active and their Trout in the Classroom Project which is made possible by our friends at the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has been releasing their little protégés in bodies of water approved for the purpose by Senior Biologist, Pat Hamilton. TU, the Division and The Musconetcong Watershed Association have been very busy with the Groendyke Dam Removal Project and the Upper Raritan River Watershed Association has long been active on both the North Branch of the Raritan and the Black/ Lamington River system. Another group I hold in great esteem is the South Branch Watershed Association (SBWA). Executive Director Bill Kibler has become a good friend and his group is responsible for preserving a number of sensitive parcels along the South Branch which not only allow improved access for the public but also benefit a number of threatened species in addition to improving the overall water quality for the many who rely on our rivers for drinking water downstream..

On Saturday June 14th, the SBWA will be holding its Treasures of the South Branch event from 10am until 4pm at the Red Mill Museum in Clinton. Shannon’s will be on hand for fly fishing demonstrations. Many groups will be also participating and there is a wide range of activities planned for river enthusiasts of all ages. Hunterdon County Parks and Recreation will also be on hand and the event is sponsored by a number of groups including Tom’s of Maine natural products, Amy S. Greene Environmental Consultants and Advanced Solar Products, Inc. For more information call Lynne Becker, Director of Development and Member Relations at (908) 783-0422 or visit them at

June is a prime month for fly fishing. In the morning, various caddis species will appear and there is often a nice spinner fall of Sulphurs or Olives left over from the evening before. Early in June the action is dominated by the famous Sulphur Hatch. Ephemerella invaria will be tapering off but the E. Dorothea or Pale Evening Dun will continue through much of June. Use a size 14 Sulphur for the invaria but more likely a size 16 for the more numerous Dorothea. Pheasant Tail nymphs in size 14-16 will keep anglers busy in the early part of the day but as dusk begins it would be wise to switch over to a Sulphur Emerger and then the dun. Spinner falls can be impressive and often continue after dark. The largest Blue Wing Olives, Drunella cornuta hatch in June. There are actually four species including Attenuatta, Walkeri, and Simplex but aside from the larger Cornuta which are sometimes a size 12 but usually a size 14, the others can be well imitated by a Blue Wing Olive size 16.  Loopwing BWO’s are deadly emergers at this time.

My favorite summer hatches are the Isonychia bicolor (Slate Drake) and the Light Cahills. Take note that both have comparatively long hatch durations; one variety or another is around from June into September although during the height of the summer the activity dwindles. The Isonychia, a swimming nymph, prefer rocky habitat with good flows and often crawl out of the water to hatch on stream side rocks. However, enough of them float downstream to draw of keen interest from the trout and it is not at all unusual to see the spent dark gray or black shucks of the nymphs to float by as you are fishing. Matched best by an Iso Parachute or an Adams size 12-14, they will hatch sporadically during the day in early June until it gets too hot and then concentrate towards evening and mingle with the Light Cahills, Stenacron interpunctatum, ithaca and canadense. The last is the smallest usually between size 14-16, while the Ithaca and Interpunctatum will be a size 14 most of the time. Either way a Light Cahill is the only fly necessary although I must say that George, Eric and I prefer the Parachute versions. Pay special attention to how the trout take the fly. Splashy rises usually indicate that the trout are feeding on the emergers just below the surface while the classic head to tail rise which creates a gentle ring on the water most often indicates a preference for the dry fly. A notable exception to this occurs when the Isonychia spinners hit the water. Look forward to perhaps a half hour of intense action as they drop at or just after dusk in late June.

The other mayflies that usually hatch in June and July are the Golden Drakes and the Summer Sulphurs. The Drakes consist of two species, Potomanthus distinctus and P. rufous. They are very large, (size 10 being about average) yellow mayflies and they are often found in areas where the water gets too warm for trout, the South Branch around Flemington has some notable hatches and the Red Breasted Sunfish and Smallmouth Bass love them. I have had good success fishing both the Potomanthus Nymph size 12 and Comparadun near and especially after dark. The Summer Sulphurs are another important group that hatch in June and July. Look for them around areas of rapids and pocket water and in the slower pools just below. The most important is the Ephemera varia commonly known as the Yellow Drake, a relative of he famous Green Drake. It resembles a large Sulphur size 10-12. 

As we head into the dog days of summer, the mayfly action will taper off during the day but terrestrials such as ants and beetles become an important food source for the trout. Caddis will continue to hatch but by late July, look for the trout to begin feeding on Hoppers and this can make for some exciting fishing. On hot muggy evenings I love to fish for Largemouth Bass with poppers especially at Mountain Farm. Hunterdon County Parks Director, John Trontis and his staff have done a great job with the property and campsites are available. The fishing which is protected by a catch and release policy can be very good and it is a great way to relax. Come by and we’ll get you into some great fishing with a guided trip or a few flies.  We are very fortunate to have resources of such quality so close to home.

Fly of the Month: Light Cahill Parachute

Hook: Mustad 94833 or Dai Rikki 270 size 12-16

Thread: 8/0 Light Cahill Uni Thread

Body: Light Cahill or Cream Dubbing

Tail: Cream or Light Ginger Spade Hackle

Hackle: Light Ginger or Cream

Post: Hi Vis Antron White



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