Long awaited by some, despised by many, the Tricos represent the pinnacle of technical dry fly fishing. There is not much in the fishing world that rivals watching large brown trout, sitting side by side, mere inches below the surface film, gingerly nosing, yet gorging themselves as if drunk on the tiny, dead insects; all while plainly ignoring your “perfect” imitation. The Tricorythodes emergence on the Gunpowder River is without a doubt, the finest match the hatch, dry-fly fishing opportunity available in Maryland. The devotees of the event wait eagerly for the mayflies all summer long. While other rivers boast heavy Trico spinner falls in July or even late-June, ours does not begin in earnest until about late-August.; thus leaving us Trico-romantics with nothing to do but fish ants and dream of September.
Tricos are my favorite mayfly; mostly because of when and how the emergence occurs. The males will hatch over-night, fly up to the trees and molt. It is up in the trees where they will wait for the females to hatch and come to meet them. The females can hatch any time of the morning, from right after the males, to well into day light; rewarding early-bird anglers a chance at very neat fishing. After the females emerge they meet the males in the trees and molt. Now both sexes are fully mature and ready for action. However, the mating rituals will not start until the sun warms the top of the trees to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The timing of the spinner fall will change as the days get shorter and the temperature gets cooler in the morning. I have seen spinner falls at 1:30 in the afternoon! River systems with later hatches, like the Gunpowder, could have steady Trico hatches into November. Once the bugs start mating, they cluster up in massive balls, many times numbering in the tens of thousands. Once they mate, the females leave the cluster, and return to the trees to push out their eggs sacks, this takes about thirty minutes, so do not leave after the males fall spent to the water and you catch a bunch of fish! When the males fall to the river, they will literally bring the best fish up to surface to feed, once the fish sink back down, wait, the females will bring them back up.
For years I had only heard of the spinner falls, seeing a few Tricos stuck in spider webs up and down the river. But, having never bothered to learn the hatching behavior of the insects, I did not understand when and how it all worked. Then it happened. I was fishing a favorite stretch of water with the day off and nowhere to be but a trout river. My friend and I were just sitting, looking around and watching for rising fish. When the sun hit the water, a huge ball of Tricos devolved over the run, and began their mating and dying. As the bugs began their ritual, we began disturbing said ritual. That morning, between my friend and me, we took 22 trout between 8 and 16 inches long; all of this within the span of about an hour. And there may or may not have been bigger trout rising which we couldn’t fool.
That was two years ago. Within that span, I have literally stuffed my brain full of anything I could find vaguely relating to the tiny insect. My fly rods have gotten longer and longer; going from 7’6” Fenwick glass rods to 9′ 3 weight graphite ones took me for a fun ride. That ride eventually led me to the wide world of Tenkara.
Now before you stop reading, thinking that there is no way an angler can fish to ultra-selective fish without being able to pay line in or out during the drift, thus limiting your fishing. To be honest, I have fished many Trico days with a Tenkara rod, and I can say that it is as limiting as one can get. In fact, it is so limiting, it will open up new doors to you as a fisherman. Yes, it is true you cannot feed line like one does it with a reeled-rod; but a Tenkara angler must only lift their rod tip up or down to lengthen line or keep slack up off the water. What I mean by Tenkara limiting us to the point of rediscovery is that by restricting your effective range, the angler must work a piece of water that is only maybe fifteen to twenty feet long. This, above all else, teaches us patience. Having to be a more patient angler will improve your over-all performance as a fisherman; whether it be for trout or tarpon. While fishing to some of our favorite picky trout at our favorite pool, my friend, Coach, who had just made his first few casts with his 12′ Tenkara, turned to me and said, “I feel like my drifts are longer, but in reality, they are only better”. What Coach said is the reason why you should try Tenkara. When a fisherperson has limited themselves to a small bit of water at a time, the river will look different. The angler will often notice small, subtle currents they missed before. Finding new holding spots within your favorite run, now that is way cool! As a guide and fly fishing instructor, I must consistently instruct my students not to fish too far away. Remember, most trout an angler catches will be within fifteen to twenty feet, not seventy. One of the worst things a fisherman can do is strip off all of their fly line and slap it across the pool. This will scare the fish if they are not rising; and if they are rising, especially to Tricos, and you slap the water, you will not see the fish for the rest of the day. The spinner fall only lasts about an hour or so, better not mess it up. Remember, go slow to go fast.
Taking your time and thinking more about what you are doing with your fly is to me, one of the most important pillars that support the practice of Tenkara. Observation is often left behind for the “run and gun” style of fishing. Very rarely does a modern fly angler sit down and watch the river for longer than a few minutes. To fish a Trico spinner fall, the fisherman must be patient; both while waiting and fishing.
This brings me back to Tenkara fishing for trout during the Tricos. The match the hatch style of fly fishing may seem to fly in the face of Tenkara practice. The over the top, complexity often associated with match the hatch style seems to define the obsessive angler, and what many Tenkara fishers call “western” fly fishing. I believe the defining feature of “western” fly fishing culture is consumerism, not complexity. For many non-fly fishers, the perceived idea that an angler must know the “Latin” names of every insect and be able pick the right fly all the time, is scary. Learning about the aquatic insects, may be complex and involved, but will lead you towards a more thorough understanding of the ecosystems you have come to love. Always remember, love of the natural world is another major pillar of Tenkara, as it is in “western” fly fishing culture. I have heard many folks compare fly fishing to bow hunting, saying that both practices bring you closer to center by challenging yourself. If that is the case, Tenkara is the traditional bow hunting of the fishing world. Simplicity rules; and that is the defining feature of Tenkara. With less going on, you have more to pay attention too. Not necessarily paying more attention to your gear or self, but to everything else that is happening around you.
If there is one thing I have been able to figure out about Tenkara, is that it is still fly fishing; possessing all of the same appeal that “western” fly fishing has. But, I can see that Tenkara is going the same way that “western” fly fishing has been for years. Anglers seem to be forcing constraints upon themselves. As in only fishing in one fashion because someone told you that is how you do it. This locks us inside some little box, thinking there is only one way of doing things. I believe this limits us as anglers and creates division between us. Expand yourself. Think for yourself. And please do not judge others for doing something differently or having a different way of thinking, in fly fishing and otherwise. So, instead of only using your Tenkara rod for small, mountainous trout streams, try bringing the wiggly, telescoping rod down a little further off the mountain and give it a try on some selective, “smart” fish. After all, the fact your drifts are perfect won’t change with the elevation.