I'm not sure where the spring of 2011 ranks in terms of rainfall and high water, but it surely has to be up there with the wettest springs we have experienced in quite a while.
Persistent high water levels generally made the trout fishing somewhat of a challenge for most of the first month of the season, but thankfully, stream flows have finally reverted to more normal conditions, and the timing couldn't be better.
I probably don't have to remind the fly anglers in the audience that the sulphur hatch is underway on most of the better trout streams of our region. These prolific yellow mayflies, sometimes referred to as pale evening duns, produce some of the best fly-fishing opportunities of the year, For that and a few other reasons, I have always considered sulphur time to be the "perfect hatch."
If being on a trout stream somewhere in central Pennsylvania during the middle of May isn't as close to a slice of heaven on Earth as it gets, someone really must show me an experience that tops it. Impeccable weather, glorious scenery and eager trout are a combination that is hard to beat, and the sulphur hatch is an angling event that delivers all those and more.
To earn the lofty designation of "perfect hatch," the sulphur hatch must offer more than just ambience. Here are some of the other important criteria that make sulphur time so special. First, the trout must respond to all phases of the hatch - the nymphs, the hatching duns and the resulting spinner falls. Next, the hatch must be consistent and prolific enough to interest better-than-average fish. Finally, the hatch must provoke good fishing for more than just a day or two. Sulphurs, of course, qualify on all counts.
At the beginning of the hatch, sulphurs typically begin emerging from 4-6 p.m. depending on weather and water conditions - earlier on overcast days and later on clear bright days. As the hatch progresses, the bugs will appear later and later in the evening, sometimes starting to hatch just a few minutes before dark. Inexperienced anglers often leave the stream too early and miss the late-evening action.
After the hatch had been in progress for a few days, the spinner fall will become an important component of the hatch. Spinners are the sexually mature form of the mayfly, and they return to the stream each evening to mate and lay eggs. Look for clouds of sulphur spinners hovering above a riffle at the head of a pool just before dark. Once the females deposit their eggs, they soon die and fall into the water by the thousands. Trout will line up in the current tongues below the riffle to gorge themselves on the spent female spinners. Repetitive, gentle sipping rises are a sure sign the fish are working the spinner fall, which can last well after dark.
Fishing a sulphur nymph can be productive throughout the day during sulphur time. These mayflies occur in such great numbers on the streams on which they are present that the vast numbers of nymphs staging to hatch each day have the trout keying on them as well. Back in my younger days, I was a rabid nymph fisherman and would fish a sulphur nymph right through the evening hatch with devastating results.
Of course, the classic dry-fly fishing the sulphur hatch offers each evening is what excites most anglers. But when faced with a bounty of trout rising frantically all around, don't make the mistake of thinking they will be pushovers. Be aware that during a heavy hatch your imitation is far outnumbered by the many natural insects on the water. Proper presentation in the form of a drag-free drift will still be vital for success. Try to concentrate on a specific fish that is rising regularly if possible, rather than casting randomly each time another trout rises around you.
Trout can also become quite picky during the sulphur hatch, especially on streams that receive a lot of fishing pressure.
I've always found that carrying sulphur fly patterns in several styles, such as parachutes, comparduns or thorax ties, is a great help when dealing with super selective fish. If a trout refuses several good presentations with one style of fly, switching to a different style will often do the job.