Like almost everything else this spring, some of the first fly hatches of the season will undoubtedly be arriving slightly ahead of schedule.
One of the best of those is the so-called grannom, a species of caddisfly that usually offers some exciting and productive fly-fishing opportunities.
Grannoms typically begin emerging here in our region about the second week of April, often right in sync with the opening of the regular trout season.
One of the best grannom hatches in this area occurs on the Little Juniata River in Blair and Huntingdon counties. I was on the Little Juniata last Thursday morning and wasn't surprised to see the first grannoms of the season make their appearance that day.
Typically, grannoms hatch around 8 or 9 a.m., but overcast skies and a chilly wind that morning seemed to have delayed their emergence somewhat, as we started to see the first few flies begin to trickle off around 11 a.m. That sparse number of bugs only stirred an occasional rising trout, certainly nothing like the frenzied feeding activity that grannoms will provoke.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the water just before noon, but some of my fishing companions were able to stay and later were only too happy to tell me what I had missed. Early in the afternoon, the sun came out and brought with it the numbers of hatching grannoms that make this event so popular with fly anglers, and they enjoyed steady dry-fly fishing the rest of the day.
The peak of the grannom activity generally lasts a week to ten days, so this week should be prime time to experience the hatch. The Little Juniata is managed under special regulations that allow year-round catch-and-release fishing for trout, so fly-fishermen are able to take advantage of the earlier than usual timing this year. Many grannom fans will also remember the Little Juniata was quite high and muddy rendering it unfishable when those bugs were hatching last year.
While most anglers enjoy the early-season dry-fly action that the grannoms can offer, it pays to be aware of other tactics for those times when the trout aren't readily coming to the surface to feed.
Wet flies such as the classic Leadwing Coachman or Gray Hackle Peacock patterns can be deadly during grannom time by letting the fly swing downstream in the current to imitate a caddis pupa swimming to the surface to hatch. A good nymph fisherman will also do well fishing a dark-colored bead-head caddis pattern right on the bottom.
Several weeks ago, I provided some information for landowners about purchasing tree seedlings from the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Howard Nursery. That facility also offers for sale a wide variety of wildlife nesting structures for anyone who would like to attract birds and other wildlife to their property.
One of the most popular items is a standard birdhouse suitable for bluebirds, chickadees or wrens. This structure is available both in completed form or unassembled in kit form for the do-it-yourself types.
In addition to the conventional birdhouse, specialized nesting structures are also available for other bird species such as American kestrel, northern flicker, barred owl and barn owl. Wood duck and mallard duck nesting boxes are another option for landowners who have wetlands or ponds on their property. Another structure that can be very beneficial to birds is a winter roosting box that can be used by chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers and other snowbirds.
Birds aren't the only wildlife that will take advantage of manmade shelter. Bat boxes might seem like an odd idea to some folks who tend to be repelled by these largely beneficial flying mammals. Bats are one of nature's most effective controls for mosquitos and other insect pests.
Information on the various nesting structures available can be found on the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Click on "General Store" on the homepage banner, then click on "Howard Nursery Products" and choose "Wildlife Homes Order Form." This will take you to the two-page brochure and order form that lists all the nesting structures and their prices.
For those who are handy with tools and woodworking, the Game Commission also offers plans for most of the structures already mentioned along with some other projects. You can download these free plans directly from the Game Commission website. Click on "Self-Help" on the homepage banner and then click on the "Build Something for Wildlife" link. This will take you to a page with more than two dozen plans and projects the do-it-yourselfer.