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Time for some prime-time fly-fishing

May is my favorite month for a host of reasons: the glorious spring weather, the spectacular greens of the newly leaved trees and some of the best dry-fly fishing for trout.

For a fly-fisherman, being on a trout stream somewhere in central Pennsylvania during May can be a slice of heaven on Earth. And the elegant yellow mayflies known as sulphurs or pale evening duns are the stars of the show.

Looking over years of my notes, I find myself often referring to sulphurs as the “perfect hatch” for several valid reasons. Sulphurs typically begin hatching consistently on most of the better streams in our region from May 5-10. The trout respond well to all phases of the hatch — the nymphs, the hatching duns and the resulting spinner falls.

Sulphurs are prolific enough to bring better-than-average trout to the surface, and the hatch can last a week or more in some locations.

On the first day or two of the hatch, sulphurs might begin emerging in mid-afternoon on overcast 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.

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.

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.

Safety in numbers

Last week, the Game Commission released its annual report of hunting-related shooting incidents for 2019.

One of the highlights of the report indicated that there were no HRSIs recorded during the 2019 spring turkey season. This marks the first time in history that Pennsylvania hunters posted a perfect safety record in the spring turkey season. On another positive note, there also were no HRSIs during the fall turkey season as well. With the opening of the spring turkey season yesterday, let’s hope turkey hunter throughout Pennsylvania continue that stellar record of safety.

Overall, 26 HRSIs were recorded in 2019, with 4 of them being fatal. This marks the seventh consecutive year with fewer than 30 HRSIs. In 2018, there were 27 HRSIs, with only one of them fatal. The entire 2019 HRSI report can be seen on the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.pa.gov. Click the Hunting Related Shooting Incidents link on the Hunter-Trapper Education page.

Encouraged by those hunting-safety milestones, I spent a few minutes looking at the many statistics the report contained.

Here are a few of those I found interesting. Of the 26 total HRSIs for 2019, 12 were inflicted by others, 11 were self-inflicted and 3 were unknown. Three of the four fatalities in 2019 were self-inflicted, while only one was inflicted by others. The most frequent cause of HRSIs was a victim being in the line of fire with 11 cases, followed by an unintended discharge with 8 cases.

Two fatalities were caused by an unintended discharge, one was caused by victim in the line of fire and one by a hunter who slipped or fell. For the first time since 1915 when HRSI records were first compiled in Pennsylvania, no incidents, fatal or otherwise, were recorded as “mistaken for game” as the cause.

While it might be easy to assume young or inexperienced hunters are more likely to be involved in hunting accidents, the statistics show otherwise.

Victim ages in 2019 were two for age 16 and under, two for ages 16-20, 15 for ages 21-50 and seven for ages over 50. Offender ages for 2019 were 4 for ages 12-15, two for ages 16-20, 9 for ages 21-50, seven for ages over 50 and four for ages not reported. Victim hunting experience for 2019 was three for under two years, two for 2-5 years, three for 6-10 years and 18 for over 10 years. Offender hunting experience for 2019 was two for under 2 years, four for 2-5 years, two for 6-10 years, 14 for over 10 years and four for experience not reported.

Here’s hoping all turkey hunters enjoy a successful and safe season in the glorious May forest of Pennsylvania.

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