Slate Drakes – aka “Isonychias”

Fall fishing is a time of year when aquatic insect activity is minimal compared to the spring hatches. Therefore any hatch activity at all is usually met with anticipation and eagerness by the trout. Oftentimes windy weather and or rain will dislodge terrestrials from trees and bank-side vegetation; these include inchworms, ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, bees, caterpillars, and spiders. This activity can be sporadic, heavier at some times than others from resulting conditions; consequently autumn dry fly fishing with terrestrial patterns can be effective. Beetles, ants, and my original Floating Inchworm pattern are my fall favorite terrestrial patterns. Among the buffet of terrestrial activity, there are still a few aquatic insect fall hatches that we anglers can take advantage of. One of my favorite mayflies in the spring, the Slate Drake, or Isonychia bicolor, also begins to emerge in the fall as the second brood of this species begins to hatch in mid-to-late September. Common in the Eastern United States on freestone waters, Slate Drakes can run almost to the end of October, often providing a near-exclusive aquatic insect match-the-hatch, dry fly fishing opportunity.

Floating Inchworm - extended body designed and tied by Don Bastian. The hook is a #16 Tiemco 2488, short shank,wide gape. This is a great fall terrestrial searching pattern.

Floating Inchworm – extended body designed and tied by Don Bastian. The hook is a #16 Tiemco 2488, short shank, wide gape. This is a great fall terrestrial searching pattern.

The first hatches of Isonychia bicolor in spring begin as early as mid-may and continue through July, sometimes sporadically, but there can be periods when these large, dark, slate-and-brown colored mayflies emerge in fairly heavy numbers, inciting trout to feed vigorously on the emergers and duns. The Slate Drake Spinner is also a significant element of this hatch and should not be overlooked. Typically these nymphs migrate to the shallows, but the nymphs living in large streams and rivers far from shore simply emerge from the water when their hatch time is ready.

A Slate Drake dry fly pattern in various styles is a good dry fly searching pattern whenever they are in season, but they are especially good in the fall when competition from other hatches is not as intense as the spring and early summer. Some traditional Slate Drake dun patterns include the White-gloved Howdy and Dun Variant. I like my BXB (Bastian Extended Body) Slate Drake Thorax Dun, Parachute, and Spinner patterns better than any other pattern style for this hatch. I’ve been fishing these patterns for nine years with wonderful success. Below is a photo of my BXB Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern, still wet after it was removed from the jaw of an eighteen-inch brown that confidently took it on Big Pine Creek in May of 2012.

BXB Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern. The hook is a size #14 but the fly is actually what would normally be considered a #8 or #10.

BXB Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern. The hook is a size #14 but the fly is actually what would normally be considered a #8 or #10. The length of the pattern not including the tails is a good 3/4″ to 7/8″ in length. This fly was knotted to 4x tippet because I was fishing a fairly heavy riffle section, and I expected to encounter big trout. I did!

And here is a photo of that trout:

18-inch brown trout taken on my Extended Body Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern, Big Pine Creek, May 2012.

18-inch brown trout taken on my Extended Body Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern, Big Pine Creek, May 2012.

Here is a nineteen-inch brown I took fifteen minutes after the fish shown above:

19-inch brown taken on Big Pine Creek,May 2012, on my Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern.

19-inch brown taken on Big Pine Creek, May 2012, on my BXB Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern.

This article started off with the intention that it would be only about Slate Drake nymphs, but it obviously morphed into a work to also include dry fly patterns. These insects are large, often requiring size #8 hooks. That size may sound too large to some anglers, but if you consider the actual body length of a Slate Drake dun and compare it to the shank length of a standard dry fly hook, that’s what you would need to use. Too many fly anglers dislike large drys; they don’t know what they are missing by not using them. Large imitative or attractor dry fly patterns like the Fan Wing Royal Coachman or Royal Wulff can really stir up some excitement on the water. I’ve read the words of some writers who say that the fall Slate Drakes are as small as a size #14, but I personally have never seen a Slate Drake that small in my life. I would not tie this pattern smaller than a size #12 standard hook length for fall fishing, and I have full confidence fishing my large extended body patterns that imitate the spring hatches of the Slate Drake. Though I generally dress them on a #14 Tiemco 2488 hook, these flies are the equivalent size compared to a standard dry fly pattern in a size #8 or #10. Some of the same line of thinking by other fly tiers and anglers expresses surprise at my devotion to size #14 Sulfur patterns for Spring Creek, when most other anglers fish #16’s. Heck, I’m just imitating the actual size of the bugs I see on the water. And it’s not that #16 Sulfur dry flies don’t take trout, but a larger fly is easier to see under most conditions, and floats better. Most importantly, it works!

Here are two similar Slate Drake nymph patterns; the first one was tied by my friend Bill Shuck, of Jarretsville, Maryland. Below that are photos of the same pattern that I tied. Bill made a couple modifications because he did not possess all the same materials that my recipe calls for.

This is essentially the Slate Drake nymph pattern conceived by my friend Dave Rothrock, but I made a few modifications to it in the interest of making it tie easier and faster.

Slate Drake Nymph - tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Slate Drake Nymph – tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Here’s a side view:

Side-view - note the bulge of the wingcase proflie

Side-view – note the bulge of the wing case profile. This is Dave Rothrock’s pattern design, with some tying modifications, but the use of poly yarn for the wing case is Dave’s accurate material usage to simulate the natural high wing-case profile of the Isonychia nymphs. This imitative design is a “strike-trigger” to the trout. Tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Isonychia / Slate Drake Nymph – Bill Shuck version

Here is Bill’s list of materials in order of tie-in::

Hook: Daiichi 1760, Size #10
Thread: Uni-Thread 6/0, black
Tail: Three natural grey ostrich herl strands, trimmed short
Rib: Pearsall's Gossamer silk thread, brown, doubled and twisted
Median stripe: Uni-Thread 6/0, white, doubled and twisted
Over Back: Medallion sheeting, dark dun
Abdomen: Blend of hare's fur, 50% claret/25% brown/25% black
Wing case: Black poly yarn, two strands
Thorax: Same dubbing as abdomen
Legs: Badger hen cape feather barbs

Bill wrote me in his e-mail with the recipe: “All typed out like that it seems like too much stuff to
bother with, eh?”
To which I replied, “Not when you consider how well this pattern works. The extra tying time 
pays off."

Today, Monday morning, two days after I initially published this article, Bill sent me another 
Isonychia nymph pattern, this is the same fly with the addition of a single strand of natural ostrich
herl wound as a rib. 
Isonychia nymph variation - tied with natural gray ostrich herl gills. Tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Isonychia nymph variation – dressed with natural gray ostrich herl gills. Tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Slate Drake Nymph - tied and photographed by Don Bastian.
Slate Drake Nymph – tied and photographed by Don Bastian.
Slate Drake Nymph - top view

Slate Drake Nymph #10 – 2x long – top view. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Isonychia / Slate Drake Nymph – Don Bastian version

Hook: #10 - 2x long nymph hook, or 3x long TMC 200R or Dai-Riki 270
Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #100 Black, or #73 Dark Brown
Tail: Three fibers of natural ostrich herl
Median Stripe: Danville Flymaster 6/0 #1 White
Ribbing: One strand of Uni-thread 6/0 Dark Brown
Overback: Black scud back 1/8”
Abdomen: Haretron Dubbing #16 Dark Brown
Gills: Abdominal dubbing picked out and trimmed parallel to body.
Wingcase: Black polypropylene yarn, two strands
Thorax: Haretron #16 Dark Brown
Legs: Natural mottled hen back, short and sparse
Head: Black
The main design of this pattern goes to my friend, Dave Rothrock, guide, and fly tier, from Jersey 
Shore, Pennsylvania. He uses a stripped cream hackle feather for the median stripe; the use of
thread is obviously a huge time-saver. I also use ostrich herl strands from anywhere along the 
stem, Dave uses only the tips, which are limited in number on any feather or bundle of ostrich
herl. I can make several sets of tails from just three strands of ostrich. I cut the tips at an angle with
my scissors, trimming only the outside edge of the barbs.

I also chose to change the dubbing to Haretron; my reason is that the increased density of fine fibers – 
under fur and the Antron – makes it easier to pick out the gills. Dave’s use of poly yarn for the wing 
case is a stroke of genius in imitative pattern design. Its bulk simulates the natural profile of the live
nymphs. This is a trigger-point for the trout and significantly contributes to the inducement of strikes,
if not being the primary reason that trout take this pattern with voracity.
Below is a photo of my Slate Drake Parachute Dun:
Don Bastian's BXB Slate Drake Parachute Dun.

Don Bastian’s BXB Slate Drake Parachute Dun.

Any of these pattern can be ordered by visiting my product pages at MyFlies.com: http://www.myflies.com/BXB-Slate-Drake-Set-P741.aspx

or the Slate Drake Nymphs may be ordered by visiting my Custom Order page: http://www.myflies.com/Don-Bastians-Custom-Fly-Orders-P750.aspx

If you get a chance to venture out for some fall fishing, most streams in the Eastern United States have Isonychia populations – be prepared, and have some of these patterns to fish with.

I meant to include these photos yesterday when I wrote this post…the wordpress format was having “issues,” giving me technical difficulties, and I forgot. Here is a soft-hackle Slate Drake Flymph tied and photographed by Bill Shuck:

Isonychia Flymph - tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Isonychia Flymph – tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Here is the recipe for this pattern:

Isonychia / Slate Drake Flymph

From Bill: “This was a pattern that I posted on the Flymphforum in April 2012. The vintage hook is one given to me be a friend in Virginia, and the European hare dubbing was dyed by another friend who lives in Holland, the same guy I hosted for two weeks this past spring and who gave me an excellent 5 wt. bamboo rod he made himself.

Hook: Vintage Mustad 3913B. Size #12

Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer silk thread, #14 claret

Hackle: Medium dun hen saddle

Tail: Three moose body hairs

Body: European hare dyed claret, spun in a dubbing brush with claret silk thread

Nice that you got a bamboo rod for hosting your friend! Such a deal!

I close this with image of a half-dozen Slate Drake Nymphs:

Slate Drake Nymphs, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

Slate Drake Nymphs, tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

And one final shot, lined up in a row:

#10 3x long Isonychia - Slate Drake Nymphs. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian.

#10 – 3x long Isonychia – Slate Drake Nymphs. Tied and photographed by Don Bastian. These are dressed on Montana Fly Company Curved shank straight eye nymph hooks, #7002 Stimulator Hook.

Fishin’ Three, No, Make that Four Days Straight

Fishin’ three four days straight. Not all day, but every evening. It’s tough, but someone has to do it.

When I first wrote this post, I thought I had it right. Fishing’ three days straight. Then I remembered yesterday that as soon as I got home from the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Heritage Day Event last Saturday, I was all hyped up and had to have a quick “fish fix.” So over the hill I went to Lycoming Creek. Jim was fishing on Penn’s Creek, so I went alone. I took 9 – 1 0 trout last Saturday evening. Now, continuing with my original post:

It was funny, yesterday afternoon about 4:00 PM, I was outside exercising Abigail, my Cocker Spaniel, while taking down laundry from the clothesline. I noticed that my neighbor and sometime fishing partner, Jim Latini, was in his yard. About 160 yards distant. Nevertheless, I hollered, “Hey!”

“What?” Jim replied.

“Are we fishin’ tonight?” I asked.

“Sure,” Jim answered.

“I was thinkin’, since it’s been cloudy all day that we should go earlier than seven o’clock.” Most of the neighbors within a half-mile could probably hear our voices, but we don’t have that many close neighbors.

“OK,” Jim agreed. “What time?” He asked.

“How about I pick you up at six?” I queried.

“Alright,” Jim answered back.

The evening fishing was on my heritage stream, Lycoming Creek, two nights in a row. Last Saturday I had gotten an e-mail from another friend, Mike, who lives below Trout Run, right on the banks of Lycoming Creek. This friend had taken two twenty-inch browns last Friday evening, not sure on what stream, but both fish were hooked on flies that had been part of his annual spring fly order from me; one on my Floating Caddis Emerger pattern, and the other on a Cornuta BWO Para-emerger. In Mike’s message, he noted, “Slate Drakes are the gift that keeps on giving on Lycoming Creek.” Indeed. I replied to him that since June 10th, my six trips to Lycoming Creek had been Slate Drake fishing exclusively except for a few trout taken on my Floating Inchworm pattern on June 14th.

It was overcast all day yesterday, and cloudy half the day today. I checked the flow rates on Big Pine Creek, the water temperatures are in the 60’s there, current flow at the Cedar Run USGS gauge is about 434 cfs, and we’re supposed to get a couple days with temps in the 90’s. That could warm the water in Big Pine Creek into the upper 70’s, putting an end to the practical trout fishing there for the summer. But, one never can predict the weather…

I just phoned Jim and explained to him that my thought of giving Big Pine Creek a shot this evening might be a good idea. He was in agreement, so I’ll be picking him up about 5:30 PM this evening. I still have a whole series of photos and a fishing report to post here from my best ever day on Big Pine Creek of May 17th, and the last two evenings on nearby Lycoming Creek. And two or three trips to Spring Creek.

19 inch Big Pine Creek brown, one of two large browns taken on May 17th on my Extended Body Slate Drake Thorax Dun pattern. The possibility of hooking into trout like this is why Jim and I decided to head to Big Pine Creek this evening. It’s a longer drive than going over the hill to Lycoming Creek, but sometimes you just gotta give in to the lure of more exotic fishing than your home waters.

Lycoming Creek

My friend and neighbor, Jim Latini, and I just returned from an evening fishing trip, just over the hill to Lycoming Creek. We went above the Delayed Harvest Section upstream from Powy’s Bar, along a section known as “Powy’s Curve.” The name originated from a curve on US Rt. 15 north of Williamsport, and back in the days of the old three-lane section on the hill to Summit Lodge or the curve below that, it was an area known as being potentially dangerous to travelers due to the number of vehicle accidents over the years. Now there is a four-lane that is destined to become part of the future Interstate 99.

Lycoming Creek, downstream of this area, inside the Williamsport city limits was where I fished as a teenager with my fly rod before I was old enough to drive. That was mostly catching smallmouths, rock bass, and chubs. But those fish helped me learn how to cast and play fish on a fly rod. On a very rare occasion we would catch a trout.

Lycoming Creek is not a known fly fishing destination. But parts of it are very picturesque and just plain beautiful. Historically, it had some great trout fishing, and it still has good fishing to offer. Presently it has a decent head of stream-bred browns, scattered brook trout, and the rainbows are stocked. A good diversity and healthy population of stoneflies, caddis, mayflies, and midges feed its residents. State trout stockings are augmented by plantings of larger, two and three-year old fish from a co-operative nursery near Marsh Hill called the Lycoming Creek Anglers Club.

In the late 1800’s a man named Thaddeus Updegraff, a resident of Elmira, New York, who had also been an officer in the Civil War, wrote a book titled, Bodines, Or Camping on the Lycoming. I have a reprinted edition of that book, and it describes his fishing trips here, where they often stayed at a stream-side camp for a month or longer. One of these days perhaps I’ll see if I can post some excerpts from it. It makes for mighty interesting reading.

Fast-forward to this evening. Jim called me this morning to see if I was interested in some fishing. You bet! He picked me up at 7:00 PM, even though he lives so close I could have walked to his house, wearing my hat and vest, carrying my rod and wader bag. This section of the creek is barely two miles from my house. These photos represent a nutshell version of our evening. This is primarily a photographic post. I hope you enjoy it!

Jim tying on a fly.

Cross-stream view where we entered the stream channel. There were a couple trout rising right away. Sweet!

Upstream wide-angle view. No one else was fishing. And it stayed that way. We could see 3/4 of a mile of the stream.

Upstream view again, zoomed in a little bit. Jim moved up into this water above me and before too long…

Fish on!

Playing it in. Jim has his FFF Certified Casting Instructor Certificate. He used to work for me when I was guiding.

Turned out to be a decent sized rainbow…

…that, once in hand, cooperatively posed for this portrait. Nice plump fish. As the evening progressed more trout started feeding.

One highlight of the evening was that two veerys came within 60 feet of me and were singing their territorial call. This was the first time this year that I have heard them. Their call is very beautiful, quite different from many other birds, and has an ethereal quality to it; they are in the thrush family. Here’s a clip of their song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQSd-SjcDKo

Extended Body Slate Drake Thorax Dun – my own design / pattern version. The hackle is clipped half-way between hook shank and point. It lands right side up every time. I rose 8 – 10 fish on it this evening, and brought three to hand on this dun pattern. The abdomen is closed-cell foam, so floatation is supreme. I designed the fly about 7 years ago. It’s a good fly. I’ll try to get the pattern on here in the next week or so. I am also going to be offering a series of five Slate Drake patterns of this design on MyFlies.com. Look for them soon.

This is the first trout that took my Extended Body Slate Drake Spinner pattern. Sorry, I do not have a photo of that fly…yet. The fly is still in his jaw, you can see the leader, 5x.

The last fish of the evening. I caught eight altogether; three on the dun and five on the spinner. The hook is a size #14, but the construction of the fly with the extended body makes it about a size #8. Jim caught 5 – 6. He held this brown for a photo…it’s about a 15″ fish – there’s a better picture below. It was dark by this time, so I couldn’t see too well to pose the image.

We didn’t make another cast after this fish was netted. It took less than five minutes to drive home. We are very fortunate to have good trout fishing so close to home. Nice!

And we didn’t stop at Powy’s for a cold one. Maybe next time.