A Year in the Life: Part Two

Fly fisherman fishing in a stream

I have waited until the first part of May to continue with my “Year in the Life” overview. At the time of this writing, we have had the luxury of a few months of adventures under our belts allowing for an evaluation of our previous forecasts (Part One) for the first part of 2023 in regards to Trout fishing on the Mad River. The positive results experienced thus far have certainly raised the level of my confidence in staying on the path of observing and following Nature’s repeating patterns.

flies on a man's hand
Stonefly Love
Rusty Spinner with egg sac
Rusty Spinner with egg sac
Trout with a fly in it's mouth
Fooled by a Henny

As I mentioned in Part One, February and early March on the Mad can produce opportunities for the fly fisherman to present Early Black Stonefly patterns to rising Brown Trout. It has happened before and this year it happened again, in spades. We had three to four weeks of exceptional numbers of stoneflies in the air and in the foam line of the stream. Not only were we excited about the fishing opportunities enjoyed with the large number of bugs that showed up, the stoneflies also represent a kind of canary in the coal mine scenario. I have come to know that stoneflies require high quality water conditions in order to thrive. The more than usual numbers of these little black beauties speaks to the quality of the Mad in early 2023. This should bode well for the possibility of upcoming Mayfly hatches, theoretically. 

The month of April in SW Ohio for the dry fly fisherman means Hendrickson time on the Mad! Historically, the Henny hatch can happen on warm afternoons coupled with water temperatures consistently in the mid 50 degree range. The downside is that the Spring flow charts can look like a roller coaster at Kings Island this time of year which dramatically influences the hatches and the ability to just get in the stream to take a look. Once again, this has happened before and it happened again. As a matter of fact, it is happening as I write. The weather and the flow of the River allowed us around two to maybe three days per week in April of conditions that seemed like dry fly kind of afternoons. Believe me when I say we took and are taking advantage of every opportunity available to be in the Stream. Good news is that the featured fly patterns we forecasted for success have proven themselves worthy of our trust, so far. Hendrickson emergers, duns, cripples, and spinner patterns employed by the Team at some old reliable spots have produced some great adventures and new memories of rising Brown Trout on the Mad this Spring. Great news is the Hennys are still hatching and we should see Sulfurs within the next few weeks. Needless to say, but I will, early success found by forecasting based on historical patterns and cycles seems to be working. This certainly encourages us to stick with the plan, for now.

Map of Mad River Ohio
Survey Plans

July, August, & September

Mad River Report and Forecast 

Back to the future. You might notice that we have included a three month period of time in this section in regards to a Mad River overview. As far as fly fishing is concerned, not much changes during the “Summer” season. What we see in terms of insect activity and in turn what fly patterns we employ to fool the Brownies is the same in July as it is all the way through mid September, near about. The Summer flows on the Mad become more stable and low which makes for pleasant wading conditions on most every outing. We do keep a close watch on water temperatures this time of year in order to give our finny friends a more stress free existence. I have found that when water temps reach 64 degrees and above, it is best to not attempt to wrestle with the local trout population. That is if you care if your quarry survives the battle, we do. A little local knowledge here, the further North you go on the Main Stem of the Mad the more consistent cooler water you will encounter. The primary reason is simply because there is more direct Spring Creek influence the further upstream you go. Trout love and thrive in cool clear water. As a matter of fact, there are a few beautiful Spring Creek tributaries North of Urbana, OH that have public access and others that require permission from the stream side land owners. We have had the great fortune over the years of being able to spend many a late Summer afternoon enjoying the benefits of cold running spring water that pushes up from the ground forming the headwaters that become the Main Stem of the Mad River. The water quality and subsequent flora and fauna that can be found in and around these little blue lines on the map provide a paradise for the resident Brown Trout.

Buck’s Beetle Fly
Buck’s Beetle
Jassid Beetle Fly
Jassid Beetle
Cuda’s Deer Fly
Cuda’s Deer Fly
Polar Ant Fly
Polar Ant
Black Thrasher Fly
Black Thrasher
Rusty’s Mattress Thrasher Fly
Rusty’s Mattress Thrasher

Just the other day, Buck and I had a chance encounter at the stream with two officials from the Ohio EPA. As we were sitting on the gate of the truck suiting up for the day’s fishing, our solitude was interrupted by the arrival of, at a glance, a plain white pick-up truck and what looked like two young fishermen making a mad dash for our spot. I could tell that Buck was mentally preparing to deliver his “fly fishing is for gentlemen” speech to these guys. We should all know that the first fly fisherman to reach the creek has the first choice of upstream or down. These two were in store for an earful from a grizzled face fly fishing veteran on etiquette. I planned on being the innocent bystander unless Buck needed me to join the fray. Thankfully, the two suspects popped back up out of the woods before we had finished lining up our rods. At about that time I noticed they were not carrying any fishing equipment, which was good for all of us. After handshakes and introductions, instead of hurt feelings and a bloody nose, Mr. Juhasz and I enjoyed a short seminar and explanation of what these guys were up to. Come to find out, the Ohio EPA is conducting a Biological and Water Quality Study of the Mad River Watershed this Summer 2023. They explained the objectives of this study are what I would call broad and complete. They plan to evaluate stream habitats, measure biological health, investigate potential sources of problems, characterize degradation, and assess recreation risks. They are going to check out the Trout and the bugs which is way cool! If you happen to run into an EPA official on the Mad this Summer, firstly thank them and then ask some questions. Based on the genuine enthusiasm these guys exhibited when answering our inquiries speaks to the fact that they love to share their findings. One question they answered for me was, “what classification of River do the officials of Ohio consider our beloved Mad to be, freestone, spring creek, or headwater?”. The answer surprised me until the explanation followed. Due to the main source of the water in the Mad coming from natural occurring spring creeks and seeps, the answer is Headwater. That is good news for fly fishermen both now and in the future. Apparently the quality bar that needs to be maintained in several areas of established requirements for a Headwater Stream is as high as it gets. I really hope and believe that special care for the Mad River will be properly monitored and maintained for years to come after talking with these two wrongfully accused honey hole poachers. As a self confessed Trout Bum, I really like the fact I can legitimately say my home water is a Headwater Trout Stream, it’s official.

Dog looking at a trout as it's released into a river
Willow’s Brownie Release
Rainbow trout Fish
Mel’s Monster Rainbow
Brook Trout
Bruiser Brook Trout
Totem Tiger Trout
Totem Tiger Trout
Hidden Spring
Hidden Spring

Techniques and Fly Patterns 

Summer fly fishing on the Mad calls for some searching in regards to rising trout. The low flows and warmer water temperatures tend to push the resident Brown Trout into the runs of deeper water with shade and cover from above. The deeper water with shade allows the trout to enjoy the coolest conditions available this time of year. Also, Brown Trout do not like sunlight as a rule and they naturally hang out where the shadows give them comfort. The shade I am referring to is usually provided by overhanging streamside bushes and trees, on the Mad. The great news for a dry fly fisherman is that the flora growing on the banks that provide shade is also a house for bugs, Terrestrials. Imagine relaxing in your cool living room during the heat of a bright sunny day and you get hungry. No need to get up except to answer the door when Door Dash shows up. There is all kinds of activity happening in those bushes located over the trout’s head. Beetles, ants, deer flies, caterpillars, etc. are moving around and falling out of their treehouses all day long. I am not a trout, but I have observed their feeding habits and I imagine a juicy size beetle plopping on the surface of the stream after slipping off of a leaf is a lot like a dinner bell to a trout. As a matter of fact, the feeding behavior exhibited by Brownies when the plop occurs reminds me of the old Tarzan movies. You remember, the plank on the makeshift jungle bridge gives way and the bad guy falls into the jaws of the crocodiles waiting below. I think you get the point. Explosive is the word that comes to mind. Long walks in the River looking for these conditions should be expected. When you find overhanging vegetation, deeper runs, and a foam line running through the neighborhood, it is time to stop and observe. If you are patient, your reward will come by way of a Brown showing you where he lives. Tie on a Terrestrial pattern of your choice and ring his bell, you will soon know if he is interested in what you have on the menu.

If you get bored with Terrestrials, not sure why you would, try skating a Caddis pattern through the riffles. There may be Caddis dancing on the surface at this time of year and rising trout can be spotted chasing the adult caddis, when they feel up to it. There have been times when a properly executed downstream swing has done the trick on splashy rising fish when nothing else seems to work. It is a good idea to have a few Caddis patterns in your fly box just about anytime of the year when fishing the Mad River.

Other plans for the Summer 2023 include many trips to our Private Spring Creek where the water is always cool and the Brown, Brook, Rainbow, and Tiger Trout are always up for a tussle. This target-rich environment is certainly a welcome retreat during the dog days of Summer and can serve as a kind of balm for the wounds suffered from tough days on the River, mental and physical. I have never hosted any fly fisherman on the Club waters that did not feel better after chasing the “Slam”, all four varieties, with a dry fly, while casually strolling through a piece of God’s most beautiful creation. A day like that can make one forget about all the hassles of the real world, at least for the day.

River with fall leaves round it
Autumn Splendor
Buck on Point
Fall Colors
Brown Trout
October Caddis Hatch
Parachute Caddis Victim
River in the fall
Autumn Evening

October, November & December

When I am wading in the Mad River on a warmer than average kind of Fall afternoon, I may be heard claiming that this is my favorite time of the year on the stream. The angle of the sunlight during the Fall Equinox streaming through the colors in the trees then shining on and in the Gin clear cold water needs to be seen and felt to fully understand and appreciate the beauty of it all. A casual wade, upstream with a fly rod in hand, through the very low flows that typically occur this time of year can be soothing to the Soul. It is nice to know that as long as this old world keeps turning around, the age-old spectacle of Autumn will show up again this year. If God is willing.

October brings with it the conversations, around the fly shop, of past blanket kind of hatches of the famous “October Caddis” that have occurred over the years on local streams. I would imagine this kind of banter can be heard in any fly shop around any Midwestern Trout Streams. Based on what I have experienced and been told, a Midwestern fly fisherman can expect to see Caddis emergence, in number, on your local Trout Stream this time of year. I know we do on the Mad. Some years are better than others for sure. That being said, I do not believe that over the last twenty or so years there has been a Fall when some kind of adult Caddis pattern wouldn’t do the trick when it comes to fooling a rising Fall brown trout, if presented properly. I call that a pattern and we are going to stick with the plan until it stops working.

Griffith’s Gnat Fly
Griffith’s Gnat
Ice Tan Thrasher
Ice Tan Thrasher
Parachute Caddis Fly
King's River Caddis
Parachute Caddis
Parachute Caddis
Fly Pattern Forecast
The boys at ReelFlyRod.com have encouraged me to try some new things out over the last couple of years. I am talking about tying materials in this instance. I have started including a little splash of some flashy materials in combination with my love of natural ingredients. The results were met with success last year from October through early December. Our hope is that there are many opportunities this Fall to clear our minds in order to focus on the foam lines as they gather the Autumn leaves. Yes, the leaves in the water are beautiful, incredibly beautiful. However, when it comes to fly fishing, the leaves and other floating debris can cause some issues. Sometimes it is quite difficult to maintain a drag free drift when the leaves are piling up around your waders. We find it best to wait for the rise, then make your plan of attack. If there is not much competition on the surface of the stream, in terms of floating leaves and debris, a natural pattern presented with a dead drift through the trout’s window has worked before, Kings River Caddis. When the surface of the water is crowded with stuff and the quarry is picking off its meal in between those beautiful floating leaves, we believe a little flash on your Caddis pattern might stand out and inspire a closer look or even better, commitment. This is one of those situations where we have tried it and it works, on the Mad. Two different patterns with a multitude of color combinations should do for this Fall. The Parachute Caddis pattern is designed for more of a “in the film” presentation. The Caddis Thrasher pattern is great for chasing after the splashy rises that will be seen. A downstream swing with the Thrasher coupled with a little quiver in your casting hand can produce some very explosive takes from the aggressively feeding Brownies under those splashes that you are seeing. A little local knowledge here, try tying a Griffith’s Gnat behind your skating Thrasher and watch your catch rate go up substantially. Sometimes they say no to the Caddis but can’t pass on a pile of midges. 

If this Fall looks anything like previous Autumn weather patterns here in SW Ohio, the aforementioned conditions and techniques will be employed by the Team right up until Mid December. The onset of consistently cold temperatures this time of year usually cuts down the amount of opportunities to cast a dry fly, in comfortable conditions, on the Mad. That’s OK. This will be a great time to recharge, reflect, and refill the fly box for the next season while still seizing the opportunity to wet a line whenever possible.

I look forward to communicating an update somewhere along the line later this year, probably more of a review than an update, of how our forecasts are jiving with reality. I am curious to see how it goes. I am in the process of learning to enjoy the events of the day as they unfold without constantly wondering what is around the next bend in the river. With that being said, I do like to be prepared and allow for “Planned Spontaneity”. That’s about all I have to say about that.

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