Yesterday I briefly fished the South Branch of the Raritan River for no other reason than to keep my tradition of fishing on NJ opening day. I fished with Dan Ansbach, who in addition to being a dad of three and working full-time, is a fishing guide out of Shannon's Fly Shop in Califon. It was a warm day with thin, milky clouds taking the edge off the bright day by muffling shadows. The river was in great shape, although a little lower than we'd like for this early in the season. It was clear and about 52 degrees at 2PM.
And best of all, like daffodils signal that spring is near, we saw the first serious hatch of aquatic insects! Waves of dark grannoms came up the river on the light breeze, along with lots of little black and brown stoneflies. I saw my first red quills of the year, a sure sign that in 3-5 days the hendrickson hatch should really get going, bringing the trout to the surface. And we saw a couple quill gordons - large, steel-gray mayflies riding the current briefly before taking flight.
Despite all the bugs, we didn't see fish rising to them, not that we were surprised. Early in the season, the trout tend to be less inclined to rise and feed on the surface, particularly the freshly stocked fish. As more bugs hatch, and the water temperatures become more consistent, that will change.
The hendrickson is one of the best hatches in NJ, and just perfect for the fly fisherman to get the winter cobwebs out of their heads. You fish the nymph early in the day up until you see fish flashing in the water column as they take the pre-emergent nymphs dancing in the water column,, usually in the early afternoon. Then you switch to a subsurface emerger or soft-hackle fly - dead-drift it, lifting it half way through the draft, and also let it swing below you and rise on the current to the surface. When the trout begin to take hatching flies on or near the surface, switch to a floating emerger. And finally, when the flies are plentiful on the surface and the trout are focused on them, put on a dry fly and have a ball. Late in the afternoon, when fish continue to rise, but ignore your dun, switch to a dark spinner pattern.
It's almost post time, so plan accordingly.
And sharpen your hooks!