Hatch reports are spreading. The bugs are beginning to appear in the southern states, and Internet rumors about them are multiplying; the insects have been spotted as far north as South Eastern Pennsylvania. Some might say that their emergence is disappointing, even anticlimactic compared to what will follow. They’ll belittle the hatch, complaining that, often, the fish don’t eat them, and that they’re usually unimportant to fly fishermen. But the Little Black Stones have begun creeping from their icy depths, and even if the haters are correct this season, and their arrival is irrelevant to fly fishers, they bring me hope. Spring is coming.
I have yet to see one in 2012. The photos in this blog were taken last winter. But I’ve found them many times in years past. I’m sure you have too. And sometimes I have also found trout noticing them. They’re similar to Blue Winged Olive mayflies in the way that fly fishers lump many species together. They are black (mostly) and to avoid the Latin language, and scientific study, we anglers call them Little Black Stones, just like we call many diminuitive, olive-colored mayflies, Blue Winged Olives. But we’re really seeing several different stone fly species from the following genuses: Capnia, Allocapnia, Strophopteryx, Taeniopteryx, and others.
The Capnia and Allocapnia are the first to appear, and they usually do so with the coldest temperatures. They’re small, and if you don’t notice their movement on an ice-shelf along the water, or on top of snow, you might not even know they’re there.
Look at their wings. They’re really only half-wings, and they are not functional. Nature knows what it’s doing. If these stone flies could fly away, they would, leaving them to freeze on clear nights when the Arctic air descends from Canada. But they can only crawl, so enough of them remain near the water’s warmer micro-environment where it’s just warm enough to keep them alive, ensuring the continuation of the species. Those with wanderlust will not survive to procreate. When I lived along New York’s Beaverkill I would find them in my backyard, too far from the water to remain viable after sunset. I always wondered where they thought they were going.
The bigger ones that come later, Taeniopteryx and others, do have fully functional wings, and they can fly. These bugs are tough. They can survive not only the cold, but they can also live in degraded water. I’ve found them in streams where coal mining’s orange glow ensures that little else can live there. They buzz across the water’s surface and sometimes elicit a trout’s first splashy rise of the new year.
Strophopteryx fasciata is the last of the early stones to arrive. It has a rich, chocolate brown body that provides the first color diversity of the season. It is often a little smaller (#14/16) than its Taeniopteryx cousins (#12-16), but it carries similar-looking, leaded-glass-window wings.
This one is having a rough start to its new year. Imagine waiting all year to emerge, only to have your nymphal shuck get caught on your antennas. I think we’ve all been there before.