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Fly Tying Petrella’s Green Drake

by Capt. Tony Petrella   |  May 14th, 2014 0

Like the quiet murmurings between members of a secret society, a knowing look and softly spoken “the Drakes are on” has quickened the heartbeats of Eastern anglers for 200 years.


The East Branch of the Delaware River is one of the icons of the Eastern Green Drake hatch, along with Pennsylvania limestone streams like Penns Creek and Big Fishing Creek. Photo: John Miller

From late May on Pennsylvania streams such as Penns, Yellow, and Spruce creeks, through the venerable rivers of the Catskills and Adirondacks in June, Ephemera guttulata—the Green Drake—is at once The Holy Grail and Satan’s Apple.

Large brown trout find these mayflies irresistible. Which, of course, also fuels the fervor of men and women who relentlessly pursue “everybody’s favorite hatch” on many of America’s legendary trout waters. All with that yearning hope of finally being in the right place at the right time.

My introduction to E. guttulata took place in Michigan, of all places, and it happened purely by accident.

I first met Chuck Mehne when he was an undergrad at Michigan State University. His sister lived next door to me, and she knew I was a dedicated fly fisher. Chuck, a novice with the typical enthusiasm of a rookie, was ecstatic to meet a veteran fly fisher and talk about trout, flies, and everything to do with them.

He was planning a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so I gave him a handful of gray stonefly nymphs I’d been tying, and wished him luck. About a month later, he stood at my doorstep bubbling and blabbering about the fish he’d caught.

Ten years later, Chuck was the owner of his own veterinary practice in Kalamazoo, and I had drifted out of the newspaper and magazine business to sell fly-fishing tackle for companies like Sage, Royal Wulff, and Simms.

I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but somehow he convinced me to join him on a four-day trip to the Mackinac Bridge area to fish Hemingway’s famed Little Two Hearted River and any other creek that looked inviting. That is how I found myself waist deep in the Driggs River early one afternoon, watching hundreds of large mayflies float past my waders.

Being a Michigan guy, the only big mayflies I knew about were Brown Drakes and of course Hexagenia limbata—this thing I had scooped up with my hat had me puzzled. At that time, I didn’t even realize we had Green Drakes in Michigan, but there it was, sitting in the palm of my hand.

Rummaging through a half-dozen fly boxes, I found a couple of large dun imitations. They were bedraggled to the point of barely being recognizable, but I tied one on anyway, greased it with Gink, and dropped it along the edge of a foam line. Nothing.

I changed flies and made another very passable cast. Still nothing. I waded downstream a few steps and put the fly amid a lineup of floating bugs. Exasperated, I struggled through the streamside alders and walked 50 yards back upstream. After switching patterns again, something bubbled the surface as my fly danced next to a fallen log.

“A refusal,” I rationalized. “Maybe too much drag.” I cast again, a bit farther along the log. Another rise. Another refusal. And suddenly it all became very personal. “I’m going to figure this out!”

Since I was a long way from home, and fly shops aren’t common in the UP backcountry, I had packed along a large box of hooks and materials. We were camped on the riverbank, so I hightailed back to my car and started tying.

Longer tails. Different body coloration. Some wood duck flank fibers for the wing. Back on the river, a fish looked over my offering and got excited. But not excited enough to take the big gulp.

Worrying that time was running out, I hurried back to the vise. Some new stuff on the market, called CDC, replaced standard hackle for the legs. Dubbing from a couple of friends out East for the body. More CDC, and a tuft of mottled marabou fibers on top of the wing looked pretty sexy as it wafted in the gentle breeze. Time to try this version.

BANG! It was like dragging sirloin steak past a starving dog.

Since this was late May, the Brown Drakes would soon be starting on both the Manistee River—where I live—and the Au Sable River (not to be confused with New York’s Ausable) just a few miles away. I decided to hone my new pattern and tinker with color combinations to find out if this same pattern would work with that hatch as well.

When this new Green Drake pattern produced some of the best brookies I’d ever hooked on my home water, and several impressive browns on the Au Sable, it also become logical to adjust the colors and size to create a new Hexagenia imitation for the hatch everybody expected in a couple of weeks.

What became quickly obvious is that this particular pattern can be deadly either as an emerger or a dun. In fact, during the next several seasons in Michigan, the Green Drake version of this fly actually caught far more fish (at least five to one) when fished wet in a down-and-across swing than it did when fished dry, as a dun.

Continued after gallery…


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