Well, summer this year came quick and will be gone before we know it with Fall fast approaching. This whole season, from early spring until the present, has offered some excellent fishing opportunities with lots of large fish. We've had some awesome hatches this season, starting with some great Blue Quills and Hendricksons, and now we're two months into an unbelievable Sulphur season. There are lots of situations and rivers where having some fly tying skills is a major bonus. This year on the West Branch was one of those years. As most of you who have fished the river much know, the fish can get pretty picky at times. A great example is during our Sulphur season. When the Sulphurs start in decent numbers, the fish are immediately very picky when it comes to which patterns they will take. This has everything to do with the way the Sulphur emerges, and has nothing to do with fishing pressure. Relying on store-bought patterns is tough and you soon run out of options. Being able to sit down at the bench and come up with some very specific patterns in these situations is the difference in catching some fish while others are pulling their hair out.
Late season, lets say August through September, is an excellent time to fish the Delaware system. The fair weather fisherman have come and gone, crowds really die off once the "no-kill Sulphur scene" is over and lots of others just start to do other things as September and school approaches. Another nice thing about late season is that you really only have a few bugs to worry about. Some Cahills, Blue Winged Olives, Isonychia and a few terrestrials. Number-wise the BWO's are gonna be the most prevalent and reliable of the listed bugs. The terrestrials will work in a lot of situations as well. The Isonychia and Cahills can be sporadic at times but are nice big bugs and are always great searching patterns.
We will start off looking at the Blue Winged Olive, a real late season staple on the Delaware system and most other rivers too. Most day, throughout the rest of the season, you could bank on seeing some decent BWO activity. You'll see them from size 18 all the way down to 26's. Personally, the Olive is one of the few mayflies that I will use a dun when fishing. With most other mayflies a good emerger is hard to beat but with the Olives a good dun pattern is a great producer and oftentimes is the only one you need. One of my favorite patterns is a nice dun with a snowshoe wing. The pattern is pretty simple to tie. First, I start by tying in about 6-10 mircrofibetts in for the tails, divide them in half and splay them out a little. I put this many tails in to help support the back end of the fly when floatant is applied. I find it comical to see flies with two or three tailing fibers, depending on the bug, tied for the tails. The fish don't count the tails, I guarantee it, and two fibers (or three for that matter) do jack diddle for supporting the fly. Next, clip off an appropriate amount of dun snowshoe for the wing. Tie in the clump with the butts facing back, then make a few thread wraps in front of the clump to stand it up. I also like to start with a portion of the wing (1/4 or so of the total wing) closest to me and pass a wrap of thread in front of that portion only followed by another tight wrap, or two, in front of the whole wing. Next you will use half of the wing, one wrap in front of this half only, then one or two in front of the whole wing. Then do the same with 3/4 of the wing followed by a nice "thread dam" in front of the whole wing. Tying the wing of any comparadun (deer hair, snowshoe, cdc...) using this method really helps to spread the wing out over the top half of the hook and keeps it standing tall after it's been fished a little. The comparadun is one of the most poorly tied flies you'll see in a lot of shops. Wings without enough material to float the fly and collapsed wings are common problems you'll see on may comparaduns. Last, dub the body with an appropriate BWO dubbing of your choice. I like to tie several color variations for each size from #18-#26.
One of the other late season bugs we will see here is the Isonychia. They will range in size from #10-#12. You will also see a lot of color variation in the flies both on the water and in the shops, ranging from a dark claret color to a golden olive. The Isonychia is a great late season searching pattern. If you grid a nice piece of moving water with a good Isonychia representation you will probably have some action. You usually don't witness a blanket hatch of Isonychia you will see a few here and there throughout most of the late season. I like to use a big emerger pattern for most of my Iso fishing with either a CDC or snowshoe wing. I really want this fly to float long and high since I will be fishing it in moving water and I want to be able to see it. Start off with a #10 or #12 scud/emerger hook and tie in a shuck of either spooled antron, antron dubbing or just good old pheasant tail. Next tie in a wing of either dun colored snowshoe or CDC. Then I go through the same steps listed above to comparadun up the wing instead of having it lean back at a 45 degrees. I just like this profile better and find it much easier to see on the water.
The last of the mayflies that will be a factor late season is the Cahill. We actually get several different species of mayflies that are lumped together as Light or Dark Cahills as well as some other common names. All of these are closely related to March Browns and Grey Fox. Their boxy structure are pretty much the same and they just differ slightly in size and color. Most of the Cahills you will see in August and September are #14's-#16's. They will range in color from a light cream to a yellowish-brown. I use emergers, tied like the Iso's listed above as well as parachutes and wet flies. I won't go into tying the parachute since it's a pretty simple fly to tie. I'll go over a basic wet fly pattern that works well when tied for a variety of mayflies, especially the Light Cahill. I guess part of the Cahill wet's success lies in the time period when we see these bugs. Late season, hot and typically lower water, a great time to work a nice riffle with a wet fly. I tie some of my flies with small beads or wire bodies to get them down a little if I'm fishing a deeper run. Start off with a #14-#16 wet fly or scud hook and add a bead near the head if you like. If you opt not to use a bead now is the time to tie in some fine wire to counterwrap the body to get the fly down a little. Again, I then add some tails to the fly using 6-10 fibers from a pheasant tail. Tie them in with a few wraps of thread then wrap the thread forward a few millimeters but don't cut off the excess pheasant tail. Next, take the butts of the pheasant tail and wind a few wraps around the back of the hook, then tie them off and counterwrap the fibers with the wire, tie everything off and trim. This is going to give the fly a two-tone body, dark in the back and lighter in the front, to mimic the mayfly emerging from it's nymphal shuck, a profile that is time tested on emergers and wet flies. Now, use the dubbing you choose to best match the bugs you've been seeing and dub the rest of the body but leave a little room behind the hook eye or in front of the bead. Now, find a nice hen hackle a little darker than the body, tie it in, make a few wraps then trim and tie off. Now you have a bad ass late season wet fly. Tie them up with a few different body color and size variations.
Last but not least, terrestrials. I will just cover a few, cause really, they'll be all you need for most occasions. The winged ant in various sizes and colors along with a good beetle pattern will work wonders during the next few months. The winged ants are always a major factor during the late summer months. When the winged ants are on the water it doesn't matter what mayfly the trout are feeding on, throw a winged ant, they'll eat a they'll eat it. Beetles work well too but I see way more winged ants on the water than beetles so I tend use the ants more often. I tie the winged ants in two colors; black and a golden-olive, both with CDC wings. Start off with a dry fly hook (#16-#20) and start dubbing the body creating a ball of dubbing for the abdomen. Then tie in a nice clump of light dun CDC in front of the ball with the butts facing forward. Divide the wing into two equal portions and splay them out at 45 degrees from the hook shank, still facing back. Now, all you have to do is make another, smaller ball of dubbing in front of the wings you just made and the fly is done. These ants from size 16 to 20 in both colors will cover all of the ants you will see. The fly works from late July until the weather really cools in the fall. These two terrestrial patterns work great as early morning flies or on "one rise wonders" junk feeding any time of the day.
So, there you have it, a half dozen patterns that are easily tied and will really cover most of your late season fishing, maybe add a few small Tricos and nymphs and your box is complete.