Doug Lyons 4/25/22
The final fly the angler should carry to meet the Hendrickson’s addresses the critical spinner phase of the hatch. It is little secret that the spent stage of a mayflies life is when the bug is most vulnerable and this is clearly understood by the trout, particularly big ones. There are days where even a copious hatch of Hendrickson duns will draw few fish to the surface. I’ve seen this on the Battenkill often enough but also on the Delaware and its branches, the Housatonic, the Farmington and even the Au Sable out in Michigan. Whether the trout are gorging on nymphs or something else underneath the surface, there are simply days when the fish will refuse to rise.
When it comes to spinner falls, so long as there is even a modest number of insects on the water, at least a few fish will be drawn to the surface. This is also the phase of the hatch that most definitely draws the largest number of big trout to the top. On a mild May evening, when there is little wind and the flies dance above their riffles by the tens of thousands it is hard for me to be anywhere but the Battenkill.
While the spinner fall presents ample targets for the angler it is also a difficult phase of the hatch to imitate. The dragging dun may occasionally draw strikes, particularly on windy days when the naturals look like little sailboats taking advantage of a stiff breeze. Not so the spinner. If you are not presenting the fly with a dead drift you are not going to have a lot of success.
Generally speaking, I am not an angler that emphasizes pattern to a high degree. I am, after all, the guy that is tossing a Catskill style dry fly while everyone else is offering compara this or cripple that. If the bugs are clearly on emergers, I will happily cinch on a hen wing or showshoe emerger but by and large I am not one to fuss too much over pattern. I’m a traditionalist. But with the spinner falls in general and the Hendrickson spinner fall specifically, I have one pattern that I favor over all else and it is a Battenkill fly through and through.
The fly I am speaking of is called the Battenkill Flats. It was a fly originated by a gentleman named Dudley Soper. Though he is part of the rivers lore now, his memory remains for those anglers familiar with this obscure but effective pattern. This is a conventional parachute in all respects except that it lacks the conventional post that most of the flies of this genre do. The difference is that the stem of the hackle that is used to create the parachute wing is used as its own stem. While this can be a little tricky to get comfortable with – the secret is to secure the stem with enough thread to keep it upright and give the rest of the stem something to bite into as wraps are made around this “post”.
The body for this fly can be either quill or fur, whatever material you are most comfortable with to affect the thin body of the spinner phase of the fly. For the Hendrickson’s I always tie in a yellow egg sac and split the tails. I have my doubts as to whether or not the split tail is all that important, but it looks nice.
The result is a counterfeit that sits very low in the surface film. Since there is no traditional post It CAN be a little tricky to see this fly, but generally just enough hackles are poking above the surface to track your imitation. I have rarely been disappointed when employing this fly.
I have tied this fly as small as a # 22 for tricos and if I can do it I am sure you can as well.
My recipe for the Hendrickson version is as follows though I should note that using a quill body is just as good and I am sure others will argue that it is the better way to go.
Hook size: # 14 standard dry fly
Tail: light dun hackle, sparse. Splitting is optional. Plenty of spinners drift with tails straight back
Egg Sac: ball of yellow / orange dubbing tied in at the hook bend
Body: rusty brown dubbing – sparse (stripped red quill alternative
Hackle: light dun tied flat over the hook shank, stand up the stem and secure to 90 degrees of the hook shank via a thread dam and wraps around the stem itself.
Thorax: rusty brown dubbing around the stem.
Parachute wing: Using the hackle laying over the hook shank, make several wraps around the stem.
Tie off behind the eye of the hook with a whip finish or half hitch. I clip the hackle off behind the eye so that I don’t bind any hackle into my finishing knot.
If these instructions are a little unclear ask one of the guest tiers, Rich Norman, to show his method (slightly different than mine). If there is an empty chair at the tying table I will try and sit down for a bit and show my version.
In the photos of the flies note that Rich Norman is the tier of the quill bodied fly while mine is the dubbed body.
This concludes our series about fishing the Hendrickson’s Battenkill style. Now, if we can have good flows, pleasant weather, and cooperative trout ….