Edges in the outdoors concentrate both game and fish. Whether its grass to a slough for pheasants, crops to a treeline for deer, or mud to a gravel bar for walleyes, edges are where the business of survival gets done. Food, cover and escape routes are always on these edges and for those reasons and more, wildlife will key in on these boundary areas.
As the fly tying season moves into February, I think that in a way the edge of winter is slowly approaching and we are close to emerging from the darkest days of the season and on toward spring, and of course, spring fishing. Many of the flies I tie at this time of year in preparation for spring are symbols of just that – emergers.
The emerger represents a transitioning insect caught on an unkind edge (at least for the bug). Stuck on the surface, it becomes an easy meal for hungry trout that take special note of a metamorphosis that puts an aquatic insect at its most vulnerable. Emerging insects generally give off some sign that they are ready to make their move from the water to the air and begin the latter half of their life cycle. This could be the snap of a wing case or the shucking of an exoskeleton and the exposure of undeveloped wings and soft body parts.
That transition also signals that the bug will be spending some time stuck on the edge between aquatic nymph and adult flying insect, suspended just below, or stuck on the surface of the water. As a result, emerger patterns can be incorporated into both nymph and dry flies to take advantage of this environmental cue that sets fish into a feeding frenzy.
Turning any nymph into an emerger doesn’t take much more than the addition of a little antron yarn or a few strands of krystal flash jutting out as a small wing from the nymph’s thorax. The white streak represents the shed skin or the broken wingcase and a set of budding wings, giving the illusion of a denizen of the deeper reaches of the water column about to make its perilous journey up toward the surface and adulthood. These hallmarks can be incorporated into nearly any nymph pattern, and experimenting with the wing in the form of a loop or bubble and other bright colors helps make the fly your own.
Additionally, no fly box is complete without a set of parachute-style emergers, with relatively bulky nymph-style bodies connected to dry fly hackle around a white post of hair or yarn. The body and tail still hang temptingly below the surface, signaling a struggling insect, while the hackle and parachute give the fly buoyancy and the illusion of a bug just moments away from taking flight – a sign stating that now is the last chance for any trout to take it. Having the bright white post, which in a way represents still-forming wings and vulnerability, provides heightened visibility of the pattern as it makes its way along a flow. Many such patterns incorporate pink or chartreuse yarn or even small posts made out of brightly-colored foam for added buoyancy and traceability on the water.
The surface is an edge that many aquatic insects must traverse in order to grow into adults and reproduce. Through millennia, the tell-tale signs leading up to this event over many species, such as mayflies, damselflies, caddisflies and more, have become ingrained into the instincts of hungry trout. This season tie up a few of these great variants for your fly box, so you’ll be ready when emergers hit the surface and start up a feeding frenzy, taking your angling experience to the edge…in our outdoors.