The large and small of late summer fishing. Tiny trico mayflies or huge craneflies will bring the trout to the surface, depending upon what you see.

Most of what could be called a summer has come and is waning quickly in 2019.

On many facets, the past couple of months are more reminiscent of a layer cake or pizza than a multi-course meal.

With the subliminal H-bomb rumblings of bass drifting up Crossman from the Seven Peaks sound check in the Meadows, we’re reminded that Labor Day has snuck up again.

The smell of new mown hay and the attendant sneezing fits waft around town.

The lines at K’s and City Market are shorter, school buses are filled with students instead of rafters and some of our older institutions like the Evergreen Café have moved on for good.

For fly fishers, other signs are in abundance too. Yesterday morning, walking with guests through throngs of grasshoppers along the highway east of Salida, we watched several of them unlucky enough to land in the Ark disappear in greedy swirls and splashes.

For trout and humans alike, the harvest is at hand.

This often means an overload of a variety of foods for the fish and a corresponding puzzle for the anglers looking for the right combination of flies.

To the new and veteran fly fisher these late summer weeks can produce an often vexing set of contradictions to try and read.

This day was no different.

Once we were safely on the riverbank, the speculation was replaced by observation.

The stream thermometer showed an optimum 60 degrees. Between the foliage on the bank, the rocks along and in the rivers, at least seven types of aquatic and terrestrial insects turned up.

In a few short minutes, the different possibilities were noted and flies were chosen and tied on.

Now, when fishing with friends or multiple clients I like to start everyone out with different fly patterns to try and cover as many bases as possible, then switch when the fish show their preference.

In this case, the two rods were each set up with a floating fly and two different bead head nymphs, reflecting what had been noted as we prepared.

Six different patterns in the water often shorten the daily learning curve, leads to quicker success.

A common occurrence this time of year is the fish looking up for much of their food, an exciting prospect for fly fishers.

Unfortunately, this time the fish had other ideas and a good stretch of river had not produced a fish in the first hour, despite seeing several trout coming to the surface.

This is when the clear water of late August and early September comes to the rescue and it is the trout themselves that provide the needed clues.

I learned early on that trout take or eat their foods in different ways and by observing how they are taking the naturals, it is possible to understand what they are dining on.

After you spend a little time out here, it becomes increasingly obvious just what these splashes imply.

Understanding riseforms, as they are called isn’t really difficult.

No surface activity suggests that the trout are concentrated on nymphs and other foods carried along in the current.

If you see just the dorsal and/or tail break the water, it indicates the fish are feasting on immature aquatic insects ascending to the surface or attached to the surface film of the water.

This usually suggests midge pupae or mayfly nymphs, best imitated with emerger patterns trailed below a floating fly you can see.

When the nose or mouth of the fish breaks the surface in a slow, deliberate take, it is usually adult mayflies they are after.

Splashy, aggressive takes tell us it is too big a meal to let escape or an active winged insect being pursued like stoneflies, craneflies, caddis and grasshoppers.

In this case, what watching one fish told us saved the day. About 2 feet below the surface, on the bow wave of a large boulder was an actively feeding 12-inch brown.

It was repeatedly inhaling tiny offerings that must have been so thick in the water that it never needed to move more than a few inches from side to side or up and down to find the next bite.

It ignored several other bugs that drifted by on the surface, preferring to stay deep and safe.

Looking downstream of the boulder, we refocused to discover the air was now thick with Tricos, an annoyingly small little summer mayfly that has gained in numbers on the Arkansas.

After they finish laying their eggs, the spent insects were being swept downstream in dense numbers, into the mouths of waiting trout preoccupied with little else.

A quick change to the bottom fly on each rod was followed by many solid strikes from the trout and smiles for the two anglers at the other end of the line.

Above them on the opposite bank, I noted the first hints of yellow on a branch of a cottonwood tree.

Time to enjoy the fruits of a hectic summer.

So let the dust and pollen settle for another year, take a few hours to get out on the water, and rise to the occasion. Looking forward to seeing you out there.

Andrews is head guide for ArkAnglers fly fishing guide service and an internationally recognized artist.

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