Little Winter Black Stoneflies…..
Wed. Jan. 9, 2013…. One of the major highlights of winter fly fishing in the Southern Appalachians is the small flies that make up the bulk of our winter insect hatches/insect activity. One of the most important flies in our area waters is the Little Winter Black Stonefly. Its a size 18 or 20 fly that hatches on almost all trout waters, hatches in good numbers, and gains a ton of interest from the fish…who eat them as nymphs, as migrating or emerging nymphs that migrate to shore to moult (“hatch”), and then again when they come back to the water to lay their eggs. Trout love them in all stages. And they provide one of the most reliable rises of trout, pretty impressive for any time of year, not to mention Winter. There are some waters that are simply loaded with them, and when they are active they provide some of the best dry fly fishing of the year. The Rose River is one such place, and Rose River Farm, owned and operated by Douglas Dear, has a section of water that boils daily from the activity of these bugs. Yes, in the so-called ‘dead’ of winter.
Immature stoneflies are just like any other nymphs, they are referred to as nymphs. Stoneflies, or ‘Plecoptera’ —-this name is derived from Greek ‘pleco’ meaning folded and ‘ptera’ meaning wing…which refers to the pleated hind wings which fold under the front wings when the insect is at rest. They live beneath stones and in leaf clumps and other woody debris and prefer fast-moving, well-aerated water. Oxygen diffuses through the exoskeleton and into the gills located on the thorax, behind the head, etc. Most of these feed on algae and other submerged vegetation, but some are predators of other aquatic insects, particularly mayfly nymphs. Adults are usually found on the banks of streams, rivers, and creeks from which they have emerged. They are not active fliers most of the time and usually remain near the ground where they feed on algae or lichens (moss).
Stoneflies require clean, well-oxygenated water to survive. They are extremely sensitive to water pollution and are used by ecologists as indicators of water quality. Almost all stoneflies are also important as a food source for gamefish wherever they are found….most notably trout , smallmouth bass, and panfish.
The nymph stage can last 6 months to 3 years while the adult stage lasts 1-4 weeks. Many adult stoneflies exhibit an interesting behavior of drumming to locate mates. A male will usually initiate drumming by tapping its abdomen on the substrate. A female that perceives the vibrations will then drum a response. By moving toward each other while periodically stopping to drum, males and females are able to locate each other. In order to insure that males and females of the same species find each other, each species has a unique drumming pattern.
Little winter black stones are sometimes called snow flies and they are the most common stonefly in our area that emerges in winter, and they can often be seen active on and around snow and can be seen also due to their dark coloration. A good many of our Little Winter Blacks are shredders, meaning that they shred leaves and other woody debris and this is what they utilize for food.
The nymph stage can be matched by a size 16-20 black nymph, either a stonefly specific tie, a black AP nymph, a black hare’s ear, a black pheasant tail, all these are great patterns. Of course, a flashback pheasant tail, bead head pheasant tail, or regular pheasant tail is a reasonable option in a pinch.
Usually the size and color are most important. Some of the newer patterns like Mike Mercer’s micro mayfly series, a black copper john….either beaded or non-beaded…though I like beads because these insects are found in fast or swift areas of the stream. Nymphs are often fished alone or in tandem, two the same size or a two fly rig with an attractor nymph on the top and this pattern tied off as a dropper. Also, since there are likely other stoneflies present in varying sizes too, a larger stone nymph will work well. Often I fish a large brown on top and one of these Little Winter blacks on the bottom or as the dropper. Its deadly!
As for dry flies, a multitude of dark patterns sizes 16-20 work well. One of the most popular imitations used by old timers in our area is a standard Griffith’s Gnat with a peacock herl body, or a black ostrich herl body. Other patterns that will work are a Henryville Special, Elk Wing Caddis with a gray wing and a black body, black wing/black body, a black stimulator, a black picket pin, etc. to name a few. As far as keeping it simple, the Griffith’s Gnat is an outstanding pattern. On hackled patterns you will want to clip some of the hackle off the bottom so the fly will ride flat. Other patterns like the fly to the right have foam wings, and will float well with a collar of hackle. You will often find a range of sizes, if I had to pick one it would be a size 18…that size is the most common one and the one I encounter on our local waters when I am fishing or guiding trips.
Good fishing…. and don’t forget the stones!