hawthorn fly fishing

Hawthorn Flies

As spring proper finally settles on the trout streams, the hawthorn fly represents some cracking dry fly fishing- as Chris Ogborne reports.

“Of all the signs of spring in the countryside, it’s the sight of the ubiquitous hawthorn flies on the water and in the air that excites me most.  I was on the river this afternoon and the great news is that these amazing flies, with those distinctive trailing black legs and  semi-hovering flight,  are now  with us.

spring fly fishing in Devon
Mild spring temperatures should see many streams buzzing with hawthorns.

There’s nothing quite like the hawthorn.  Jet black all over apart from a gauzy wing,  they conform precisely to the anglers blueprint of what a key  food item should be  – large, plentiful, reliable, easy to imitate at the tying bench and very available to trout in still and running water.  If anything they came a bit early this year but in most  seasons you can set your watch by them as they brighten up the first weeks of May, with these terrestrial flies giving the fish their first real feast of the year.

Hawthorn fly drowning
In the drink: trout soon get used to these black snacks!

Interestingly though, the fish almost seem to be scared of them in the early days of the hatch.  In this respect they are a bit like the mayfly as with the latter you often see even larger lough trout in Ireland reacting nervously to them.  Smaller river Browns are the same and many is the time I’ve seen the little fish bolt away from a Hawthorn thrashing in the water surface.  But this case of ‘the nerves’ only lasts a few days and once they get used to them they take them avidly, often with a confidence rarely displayed even with a thick hatch of Olives. Hawthorns are an early protein bounty that the fish cannot afford to ignore

Hawthorne Fly Patterns

Turrall make some superb Hawthorn fly patterns (such as the dry winged Hawthorn, below) to help us capitalise on this exciting time. On the river I like to fish them dry, or occasionally semi-dry.  Either way, one of the best fly fishing tips I can give is that you use them WITHOUT floatant and fish them IN the surface film rather than ON it.

Turrall winged dry hawthorn

Fish will take them from the film with confidence and mostly with a very deliberate rise form. On upland lakes and reservoirs the insects can get easily waterlogged or drowned, especially in a rolling wave, and as such they can be fished wet and submerged.  In these conditions, a smaller wet black hopper makes a good representation and has for many years been one of my favourites.

So it can be seen that from an angling viewpoint its best to be flexible at hawthorn time.  In general terms I’d summarise it as close copy on the rivers, but suggestive and more loosely imitative on the lakes.

Enjoy fishing with hawthorn flies this month.  These amazing insects are true harbingers of summer and are the best early season bonus that we get.  The angling year is now officially under way!”

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