Fly Fishing the Muskegon River Dray Drake Spinner Fall

Trophy trout on dry flies in June – Fly Fishing Guide Jeff Bacon

The Muskegon river near Newaygo, Michigan is arguably one of the best year round fly fishing rivers east of the Mississippi and produces some trophy trout during early insect hatches of summer.

This great tailwater was known for its blizzard caddis fly hatches many years ago, however with the growth of the invasive zebra mussels, the caddis population took quite a hit for a number of years.  That said, it’s back with vengeance and we’re all very happy to see the caddis numbers return.

Those looking for trophy trout on a dry fly will most likely find them more accessible during the incredible spinner falls of Siphlonurus, a.k.a, Gray Drake.   The Muskegon river has fantastic hatches, flights and spinner falls of Gray Drakes, the last being the most important to the fly fisher in search of trophy trout.

Gray Drake hatches are generally slow-paced events, which can take many weeks for the entire new generation to hatch.  Most important to the fly fisher though, is the first week-10 days, as this is when the trout are most likely to gorge themselves when opportunity provides.

Some discrepancy exists as to how the dun actually emerges.  Some state they crawl to shore to hatch, others state it happens in the water and rather quickly. Exactly when they hatch has also drawn debate.  We do know from recent findings, that they emerge out of water that has next to no current, are very fast swimming nymphs and the emergence from nymph to adult is rather quick for such a large may fly.

I have seen them in flights over riffles in early morning, during the middle of the day when clouds are present, but most prominent during the lower light hours of dusk.  Regardless, they’re most often found over the choppy water of riffles and come out of the trees to begin their search for a mate, 2-4 days after hatching.

Once they begin to “hook up” and drop, the trout will move into surprisingly shallow water to feed on them.  It’s not uncommon to find a 15-20” trout feeding in 10 inches of water during a good gray drake spinner fall.

Since we’re most often fishing in lower light conditions, I’m not nearly as particular about leader length and pound test as I would be while fishing a caddis hatch at 3 in the afternoon.  I often rig my 9’, 5 or 6 weight rod, with a 7-9′  leader, tapered down to 3 or 4 x (5-8#).  Since fish can/do literally post up in one spot and begin to feed with the precision of a swiss time piece, getting your fly to the fish at the “right” time and drag free, makes all the difference in the world.  It’s possible and suggested that you have a watch that you can easily read at dusk, or just get a good mental count in between rises.  Once you’re able to find the fishes rhythm within a 2-3 second time frame, begin your cast a few seconds before, have you line on the water AND mended before you get to within a few feet of the fish and within a couple seconds of their feeding pattern.

As dusk turns into “night”, the flights, spinner fall and feeding can all come to an abrupt end for a couple significant reasons.  The first is any big discrepancy in male -vs- female Gray Drakes.  The male bugs congregate over the riffles and the females fly through them and find a mate.  If the ratio is way off and not many females are present, the males will return to the trees and wait another day.  The second thing that can slam the door shut quickly, is a fast drop in air temperature.  Optimal temps would be in the upper 60’s-low 70’s.  If air temperature goes from 70+ degrees at 8:30-9 p.m., down to 50-55 an hour later, that will shut them down.

Although casting a dry fly at dusk does present its challenges, once you hook up on a trophy trout that peels line from your reel like a steelhead, you will be glad you gave it a try !