Fly Fishing with Trico Patterns

Catching Big Trout with Trico Mayflies: Tips and Techniques

Okay, I get it…Trico’s are small. They’re difficult to cast and even more difficult to see once on the water. But they definitely work, in a big way!

The Benefits of Late Summer and Autumn Fishing

Late summer and autumn is one of my favorite times to cast a fly. In my mind, the two blend together. Starting in mid-August, the days get noticeably shorter. The summer crowds of tourists begin to thin out and the weather begins to turn, which is barely noticeable at first, but is pleasant.

The frenzied pace of writing about fishing and selling fly boxes can steal my fishing time. As fall begins, I seem to catch my breath and find more time to enjoy…the outdoors. Furthermore, this is the most beautiful time of the year – to me, anyway – and the fishing can be terrific.

Trico fly patterns are great in the fall
Trico fly patterns are great in the fall

Why Hatch-Chasers are Missing Out

I sometimes wonder if the hatch-chasers of summer know what they’re missing. There are plenty of times, when I’m taking fish after fish on a stretch of stream that I have to myself, a stretch that would see plenty of competition for fewer hookups just a few weeks earlier. I hope they never find out. With a little knowledge of some neglected or misunderstood hatches, suitable flies, and some practical tactics, they could “clean up” after the disappointments of dog-day summer fishing.

The Potential of Summer Fishing in the Rocky Mountain West

Throughout much of the Rocky Mountain West, summer fishing slows down gradually until it is reduced to a few trout amid the whitefish sipping tricos, a few more responding to ceaseless flailing with hoppers, a long afternoon lull, and then, if we’re lucky, a five-minute caddis grab at dusk. That’s when a lot of anglers quit for the season. Things could change for them if they’d stick around.

The Trico Spinner Fall: A Proven Method for Catching Big Trout

The tricos will still be there when the water cools a little. When water conditions are right, big trout will sit and work a trico spinner fall for hours. They don’t eat a few and quit. They keep coming up again, and again, and again. If you don’t slap the water silly and put them down, you can keep casting to them again, and again, and again.

Overcoming Objections to Trico Fishing

Female Trico Spinner
Female Trico Spinner – photo credit Umpqua Feather Merchants

The biggest objections to trico fishing are surmountable. The first goes like this: “I can’t see to get them little-bitty things on my leader.” That’s why fly shops carry clip-on or paste-on magnifiers, and drugstores carry racks of magnifying reading glasses. Find the solution that works best for you.

Difficulty in seeing the flies on the water

Swallow your pride, and do whatever it takes. You may feel a little silly for not having done something in this area sooner, as the amount of enjoyment that it brings back into the sport can be considerable. Don’t be afraid to try threaders and knot-tying tools, either. If it helps, it helps.

The Importance of the Right Equipment

Objection number two: “I can’t see them little bitty things on the water.” Well, neither can I. I fish them, though, and have plenty of fun. When I lose sight of the fly, I use the:

“The Guide Recommended” Bucket Method of Strike Detection

If I see a rise within a bucket’s circumference of where I think my fly might be, I set the hook. I’ve learned to laugh at the misses, and I know that the law of averages draws me closer to a hit with each one. It’s not all over with one miss. As I said, the fish keep rising and rising.

Any rise means setting the hook with tricos
Any rise means setting the hook with tricos

Tips for Improving Visibility and Reducing Drag

It helps, or is downright essential, to time and cast to the rhythm of the rise. That raises the law of averages in your favor, and helps “locate” the fly in your mind’s eye if you can’t see it.

Using a fly with a hot pink wing

Hot pink on wing for easier visibility
Hot pink on wing for easier visibility

Another trick is to fish a parachute dry fly ahead of the trico spinner. The white upright wing of a size eighteen is plenty visible under many conditions. Where that doesn’t work, as with glare or foam lines, try a fly with a hot pink wing like the one I’ve come to call Jan’s Adams. Go down through the eye of the parachute dry with about an eighteen-inch section of 6X. The parachute is free to roam up and down this upper piece of tippet, reducing drag.

Weighing the factors of visibility versus drag in different situations

Tie on another eighteen-inch section of 6X or 7X using a triple surgeon’s knot. Tie your trico spinner on the end of that. Your “bucket” now has a center that you can see. The upper fly should be small and sparse. You’ll have to weigh for yourself, in given situations, the factors of visibility versus drag.

Size 24 Trico pattern catches trout
Size 24 Trico pattern catches trout

Do Tiny Flies Catch Big Fish?

Objection number three: “How do you hook a big one on such a little fly?” This question has two answers. First, you hook ’em between the teeth. Seriously. There is a tough membrane there. Hook a big trout in that membrane, as you’re likely to when fishing a trico spinner, and he’s yours unless something else goes wrong. He won’t throw the hook.

Second, use a rod that has a delicate enough tip to strike 6X and 7X without overstriking or breaking off fish. That eliminates a lot of big-name rods on today’s market, and could touch off a debate that I don’t want to enter here. My own best rod for this kind of fishing is a delicate piece of bamboo. It is a delight to cast at fishing ranges although it isn’t “light” or “fast” enough by a lot of people’s standards.

The Satisfaction of Hooking Up with Trico Emergers and Spinners

When I use it and get a take on an emerger or small spinner, I seldom miss. I expect to hook up, and when I do, it’s sweet and satisfying. This, I tell myself, is trout fishing.

Making the Most of Trico Emergence at Dusk

An often-missed opportunity with tricos is the emergence, which occurs at dusk. September evening caddis grabs can be intense. So can the emergence of mahogany duns. It is possible to be on water that hosts all three hatches and see a profusion of caddis in the air, mahogany duns coming off with mechanical regularity, plenty of fish working lightly on the surface, and not get a take. Have you ever been there?

The potential for missing out on trico hatches amidst other, more visible hatches

Tricos hatch with little fanfare, and can fly off unnoticed when bigger, more spectacular bugs are present. The “obvious” hatch may not be the one that the fish are working. Trout are unconcerned with the caddisflies fluttering and buzzing around behind our glasses, in our ears, and up our noses if they can’t get to them. They’ll take easy-to-eat trico nymphs or emerging duns instead.

Tricos hatch from July to October
Tricos hatch from July to October

Tips for Enhancing Visibility and Improving Success Rates

One worthwhile trick is to fish a size eighteen or twenty black mayfly nymph on a trailer below whatever parachute dry fly seems appropriate during the evening. Rig it up as described for the spinner/parachute setup. If it buys you a few extra strikes, keep it on. If it doesn’t work, take it off.

Positioning oneself in dark reflections of trees on the water

For the emerging duns, a trico Sparkle Dun with its light-colored semi-circle of wing showing above the water line is surprisingly visible at dusk. Positioning is important in this kind of fishing. If possible, fish in the dark reflections of trees on the water, not in the reflected low glare of the sky.

Variety is Key: Preparing for Varying Light and Water Conditions

When fishing trico spinners, as with any major hatch, it is a good idea not to get stuck with only one pattern. Be prepared for varying light and water conditions. Carry an alternate to the “hot” or most popular pattern in heavily fished water.

Carrying both a male and female pattern in different sizes

Trout can get pattern-shy when they’ve seen the same thing again and again. Carry an all-black male pattern and a light olive dun abdomen/black thorax female pattern. Size twenty is a good place to start, but larger and smaller tricos can be available in the same watershed – to say nothing of regional variations throughout the country.

Tying Your Own Trico Spinners: Achieving the Right Silhouette

If you tie your own, you might want to try a hackle-wing spinner, using just a few wraps of oversized hackle, trimmed on the bottom only. Leave the tails long (look at the naturals, not the proportion charts in fly-tying books). Make a clear distinction between the slender abdomen and beefy thorax of the natural.

Giving the trout what they want by imitating the natural fly’s silhouette

Trout seem to key in on this skinny abdomen/beefy thorax silhouette. When you’re trying to get them to take your imitation amid the glut of naturals on the water, it doesn’t hurt to give ‘em what they want.

Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below

One Last Cast with Tricos

Trico fishing can be a highly satisfying and rewarding experience for anglers. It is important to pay attention to the emergence of tricos at dusk, as well as to be prepared for varying light and water conditions. Using techniques such as fishing a size eighteen or twenty black mayfly nymph on a trailer, as well as carrying alternate patterns, can greatly enhance the chances of catching trout. With a little knowledge and preparation, trico fishing can be a truly enjoyable and successful endeavor.

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

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