No fishing blog about the Roaring Fork Valley would be complete without discussing our most famous hatch: The Green Drakes. If you like catching fish on big dries, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than fishing the drake hatch. If you don’t like catching fish on big dries, you should go see a doctor.
What is a Green Drake?
A green drake is a large mayfly. It’s scientific name is Drunella grandis. Like other mayflies, it spends the majority of its life under water as a larva, and then emerges quickly to the surface allowing its wings to dry. It then takes flight, mates, then returns to the water as a ‘spent’ spinner where it dies. Below are some pictures I’ve taken of drakes to give you an idea of what they look like as well as hopefully give you an idea of their size.
When can I fish the green drake hatch?
Green drakes typically start showing up in the Roaring Fork Valley sometime around the start of July and slowly make their way up Valley and into the high elevations over the course of the next several weeks. It’s not unusual to find them in the high country into September if you’re willing to explore to find them. But for the most part, the prime time to try and experience the green drake hatch on the Roaring Fork River is early to mid-July, especially if you’d like to hit the hatch from a boat. Although you can float much of the Roaring Fork, the lower section lends itself to somewhat easier floating conditions. On the Frying Pan river, the drakes usually start appearing in larger numbers sometime around the 3rd week of July, again making their way up the Frying Pan over the following few weeks.
What time of the day or night is best?
On the Roaring Fork, the most predictable green drake hatch occurs during the last hour of daylight and then continues throughout the night and into the early morning hours. If you hear someone talk about the ‘lightning round’, they’re talking about that magical last 45 minutes to an hour of day light where seemingly every fish in the river is rising to the surface to eat. Because they’re mayflies, it’s also not uncommon to see drakes hatching during the day if there is significant cloud cover.
On the Frying Pan, you can typically find a more reliable day time drake hatch.
A look at Mt. Sopris during a lightning round float on the lower Roaring Fork.
What flies work best?
On the Roaring Fork, the drakes are typically larger and more green colored as compared to their cousins that hatch on the Frying Pan, which are a bit smaller and more blue-grey in color. That said, the most important thing is matching the size and shape of the bug. If your plan is to try and fish this hatch during the day, a true drake replica such as the Umpqua green drake pattern or an extended foam body drake works well.
If you plan on trying to fish the evening hatch, I tend to fish a pattern that I can see best. The truth is when the feeding frenzy begins, they’ll eat almost anything that looks like a meaty bug, so precisely imitating the bug isn’t as important as simply being able to see your fly floating and knowing when to set the hook. I usually fish an H&L variant or Royal Whulff pattern. Both float reliably and have large white wings I can see.
If you’re fishing the drake hatch on the Frying Pan, it’s a good idea to size down to #12 and again, fish a pattern that has a blueish-grey color.
Booking a green drake guided trip
All guide shops in the Valley would be happy to try and put you on the drake hatch. Obviously timing is everything, and despite the guide’s best efforts everything may not come together for consistent big dry fly action, but you have the option of wade fishing the hatch from shore or booking a float trip. If you choose the latter, the trip will conclude at night, ensuring you’re on the water during the las hour of daylight when drakes are more consistently coming off and the fish are rising to eat them on the surface. Fishing from a moving boat with dry flies when you can barely see isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, so it’s not usually encouraged for beginner anglers.