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Raising rivers, rainbows and Royal Wulffs

Judy Van Put
Posted 7/11/23

Recent rains have helped fill our rivers and streams to a more fishable level; on early Monday morning, July 10, the Beaverkill at Cooks Falls had crested at 581 cubic feet per second; which is above …

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Raising rivers, rainbows and Royal Wulffs


Recent rains have helped fill our rivers and streams to a more fishable level; on early Monday morning, July 10, the Beaverkill at Cooks Falls had crested at 581 cubic feet per second; which is above the average median flow of 179 cfs over 109 years of record-keeping. Last Sunday, July 2, was the first time the Beaverkill exceeded the average daily flow in quite some time. On the 4th of July the river raised to more than 600 cfs and has remained above the average flow all week. 

Sunday’s heavy rains lowered water temperatures to a favorable 64 degrees on Monday morning; however, the warm and humid weather of the past week both during the day as well as at night caused a spike in water temperatures that brought the lower Beaverkill up into the 70s each afternoon. And due to anticipated higher temperatures during the summer, the DEC has instituted its thermal refuge law on the section of the Beaverkill near Horton: fishing is prohibited from the Iron Bridge at Horton downstream to the first Route 17 overpass from July 1 through August 31 to protect thermally stressed trout.

Trout fishers would be wise to carry a water thermometer and plan an alternate place to fish during the afternoons when temperatures reach into the 70s. Smaller streams that are well shaded and those in the higher elevations will be a few degrees cooler; adjusting your fishing trips to early mornings or late evenings should be more productive. 

Fly hatches this time of year continue to be Blue-Winged Olives, Sulphurs and Light Cahills and Isonychias, as well as various caddis flies. Spinner flies are helpful when fishing during the evenings especially during spinner falls; but when no rises are noted try an attractor pattern, such as a Royal Wulff.

A fishing party of two ventured out on Saturday night on the upper reaches of the river where the temperatures were cool and water levels looked favorable. There were a few sporadic rises, but no major identifiable hatches in progress. Due to the lack of fly activity, the elder fisherman suggested to the younger to tie on a Royal Wulff and do some prospecting. 

He did as was suggested and cast in an area of the pool that looked promising. He was duly rewarded when a feisty rainbow snatched his fly and proceeded to light up the evening, racing around the pool and leaping high out of the water not once but twice. After netting and then releasing the rainbow, a beautiful wild fish of 17 inches, the angler continued to cast his Royal Wulff as the evening progressed and was successful in catching a couple of small wild brown trout – a yearling and possibly a two-year-old - each of which were by then feeding aggressively. 

The Royal Wulff is an excellent attractor fly, one of the most utilized and successful flies, and is most often used in sizes #10 to #16. It’s not only a beautifully colored fly but is very visible – you can see it easily on the water, even dark water, with its bright white calf tail wings - which gives an edge to your fishing ability. 

It was created by Lee Wulff, who discusses the fly in his book Trout On A Fly: “It may come as a complete surprise to the trout but it has these advantages: it’s chocolate brown, pure white, scarlet red, and dark iridescent green make a pattern that can be seen readily in any light against any background. The anglers can see it and the fish can see it whether against the sun or with it.” 

In his book, Lee Wulff on Flies, Lee again discusses the Royal Wulff, describing a scenario of an angler fishing unsuccessfully during a hatch of small size #20 flies, but having nothing smaller than a size #16 in his flybox. He suggests, “The trout that turns down a #16 because it is not a #18 will not look at a #12 Royal Wulff, for example, with the same critical eye. The fish knows it is not a fake version of what it has been taking, but something else completely and maybe something it likes.” 

Lee goes on to dub the Royal Wulff as a strawberries-and-cream fly, saying that, “In order to intrigue a selectively feeding trout with something else you have to go to other, larger or very different flies.” 

He likens the use of a Royal Wulff to a dish of strawberries and cream – that wonderfully delicious treat he enjoys during the spring and early summer months, but laments that during the snowbound months of winter there are no strawberries on the market. 

However, he explains, “Sometimes, though, a restaurant will have fresh strawberries on the menu in January, and when one does, and I come along, it has a customer. Trout, like people, have minds and special preferences of their own….and when a particular type of food comes along, they will go out of their way to get it even though they are feeding at the time on other food that is plentiful.” 

And when Lee would float “a Royal Wulff or a grasshopper imitation over a fish that’s regularly feeding on the hatch of the day, I know I can often expect to get a rise. Some special flies affect trout like strawberries and cream affect me, even when they are unexpected and out of season.”

And so, during this mid-summer time of the season, don’t forget to carry along a water thermometer, and a Royal Wulff!


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