Hatch of the damselflies can be an angler's best friend
Coming soon to a lake near you: Matchstick-thin blue fairies dancing a jig, luring hungry trout like the Sirens luring lonely sailors.
Well, no, they aren’t really fairies, but unlike the Sirens, this isn’t a myth. Each spring, anglers regale in the first appearance of damselflies and the trout that eat them.
Damselflies, closely related to dragonflies but slimmer and perched with their wings folded along the body instead out to the sides, are among the first of the top-water hatches you’ll see on Grand Mesa’s lakes.
“Top-water hatch” in this reference doesn’t mean quite the same as it does when thinking of other aquatic-bug hatches on rivers and streams.
Fly anglers are inveterate rock turners, reading the squiggles of bugs on the under-surface of coldwater rocks like a gypsy fortune-teller.
Damselflies, however, arrive subtly, without the show surface transformation of Green Drakes and other top-water bugs.
Like other insects, damselflies have two life cycles, the nymph and the adult. After spending up to two years in the nymph form, the helpless damselfly nymphs crawl along the bottom or wiggle-swim to shore, clamber up the nearest stick, bush or angler’s leg and then emerge as the familiar electric blue (or green, tan or brown) and black-striped flying needle.
Most of the lakes on Grand Mesa — shallow, clear, lined with grasses and vegetation — are perfect damselfly habitat.
In fact, most high-altitude lakes in Colorado will have a damselfly hatch, and you can even chase the damselfly emergence as it progresses from lower lakes to the lakes at timberline, such as those around Leadville.
You also will find damselflies on backwater sloughs and slower sections of rivers and streams.
Adult damselflies are voracious predators of small insects and you’ll see the striped adults flitting along the water surface, which can make them prey for observant trout.
Adults also are susceptible to trout when the adult insects return to the water after mating to lay their eggs.
And because of the sheer number of damselflies, they are an important food source for trout.
Anglers can fish patterns matching either the nymph or the adult, although as with all subsurface bugs, nymphs likely catch more fish because the sub-adult bugs are more-available to cruising trout.
A few summers ago, I was fishing with Rod Cesario of Dragonfly Anglers in Crested Butte and he mentioned fishing the high lakes on Grand Mesa as a great way to catch fish while avoiding the heat as well as the crowds.
And then he mentioned damseflies, and how they provide opportunity for even the less-skilled among us to catch quality trout on dry flies.
“When there are lots of damsels on the water, the fish cruise right along the bank, just waiting for a damsel to hit the water,” he said. “Stay back a little and watch for cruising trout, then lay your fly a few feet in front.”
Strikes may be fast and furious, he said with a laugh.
If you’re like most anglers, your personal Siren song is the sound of a trout splashing the surface.