ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

The forgotten hatch

Posted 3/5/24

With March upon us and winter slowly waning, fly-fishing anglers eagerly await a new season. As the days pass, our thoughts and discussions tend toward the first fly hatches. And without a doubt, …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

The forgotten hatch


With March upon us and winter slowly waning, fly-fishing anglers eagerly await a new season. As the days pass, our thoughts and discussions tend toward the first fly hatches. And without a doubt, that banter will center on the Hendrickson hatch, as it always does. 

Of all Eastern hatches, Hendrickson is the mayfly that we most talk about. If the weather cooperates, the flows are not too high, the water temperature not too low, we expect the Hendrickson hatch to provide good fishing.

Unfortunately, the weather seldom cooperates, and the Hendrickson hatch is not fishable, because of unseasonably high water.

What about Quill Gordon? The fly that bears Theodore Gordon’s name is hardly mentioned—if mentioned at all—when anglers talk of early-season mayfly hatches. That was not always the case. I vividly recall one April day, fishing the East Branch of the Delaware River, just upstream from Margaretville. It was a typical gray, raw day in the Catskills. I had chosen a deep pool at a bend in the river, where for about an hour I drifted a brace of nymphs along the bottom without a touch. 

It’s hard to continue fishing under those conditions, especially when there is little or no action. However, youth and perseverance prevailed on that day so many years ago. Then right around 11 a.m., the first Quill Gordons appeared. And soon trout began to rise.

I had good sport with nine-to-12-inch browns before moving upstream to the next pool. There, along the far bank, under a limb that extended over the river, I found a good fish rising. Although I made several casts to where that fish was feeding, it never came to my fly.

Another late April day—this one a bit warmer—while fishing the Willowemoc on what we call the Rhododendron Pool, I found a good hatch of Quill Gordons late in the afternoon. That time, I landed about half-a-dozen browns that ranged in size from 14 to 16 inches. 

In his book “Matching The Hatch,” Ernest Schwiebert refers to two mayflies, which he describes as Gordon Quills. One, Epeorus pleuralis; and the other, Iron fraudator, both in the family Heptagenidae. Schwiebert lists slight differences in the morphology as the reason. In those days, we referred to Quill Gordon as Iron fraudator. 

At some point, years after “Matching The Hatch,” entomologists who deal with insect taxonomy combined the species. Quill Gordon is now known as Epeorus pleuralis, in the scientific vernacular. 

Although I completed a number of searches and spoke with friends who are knowledgeable of Catskill fly fishing history, I was not able to determine where the name Quill Gordon came from. We do know that the fly was called Quill or Gordon Quill for a time. We also know, that sometime around the early 20th century, Theodore Gordon corresponded with Frederick Halford. Halford was a prominent British fly fisherman at the time, and authored several books on the sport. Theodore Gordon and Halford exchanged flies, which most likely led to the evolution of some of Gordon’s patterns. I believe the Quill part of the name Quill Gordon is a reference to the stripped peacock quill that is used for the fly’s body.

As background, Theodore Gordon moved to the Catskills from New York City because of respiratory problems. He eventually moved to the Anson Knight House, in Bradley, NY, which is now beneath the waters of the Neversink Reservoir.

Theodore Gordon died in 1915. While he never authored a book, he contributed articles to The Fishing Gazette and Forest and Stream. He is considered the father of the American school of dry fly fishing. Readers interested in more detail about Gordon’s life can find it in “The Complete Fly Fisherman: The Notes And Letters Of Theodore Gordon,” by John McDonald, and “Trout Fishing in the Catskills,” by Ed Van Put.

Frankly, I don’t know why the Quill Gordon mayfly does not receive more attention from a fishing standpoint, at least among my fellow anglers. It’s the first mayfly hatch of the season, with duns hatching about the same time every day, which is right around 12 noon. Once the hatch begins, it will continue until it is completely over. Frequently, the end of the Quill Gordon hatch overlaps the Hendrickson hatch, which can make for some interesting confusion among anglers between the flies. Quill Gordons are smaller than Hendricksons, with darker bodies, and have two tails instead of three. So those features can be used to identify each species. And odd as it may seem, the spinner falls occur during the day, which is a rare phenomenon in that most mayfly spinner falls occur late in the day or at dusk. 

So for those anglers who do not mind fishing in cooler weather, when flows are normal and it’s the mid-to-last week in April, look for the Quill Gordon hatch. You’re likely to have some good sport, with very few other anglers on the river.

The Quill Gordon in the photo above, was tied by and is a tribute to David Brandt, who left us way too early in life. Dave was a long-time friend, fellow angler and instructor at the Wulff School, and one of the best fly-tiers in the history of the Catskill tradition. 

hatch, ramblings, fly, fish, mayfly, eastern, quill gordon


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