Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

May Fly Dreaming - The Hendricksons

"Really, the only thing a psychiatrist can do that a good fishing guide can't is write prescriptions" John Gierach

Photo by Thomas Ames Jr.

A.E. Hendrickson was a wealthy shipping magnate out of the greater New York City area during the first third of the 20th century. He purchased flies from Theodore Gordon until Gordon's death in 1915 and then bought flies from the only person Gordon had taught to tie flies - Roy Steenrod. Both of these men were working the Beaverkill one spring day in 1918 when a good hatch appeared. After lunch Roy tied up some imitations which proved very successful. A. E. asked what the name of the fly was and Steenrod said "it's the Hendrickson!" Thus was created the name that is forever linked to dry fly fishing in this country. It is the most sought after hatch on our eastern rivers and will make the dry fly angler go into a swoon at just the thought of that perfect day in April/May when flotillas for these dainty insects float downstream into the mouths of waiting trout. For some it's the highlight of the season!

This is a widespread insect that's found on the Millers, the Ware and the Quaboag rivers to name a few. It's found on the Swift in decent numbers but I've never really seen it on the EB to brag about. It's confused with the Quill Gordon on that river and on others. One thing that frustrates the angler is that if the water is too high you can have a zillion hendricksons on the surface but no rising trout. I've seen this on the Millers and Dan Trella has seen it on the Quaboag. But if the flow is right you could have the best days of the season.

A few days before "hatch day", when the water temperature moves into the mid fifties, the nymphs of this species begin to become active AND noticeably darken in the wing pad area. Always run a black sharpie along this area. Fish the nymph along the bottom through riffle areas where they live. The hatch usually starts around noon or so and a soft hackle of the appropriate colors will mimic this activity perfectly.

The emerging insect, like all insects in this stage, is a sitting duck for the waiting trout. Busting through the surface film and shedding it's skin takes time unlike the quick change artist, the Quill Gordon (see previous post), that was on stage a week or so before. A neat emerger pattern is found in Thomas Ames Jr's book Hatch Guide for New England Streams. and that's the Parachute Vertical Emerger. I ditched the hybrid hook and the parachute hackle and keyed into the focal point of this fly: the two toned body that's half dark exoskeleton and half lighter emerging insect. Hackles are wrapped on in a traditional style either undersized or clipped below.

Yes, you can tie the dun the way Steenrod and generations did after him in the time honored Catskill style but the comparadun works fine. Also you don't need the "pinkish, urine stained fur from the underbelly of a vixen fox" (I'm not kidding) for the body. Any dun or pinkish synthetic dubbing will do. Touch up your hair wings with a grey sharpie.

There are flies to represent both male and female of this species. Center on the female. The spinner stage is important but you have to be on the stream later in the day for that event. A darker body in a parachute style will get that job done.



Anonymous said...

Hello Ken, I wanted to say that I have really enjoyed the last few posts about fly patterns and wanted to ask if you have any suggestions, other than the one on this post, about good books on basic entomology and fly patterns that I can get. Thanks.

fischmeister57 said...

Enjoyed the post on the Hendricksons! Incidentally, I've done well imitating the females by tying a little yellow dubbing ball at the end of the abdomen of the parachute/comparadun patterns.

Stay warm,


Millers River Flyfisher said...


Thomas Ames Jr's book is the only book you need to identify insects on trout streams in New England. He has another book devoted to caddis flies - that's good too!

YES, the yellow egg sack works very well. Thank you for reminding me!


Anonymous said...

Hello all! Great post Ken, I too was and perhaps still do get confused about Hendrickson's and QGs. On the squanny they can overlap and sometimes hatches almost seem to stagger day to day. I know the rusty pinkish female Hendrickson duns but sometimes they lack this and look a little Gordonish for lack of a better term. The fish on the squanny can get picky when this overlap occurs and you have to experiment to see which one they want. SH with reddish bodies or pheasant tail bodies usually do the trick. Anyone else run into this overlap?
Paul Fay

Millers River Flyfisher said...


When I posted on the QG I mentioned that there is sometimes an overlap. Ames mentions how the "look" of the hendrickson can change from stream to stream and from section to section in the same watershed. I have always used one or the other fly for either insect. Just remember: QG = 2 tails, Hendricksons = 3 tails