Eggs and Olives

by | Mar 29, 2020 | 19 comments

Trout are conditioned to the availability of eggs in a river system, and egg flies are the perfect pattern for a good part of the fishing season. It’s a high-protein meal that drifts predictably and can’t swim away, so trout eat eggs readily when the presentation is solid. It’s downright silly not to fish them.

I was on the river with friends four times last week. Because, in these strange times surrounding the Covid-19 virus, the die hard anglers are right at home. Most of us are pretty socially distant people as it is. And thankfully, wading upstream through a wooded trout stream is a good way to stay healthy and enjoy life. This is our time.

Trout activity on all four days was remarkably similar, even as the weather patterns swung from sleet and freezing rain early in the week to sixties and sunny at the end. Every day was defined by eggs and olives. And at any given time, trout targeted one or the other or both.

Year after year, I spend the better part of four months with an egg pattern as my best producer. When the browns are done spawning, around the first few weeks of December, the egg bite turns on. The trout’s egg interest lasts all the way into March, when it finally begins to fade into the deep cold of late winter. Then, sure as anything, the suckers begin spawning toward the end of March and into April, so trout line up to feast on dropped eggs. If you hit it just right, the action can be stunning. But even without the direct presence of spawning suckers in a piece of water, the egg is a reliable producer throughout the river.

READ: Troutbitten | Troutbitten Fly Box — The Sucker Spawn

Photo by Bill Dell

The early spring season is very much defined by the resurgence of the egg pattern. And by the time the suckers are done doing their thing, our hatch season is in full swing. Then, just like that, the egg bite turns off. Suddenly the trout favor mayfly and caddis imitations over the full-color egg options.

But as reliable as the egg bite can be in early spring, you don’t want to sleep on the Olives.

— — — — — —

On Wednesday, I scanned upstream from underneath the dark shade of my hooded jacket. The sleet had turned to a slow-spitting rain, and the leafless branches dripped in rhythm, shedding the heavy precipitation into the companion river below.

I saw a swallow leave its perch and fly to midstream. It hovered for a moment, dipped a foot or two and then returned to the same wet branch. Moments later, the cycle repeated. And a few yards up, on river-left, another swallow flew across the water, intercepting its own olive mayfly before crossing over to join its friend on river right.

The dance repeated. And I motioned toward my fishing partner to look upstream. We stood and watched other birds appear from nowhere. They shook off the rain and gave flight. Most birds captured one olive per round, but sometimes a swallow found two mayflies before returning to the small oak trees lining the banks.

On many days, I’ve notice the activity of birds before seeing the hatch, especially considering the diminutive size of the olives. Their grey, size-twenty wings naturally blend with the river on a cloudy, dark day, and the duns are easy to miss.

But the trout surely don’t miss them.

Every day, for the last few weeks, the Olives have had an influence on the trout, until the results have been (almost) predictable. Small nymphs about the size of the hatching BWO’s do well at the tag position, drifted just above the strike zone, for most of the morning. Often, it’s the small trout that are eager enough to make that move upward. They seem to anticipate the hatch more. Then, later in the morning or somewhere in the afternoon, depending on what the weather decides to bring, the swallows start their aerial dance between the branches. Minutes later, the first few rises to the surface suggest a change in rigging and strategy, because you know the larger fish are about to feed.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing in the Winter: The Go-To Nymphing Rig

My preference is a tight line dry dropper rig, with a #18 Klinkhammer mounted on a tippet section tag, not too far down from the sighter. About two feet below is the same small nymph which the little trout took all morning. Matching the flies is the most important thing. Balance and sizing for the elements of air resistance, buoyancy and weight takes some practice. Or, if you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s intuitive.

Lobbing never works here, so a clean, crisp casting stroke is required. Loops form in the long leader and push the nearly weightless rig to the target. The nymph hits. The dry touches in the same lane about two feet downstream. Tippet stays up, sighter is dry and the butt section is tight, all the way back to the rod tip. It’s a beautiful way to fish.

READ: Troutbitten | Three styles of Dry Dropper: #3  — Tight Line Dry Dropper

Photo by Bill Dell

We did this on most days last week, and all sizes of trout responded, with about two to one on the nymph.

And when they do hit the dry on a rig like this, it’s similar to the exhilaration of a streamer take. As trout come from the dark shadows to rise and eat the dry, on a tight line the surface takes are also felt, and the connection is immediate.

Tight line dry dropper with Olives requires the most finesse of anything we do on a tight line, Mono Rig or euro nymphing system. So when we find the necessary rhythm and stroke to deliver the flies, that’s a reward in itself. And when the trout takes, it’s another feeling altogether.

Tomorrow, it’ll be eggs and olives again. I’m sure of it.

Fish hard, friends.

** Live your life. Enjoy it. And don’t let fear take over any part of you. **

Photo by Austin Dando


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Domenick,

    I really appreciate your website, such depth of content and character.

    Last week in social isolation I had a lot of on a local stream tightlining various nymphs. The Covid-19 induced cabin fever has driven many like minded people to the stream and fishing pressure has dramatically increased. Also Olives are coming off in good numbers everyday, though with minimal surface activity. The techniques and locations that produced fish last week are not so effective this week. Are trout (wild Browns) likely to move locations in order to better feed on the Olives? Is the increased pressure a serious factor? Any other thoughts on why I am struggling as the Olive hatch increases?

    • Hi Kyle,

      I think one of the best parts of trout fishing is how quickly things can change. The mystery may be solved for a day, but tomorrow things change. I love that.

      I simply can’t answer the question you asked, because I’m not on your river every day. When I’m on my rivers every day, I always have some theories and educated guesses as to what is going on and what might come next.

      With that said, I do find trout to be much more eager at the beginning of the hatch. Many will blame the pickiness over time on angler pressure, but I’m not so sure about that (in my rivers). I believe the trout just know more of exactly what they are looking for. And they may ever start to target crippled emergers or something similar.

      Also, day to day, any hatch is unpredictable, as is the trout’s response. Here, I’ve actually found brighter days producing better this year, but only if the hatch happens before the sun is too high, and never when the sun is in the fishes eyes.

      See what I mean? There are a hundred variables. But at least, as anglers, we have unlimited excuses. 🙂


  2. Dom thanks for your continued entries during this crisis. This sport is the ultimate stress reducer. I’ve been trying to get out when possible. There’s a river headwaters near me that fishes like a small mountain stream. With a new 3 wt small rod I’ve been hitting that stream a couple times a week. I’ve never fished a small stream before and doing this has given me new joy and new experiences.

    • I love small streams too, Mike. When my dog died (worst thing ever) I kind of stopped fishing small mountain water for a while. But I miss it. And I have been revisiting these places a bit recently. Definitely a different joy, as you said.


  3. Take the opportunity to appropriately fish while you can during this crisis. Last week ALL recreational fishing in the state of Washington was closed (along with the state parks and state game lands). Good luck out there… and tight lines!

    Dom – thanks for all the great content over the last year plus! Much appreciated!

  4. What do mean specifically ,by olives?

    • “Olives” is the term used by most fly fisherman when referring to the group of very closely related mayfly species in the genus “Baetis”. They are also referred to more descriptively as “blue wing olives” or “BWOs”; some like to use their genus name.
      So, the terms “olives, blue wing olives, BWOs, and baetis” are all used by anglers to describe these tiny (#18 – #24) and abundant mayflies. They produce multiple broods during the course of a fishing season which hatch in early spring and throughout the fall and can even be found hatching on warmer winter days. In tailwaters they can hatch throughout the summer as well. No serious fly fisherman dares venture out without a variety of olive imitations including nymphs, emergers, duns, and spinners. Coloration varies slightly, but adults all have dun wings and olive bodies. They often pose technical challenges because trout tend to really key in on a particular stage of emergence. Olive hatches are typically associated with overcast, drizzly days, but many of them I have encountered never got that memo.

  5. Nice article, especially the last line “and don’t let fear take over any part of you”. Well said!

  6. Thank you for a great web site.I am Butchie from Maui.All of june,july,aug.I will return to Williamspot Pa. to fish We will fish the following creeks and rivers which I grew upfishing. Lycoming,loyalsock,larrys. big pine,little pine,penns,little juanita river,yellow briches,cherry run,kettle creek,slate run,cedar run,mountain lake,muncy,grays run and many more.A HUI HO,MAUI BUTCHIE

  7. Love that klink emerger. Stay safe.


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