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Green Drake Fly – What Are They?

Green Drake Fly – What Are They?

Green drakes are legendary mayflies that hatch in western states. In Colorado, they are the largest mayflies around. Anglers come from all over to fish the famous green drake hatch. Trout go absolutely crazy for them, which makes fishing the hatch pretty easy. Green drakes are a “crawling” mayfly. They crawl on the bottom of the river until they’re ready to hatch.

Green Drakes can be easily identified:

  • Green drakes are very large – sizes #8, #10 or #12
  • They are entirely green – easy to spot
  • Green drakes have very upright wings that are oversized
  • They tend to hatch in the evening (final hour of light) and even after dark
  • Green drakes only hatch in the summer (late June/early July)

Although it can be hard to identify other trout insects, green drakes are easy to identify. There is no other mayfly in Colorado as large as drakes. You will also see more rising trout then you’ve likely ever seen before!

This article will cover the best green drake fly imitations, how to fish them, and how to time the hatch. When all of this comes together, it can be an unforgettable experience.

Best Green Drake Flies

#1- Green Drake Cripple Fly

When green drakes hatch, they often get stuck on the surface and don’t fully emerge – this means they can’t fly away. We refer to these as “cripples” and they are an easy target for trout. Since the drake hasn’t fully hatched, trout can eat them off the surface very easily.

I love fishing the green drake cripple because it is extremely productive. Trout look at it as an easy meal, and they’ll often focus their efforts on eating cripples.

Since a lot of green drakes end up crippled, it is important to have some cripple imitations in your fly box. Mayflies are supposed to hatch completely, but it doesn’t always happen like it’s supposed to.

When fishing this fly, I like to put floatant on the deer hair, this will allow the body to sink and ride underwater. By doing this, the cripple rides vertically and looks way more realistic. This is the same way you’d fish a Mole Fly or other cripple patterns.

#2 – Extended Foam Green Drake Fly

The extended foam green drake imitates a fully hatched drake. The body is fully extended and it’s ready to fly away. This would be considered an adult drake that has hatched completely. I like fishing these because they float really well, and are easy to see in the fading light.

The parachute post offers maximum visibility for the angler, and it fishes like an extra large parachute adams. The foam body allows it to float better than other green drake imitations. By incorporating foam into dry flies, their floating capability increases dramatically. This is why many hopper patterns are tied with foam.

Trout eat the extended drake with reckless abandon, and it remains one of the top performing drake patterns.

#3 – Royal Wulff Fly

The Royal Wulff is a classic dry fly that can imitate lots of different bugs. I like to fish them during the green drake hatch because their silhouette resembles a drake. I will often fish the largest Wulffs available (sizes #8 and #10). The double wing is super easy to spot in low light conditions.

Trout just assume it’s a green drake and it fools them very easily. The Royal Wulff also floats very well and doesn’t require lots of floatant or maintenance. Once you dress this fly, it will usually float for the entirety of the drake hatch.

Although I like to fish specific green drake imitations, the Royal Wulff gets the job done most of the time. It is also available in most fly shops, which makes them easy to find during a road trip.

#4 – Green Drake Crawler Fly

I really like this Solitude fly due to how realistic it is. Green drake nymphs are ugly and they crawl on the bottom of the river. This fly is meant to be fished near the bottom to imitate an actual crawler. It is unweighted, so make sure to add some split shot.

Before the hatch starts, try this fly on a nymph rig to get the night started. Before trout start to eat hatching drakes, they will key in on crawlers in the evening. During the summer months, trout are very aware of green drake nymphs – and they are a regular part of a trouts diet.

#5 – Point Drake Fly

The RIO point drake is a very life-like drake nymph. The tungsten slotted bead sinks like a rock, so it really gets down to where the fish are. I like to put this nymph under a drake dry fly for a complete “dry dropper” setup. I have caught some great trout on the point drake before the drakes really start to hatch.

Since this fly is jigged, the hook will ride inverted. This means that you’ll snag the bottom less, and you won’t lose as many flies. Jigged flies have become very popular for this reason. Your fly can easily slide over debris without getting snagged on it.

I highly recommend having some point drakes for your next drake hatch.

How To Rig For The Green Drake Hatch

There are many ways to rig for the green drake hatch. I will go over some of my favorites that have helped me catch more fish.

  • Use heavier tippet – Since green drakes hatch right before dark, trout aren’t super concerned with your tippet size. They are mainly looking for green drake silhouettes on the water, since the light is fading fast. I fish 3x tippet or even heavier during the hatch, which allows me to fight fish harder and break off less flies.
  • Fish a 2 fly rig – To maximize my success when fishing the hatch, I will run two dry flies at the same time. I will use an extended foam drake or a Royal Wulff as my first fly, then attach about 3 feet of tippet off the bend of the hook. For my second fly, I like to use a green drake cripple. It can be hard to see fish eating your cripple when it’s dark out, but the larger first fly acts as a strike indicator. If a trout eats the cripple, your larger first drake will move or dart underwater. This is a foolproof method for catching more trout during the hatch.
  • Apply floatant before you leave the house – Once it starts to get dark, you don’t want to be messing around with your green drake rigs. Once I buy my drake flies for the season, I will apply Loon Aquel to all of them so they’re ready to go. Once I get to the river, I know that all of my flies are pre-coated and they will float well.
  • Bring 2 rods to the river – If you show up to the river too early, trout will not be eating off the surface quite yet. I like to have a rod rigged with a Royal Wulff with a green drake nymph below it. Before the drakes start to really hatch, trout will be keyed in on green drake nymphs. Once the hatch begins, then switch to your double dry fly setup.
  • Setup some “pre-rigs” – You can get foam leader keepers at pretty much all fly shops. These allow you to setup rigs and wrap them around the foam. When it’s getting dark out, you don’t want to have to setup a whole new rig. By using the foam leader keepers, you can avoid this frustration. When you break off your flies, simply grab a new double dry fly rig and tie it on!

How To Time The Green Drake Hatch

Usually, the summer solstice is a good indicator that the green drakes have started to hatch. On June 21, head to the river at dusk and start fishing drake patterns.

If it’s a very low water year, the green drake hatch can be minimal or even nonexistent. There needs to be a good flow in the river if green drakes are to hatch consistently. If we’re in a drought here in Colorado, I don’t expect the green drake hatch to be very good.

Another tip is that most folks leave the river too early. I often see anglers walking back to their cars while I am walking to the river. The last 15 minutes of light is when the most productive drake fishing happens. Stay on the river until it is completely dark out, and bring a headlamp!

Green drakes tend to start lower in the river system, and work their way up. When the summer solstice starts on June 21, drakes will be lower down. By early to mid July, the drakes could be several miles upstream. By August, drakes can be way up in higher elevations in the river system.

Anther thing to think about is the weather. Heavy rains can put the drakes down a lot. When a rain system moves in, I don’t expect there to be much of a drake hatch. The moisture makes it harder for drakes to hatch and dry their wings out. Try to fish on dryer nights when there isn’t nasty weather coming through.

Drake hatches during the day time can happen. So be on the lookout for this. When the female spinners come back to lay eggs, it can often be during the day time. Always carry some drake patterns on you incase you see them during the day.

Other Drake Fishing Tips

Fishing into the darkness can be very productive. By just listening to the “gulps” of the trout, you can instinctively set your hook, and hopefully hook up with a fish. This can be challenging, but it does work.

If you have a raft or a drift boat, doing a night float can be very fun. You can cover lots of water and fish drake dry flies into the night. Just be sure that you are familiar with the water first. You don’t want to float a brand new section of river in the dark – it can be very dangerous! Bring headlamps and experienced friends. You want to have a good crew for a night float.

Stay focused on your flies. With all the mayhem of trout rising and drakes hatching everywhere, it is easy to get distracted. No matter how thick the hatch gets, always keep your eyes on your drake flies. This will improve your success on the water and allow you to catch more fish. This is why I recommend having a large Royal Wulff or extended drake as your first fly. It is easy to keep track of even when the light is fading.

Buy or tie more flies than you think you’ll need. There is nothing worse than running out of drake flies in the middle of a hatch! Stock up at your local fly shop so you can be more prepared. You’d be surprised how many drake flies you can lose during a hatch. Trout can break you off, you can get snagged in trees, etc. Having at least a dozen of each pattern will ensure that you don’t run out of flies at the wrong time.

Conclusion

Successfully fishing the green drake hatch can be incredible. It really isn’t that difficult, the hardest part is the timing. Go out for multiple nights until you hit it just right. Usually, one outing isn’t enough. You’ll want to dial in the hatch for a week or two until it stops. Since it only comes once a year, many trout anglers like to free up their schedules.

We are spoiled here in Colorado because we have some of the most prolific green drake hatches in the world. However, other western states have them as well. The green drake hatch is a true summer time tradition that every fly angler should experience.

The top rivers for the green drake hatch are the Roaring Fork and the Fryingpan. The Gunnison and the Lower Blue can have some good hatches as well. Hatch densities vary from year to year, with some years being much more productive than others.

If you find yourself in Colorado in late June, make it a priority to fish this hatch!