On the Fly column: Birds, bats and pesky fly-fishers

Scott Spooner
On the Fly

A Fryingpan River ouzel, or dipper, looks for a meal.
Dale G Armstrong

I often wonder who eats more bugs as I sit on the banks of our rivers. The fish or birds and bats? The ouzels here in the Roaring Fork Valley are as fat as little Santas, and watching the swallows pick off caddis and drakes on the surface with their silent, graceful flight is always a sight to behold. Hummingbirds do their share of damage with midges in the mornings, too. Just like ocean fishing, all fly-fishers here take their cues from bird pandemonium over the water during a solid hatch.

While waiting for the green drake hatch to commence here in Basalt recently, I started to wonder if the fish take their cue from the birds and bats on this particular hatch. More interestingly, the green drakes really started to pop when I noticed fewer and fewer swallows, and more bats entering the picture. Anyone who has spent real time on the water has had a bat or swallow grab their fly right out of the air, and sometimes right off the water’s surface.

Eagles and herons do their share of river hunting out there, too. We have all caught fish here and there with scars on their backs, usually from a narrow escape with a bald eagle or the like. A few years back I saw a bald eagle pull a kamikaze move right downstream of me, taking out a nice trout with a dive bomb move right out of a movie. The eagle went all the way into the river, and emerged with a surprised 18-inch rainbow in its clutches.

This year seemed to bring us more robins than usual, and it is always interesting watching them browse through on-stream brush, snacking on the occasional stonefly or caddis. I’m pretty sure we have year-round resident robins, but there sure are a lot of them this year. The good thing is that there is room out there for everyone, whether you’re a bat, ouzel, hummingbird or even a fly-fisher.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or