Part 1 & 2: Fly Fishing Conservation is Healing Rivers with Scientific Research | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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Here is a raw summarization of the show transcription with Donnie Brenkendor titled, Fly Fishing Conservation is Healing Rivers with Scientific Research

Part 1: Fly Fishing Conservation is Healing Rivers with Scientific Research with Donnie Benkendorf

Let’s look at the vital interconnection of ecology, entomology, and fly fishing, as discussed in a recent episode of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast. Our host, Christian Bacasa, is joined by the distinguished Donny Benkendorf, a fresh PhD graduate from Utah State University and an incoming post-doc collaborator with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

An Insight into Aquatic Ecology

Donny is on a journey to delve deep into aquatic ecology. His work primarily involves conducting extensive surveys related to environmental data of streams and rivers across all 50 states. This engagement with the National Aquatic Resources Surveys team allows him to engage with macroinvertebrate data in the streams and rivers, providing a critical perspective on water quality.

A Glimpse into Water Quality Assessment

A fascinating aspect of Donny’s role involves exploring the richness of bug life in diverse aquatic ecosystems. This macroinvertebrate data is pivotal in performing bio assessments, which are critical in gauging water quality. Bio assessments offer an in-depth look into the ecological community within various sites, analyzing the presence or absence of specific species to understand the health of the stream or river.

Data Accessibility and Research

For those wanting to delve into this environmental richness, the data gathered is available on the EPA's website. It allows enthusiasts and researchers to access a plethora of information, enabling the exploration of different scenarios, environmental conditions, and a variety of macroinvertebrates inhabiting these water bodies.

Analyzing the Macroinvertebrate Community

The approach to deciphering the health of rivers involves a meticulous process, considering quantities and abundances of the macroinvertebrates collected. Every sample, a snapshot of the stream’s life, is taken to specialized bug labs where trained taxonomists identify and count them, aiding in estimating biomass and understanding the ecological dynamics.

The Holistic Approach to Ecology

The holistic perspective is accentuated by considering varying stream types, focusing on the presence of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. A variety in the number of these species is generally indicative of high water quality. However, it’s essential to understand the diversity within these orders, considering each species’ environmental tolerance.

The Predictive Modeling in Water Quality

The predictive models create a framework for understanding what species should ideally inhabit a stream in its unpolluted state. It paints a picture of the stream's possible healthy condition from decades ago. The differences between the predicted and observed species give insights into the stream’s current state, offering a glimpse into the potential impairments and changes in the water quality.

Varied Indicators for Water Quality

Donny emphasized that while certain species like mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies are generally known as indicators of high-quality water, there’s variation within these orders, with species exhibiting a broad spectrum of environmental tolerance. Some mayflies, for example, inhabit pristine, cold mountain streams, while others can thrive in warmer, somewhat polluted waters. Therefore, considering only these species as the primary indicators might not provide an entirely accurate assessment of water quality.

Tailoring the Assessment to Specific Ecosystems

Addressing Christian’s query about the significance of other aquatic life forms, like worms and terrestrial bugs, in water quality, Donny highlights that these, too, have an impact on the water quality and can serve as bioindicators. Each species within different orders has its own environmental tolerance, making it crucial to tailor the assessment strategies to the specific ecosystems and avoid generalized assumptions about water quality based on the presence of certain orders.


The riveting conversation between Christian and Donny Benkendorf uncovers the profound implications of aquatic entomology in assessing water quality. This intricate dance of macroinvertebrates in the water bodies across the United States serves as a living testament to the health of our streams and rivers. The availability of this data to the public ensures that research and curiosity in aquatic life and water quality continue to flourish. It's a journey into understanding the nuanced variations among species, the differences in environmental tolerance, and the necessity of maintaining a holistic approach to unravel the intricate tapestry of our aquatic ecosystems.

Listen to the Podcast Episode with Donny Benkendorf

Part 2: Fly Fishing Conservation is Healing Rivers with Scientific Research with Donnie Benkendorf

Insights into Aquatic Insects and Fly Fishing

In a recent episode of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast, speakers delved into aquatic insects and their correlation with fly fishing strategies, focusing on the nuances between insects in cold mountain streams and warm water scenarios, seasonality, and feeding habits. Below is an exhaustive summary of the insights shared in the podcast, exploring various aquatic insects and their impact on fly fishing techniques.

Aquatic Insects and their Habitats

The conversation initiated with a discussion on the prevalence of different insect species in varying water environments. The Giant Salmon Fly, or Terra Narcisse Californica, was brought up as a familiar species to many fly fishermen, known for its prevalence in cold mountain streams and larger rivers. This species was emphasized as an example of insects that inhabit areas with good water quality.

Seasonality and Location

A significant portion of the discussion revolved around the importance of seasonality and the localization of insects within the streams. The speakers acknowledged the effectiveness of aligning fishing locations with seasons, contingent on the prevalence of bugs. For instance, during certain seasons, the edges of the rivers might be more populated with bugs, attracting more fish, hence making it an optimal fishing location. Observations from the speakers underlined that insects like Terra Narcisse Californica are found in areas where decomposing leaves settle, as these leaves are their primary food source.

Life Cycle and Fishing Strategies

The life cycles of the insects have notable implications for fly fishing strategies. Using Terra Narcisse Californica as an example again, it was highlighted that this species has a multi-year life cycle, spending the majority of its life in water, maturing and getting larger over time, with only about one or two months spent as adults. The larvae, after emerging, lay their eggs and die, while the eggs develop over about three years. This long-term, cyclical presence of different sizes of Terra Narcisse in the water allows fishermen to utilize different size Nymphs throughout the year, even when hatches are happening.
Similarly, Janella Grandis, or the Western Green Drake, experiences a one-year life cycle, with hatching occurring around late spring or early summer. Knowledge of these life cycles is crucial for optimizing fly fishing strategies, as it allows fishermen to use different size patterns and change fishing techniques, like flipping rocks to locate insects, at different times to improve success rates.

Behavioral Patterns and Feeding Habits

The speakers also covered the intriguing behavioral drift of insects, which is when insects let themselves be swept away by the current. This behavior might be aimed at recolonizing new areas or finding better food and shelter, and during such phases, these insects become easy prey for fish. This behavior, along with external factors like heavy rain, leads to a variety of feeding scenarios, enhancing the availability of food for fish.
The conversation acknowledged that the hatches indeed offer a sort of "buffet" to the trout, where these insects become readily available, leading to more active and feeding trout. During this period, the trout seem to turn a switch, realizing the abundance of easy food, taking advantage of the increased availability of prey, leading to some of the most prolific hatching experiences.


The conversation in the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast revolved around the intertwined relationship between aquatic insects, their environments, life cycles, and behaviors, and how these factors influence fly fishing strategies. Understanding the prevalence and the intricate life cycles of insects like the Terra Narcisse Californica and the Janella Grandis can significantly enhance the fly fishing experience, allowing fishermen to optimize their approach in line with seasonal and behavioral patterns of the aquatic insects. These insights into the lives of aquatic insects not only offer a glimpse into the dynamic ecosystems existing within our waters but also empower anglers to leverage this knowledge for a more fruitful and enriched fishing experience. To read more about the conversation with Donny Benkendorf then check out the Part 3 & 4 artilcles.


 Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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