This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

July 15th, 2002

Chasing the Hatch - or the Ultimate Frustration

I wonder how many gallons of gas, how many miles, days, months or years have been spent by fly anglers trying to hit the hatch. The Big Hatch.

It could be Hendricksons in the east or midwest (in fact we had friends from Pennsylvania who desperately tried to extend their Hendrickson hatch by driving to Michigan in hopes of hitting it again - or at all).

Not as wide spread, the Hex Hatch (Hexegenia lambata) is loved and hated at the same time. These big bugs, misnamed the Michigan Caddis, are a mayfly. They hatch at night from silt or mud sometime in June. Or July. It's not uncommon (since there are so many people trying to hit the hatch on weekends) to get home from work, grab a lunch, the thermos filled with coffee and drive a hundred miles - or more, in hopes of hitting the hatch. It can be an absolutely perfect day, everything looks good, drive to the Au Sable or Manistee, stake out a spot on the river and . . .the temperature drops twenty degrees - or it rains and the hatch doesn't come off. You can only make that after-work trek so many times unsuccessfully before it begins to wear thin. As I recall two weeks was about the limit. Two hundred miles a night round trip, with work the next day. If you just happened to hit it right? It got worse. People called in sick and slept in their cars to make sure they didn't miss it that night.

The Michigan anglers aren't any more crazy than others. There are those who make an annual trip to Henry's Fork of the Snake. People from all over the US and overseas. Possible are the Brown Drake, Gray Drake and Green Drake. I say possible because depending on the water levels, the amount of flood or run-off and scouring of the river bed, temperature and a multitude of other factors known only to God, you can have one, two or all three. The problem on Henry's is something called a "blanket hatch." So many insects hatching, in the air, on the water, emerging, spent - all at one time that your poor little imitation drake doesn't have a chance of being seen. Seen? Not by the fish - by you! Well, the fish probably won't find it either.

Worse is chasing the 'gulpers' on Hebgon Lake near West Yellowstone, Mt. This is getting both the hatch and the trout (not counting weather, wind and such) to coincide. The bugs are small, (size 18 Tricorythodes) The big fish come out to suck them up from the surface, noses out of the water, mouth open sucking the bugs in like a water-borne vacuum cleaner. The angler is either wading along the lee side of the lake, or in a boat or a personal floatation device. Check the wind direction. Spot the fish. Find the bugs. If you are in luck, the tricos will be in wind-rows on the lake. Guess which direction the fish is/was moving. Cast. Cast again. This one can last a month or so.

Then we have the various Stone flies. These are available mostly in the west, and include the Yellow or Golden Stone, the Skwala, and the famous Salmon Fly. I've not fished the Oregon rivers on their stone flies, but I understand they are day hatching. None of the stone flies actually hatch like we think of other hatches. The insects crawl out of the water and molt on land, usually branches of shrubs, trees or even under bridges. Once winged, they are off to mate and back to the river to lay their eggs. Big trout who normally are not seen in daylight show up. They are still sucking up spent flies at night, as well as patrolling the banks looking for the crawling insects which are still in the water. We're talking big fish here that will cover a couple of miles of river a night.

In Montana, fishing this hatch becomes an underground group with connections everywhere in the state. If the Salmon flies are starting to come off on the Madison, where? Tomorrow they will be coming off a few miles further downstream, depending on water temperature, rain, run-off, air temperature and probably phase of the moon. There are phone calls. Lots of phone calls. Varney Bridge last night you say? We managed to hit it a couple of times on the Yellowstone River around the 4th of July - which unfortunately in most years also marks the high-water stage on the Yellowstone. But you might get lucky.

What is all the madness of chasing the hatch about? This has to be more than an ancient hunter-gatherer thing. Is it about the challenge? Trying to figure all the variables and succeeding? Perhaps just wanting to be part of 'something?' There certainly isn't any guaranteed outcome on hatch chasing. Catching a huge brown trout is possible. It does happen. Usually on one of the big hatches - probably at night.

I must tell you as I write this I am smiling. Wandering around in the middle of the night on some trout stream may not be your idea of something neat to do, but if you've ever done it - successfully - you probably are smiling too.

Maybe that is what it is about - the pursuit of happiness. ~ LadyFisher

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