from Deanna Travis

July 20, 2009

Hatchless in Montana

Being in Montana, the heart of America’s premier fly fishing country brings up lots of things which normally wouldn’t be on my mind out in the great northwest – unless we were preparing to head off for Rocky Ford Creek or some other place which has actual hatches of insects.  We don’t have much of that in the Pacific Ocean which I can see from my front door.

So what happened?  Last evening my husband, Trav, and I planned to spend a little time on De Puys’s Spring Creek. There should have been some bug activity, primarily a spinner fall of mayflies which hatched earlier that day.

ladyfisher on DePuy's Spring creek
LadyFisher on DePuy’s Spring Creek

So we drove out to the ‘creek’ watching for insects in the air on the way in.  There was numerous caddis in the air, in some places they were so thick they looked like a tornado cone hovering over a bush or tree. This was really looking good. We geared up and walked to a spot we had checked out earlier when we were taking some photos. As thick as the caddis were, the little blood suckers called mosquitoes were just as thick. Fortunately I still have some Ultrathon in the tube and it actually works, but unless you can figure out a way to apply it to the inside of your mouth you will be eating the bugs too. Except for the blood thirst mosquitoes it was a pretty quiet walk.

We were watching the water carefully for any rises, and not much was happening. We felt a cold draft, as if someone had opened the freezer door.  The wind had changed and the cold air was coming down the mountain. Bad news.

Just as if someone had pulled the curtain or announced the show was over, the bugs were gone.
Even the blood suckers were gone. Looking for a rise? Forget that, the trout sure weren’t coming to the surface either. There wasn’t anything for them to eat.

If there had been any insects on the water, there probably would have been an hour or maybe two of fishing available before it was too dark to see your fly. Really prime fishing time IF you had the bugs, (or the right flies.).

Trav’s nephew Tom drove down when he saw Trav’s car. He had been guiding on Armstrong’s spring creek, which is adjacent to DePuy’s, and had an entirely different experience. They had a spinner fall and caught rising fish. Eventually the cold air hit them as well and their fishing was over, but the big difference was they had bugs and caught fish.

So what does one do when the bugs suddenly quit – or don’t materialize at all?

If you have already spent a successful day fishing you can do what most of the visiting fly fishers do here. They head into town for a good meal. You can see the cars and drift boats at the better restaurants by four thirty in the afternoon.

But that doesn’t answer the question. For me last night, we stood around and visited with Tom for a while and put the gear away and headed home. I wanted to fish a dry fly, and obviously that was my choice. Oops. Actually I did make a few casts, but not to anything rising. 

The answer is the fish have to eat. They also conserve energy, they aren’t going to chase all over the stream to find a tiny bug or two and call it dinner. If there aren’t enough – or any insects on the water’s surface to have them looking up and eating those insects, they will eat what is available. Nymphs.

ladyfisher trying to pound up a trout
LadyFisher trying to pound up a trout

If you aren’t willing to fish what the fish are eating you can hardly complain that the fish weren’t biting. They have to eat to live, and trust me they ARE eating. Our problem as fly fishers is we are unwilling to learn what the fish eat, when they eat it, or carry the proper imitations to cover the possibility food types that we may have to use when they aren’t going to cooperate with our desires.

Midsummer hatches do come off, but they are not as dependable as the magazines would like you to believe. Learn how to cope to improve your catching.


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