Fly fishermen commonly hear the phrase, “match the hatch”. The first step is easy. It simply means to match the fly on the end of the line with the insects that the trout are eating. The second step can be a tad bit more difficult. “The hatch” refers to a stage of life the aquatic insects are going through that make them vulnerable to being eaten by fish.
Hatches occur in streams when the water temperature and amount of sunlight is just perfect for the aquatic insect to “hatch”. Predicting a hatch is guesswork at best. It is like trying to predict the first snow or the exact day the daffodils will bloom. There is nothing like showing up on a creek expecting the great mayfly hatch of April—according to the chart you bought at the local fly shop, the hatch should occur during the mid-morning hours of 11a.m. through 2 p.m.—to find a creek with no bugs flying around and no trout rising.
Fly selection can be overwhelming. There are fly patterns to mimic just about everything possibly found in, on, or near a stream. Some have bug names, some are named after people, and some just have made up names.
In order to catch fish, we need flies that trout will bite. Flies can be tied to be exact replicas of insects during a specific time in their lifecycle. They vary in size, color, and body formations and are used in specific conditions when a specific hatch is occurring. A better approach is to have a fly box filled with general patterns that work well in most situations. Break your box down into three categories; Dry flies, nymphs, and streamers. Choose attractor patterns that look like a bunch of things that are found in trout waters not a specific bug.
Dry flies like Royal Wulff, Royal Trudes, Stimulators, Caddis, Parachute Adams, and terrestrial insect patterns like ants and grasshoppers are a great start to a good fly box. Nymphs such as Bead-Headed Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears, Brassies, Prince Nymphs and Zug Bugs have always worked well and will continue to. Streamers are mostly general patterns and attractors anyhow, so selecting general patterns is a little easier. The most common is the Woolly Bugger, a great go-to fly when things are tough on the stream.
Choose a few colors and sizes of each fly pattern and you are ready to fish anywhere in the world.
Arriving at the Creek
A great lesson I learned from a master fly fisherman was to slow down. Upon arriving at the creek, don’t just jump in the water and start fishing with a fly that you think will catch fish. First off, determine if anything is happening in or on the water that might clue you into what the trout are doing. Are there bugs flying around and if so are the trout responding to them? Often times you will see a trout flash under the water after something or perhaps rising to slurp down a bug off the surface. Chances are after five minutes of watching you can determine a strategy.
If you see nothing at all, don’t pack it up and head to the pay pond. If there are trout in the creek, you can catch them. Fishing a hatch is like squirrel hunting when the squirrels are barking. It is fun to walk into the woods and hear them bark and instantly know where the squirrels are. But just because they are not barking doesn’t mean the woods are empty of squirrels.
The Odds Game
By choosing attractors or general patterns of flies, you have already increased your odds of catching a trout on a fly rod. Fishing for trout on a creek where there is currently nothing hatching is not a deal breaker. In fact, it is a great time to experiment and hone your skills. By playing the odds game with common flies and fishing multiple depths, it can be just as much fun and even more productive. To heck with the hatch charts, let’s go fishing and bring back dinner.