Careful what you wish for…

A Heavy Hendrickson hatch

I had been dying for a good hatch of mayflies, struggling with the fact that, while the weather said early spring, the rivers decidedly said no, it isn’t. I would walk along the river toward my chosen fishing spot for the day, saying a little fisherman’s prayer for a good hatch and rising trout. You do have to be careful about gathering all of that mojo along a nice trout river, because you can overdo it.

I had seen a few flies one day last week, right before the weather decided we needed some more winter days. I hadn’t been back since, trying to give the trout and the bugs a chance to acclimiate to the five to ten degree drop in water temperature. When I visited the other day it became very clear that the stream life had acclimated.

I saw a rise at a distance, then another in a different location, but the black clouds overhead made me think that those splashes might have been rain drops or sleet. I saw no flies on the water, but then one of those splashes repeated and I was certain it was a trout. I have not seen a hatch like the one that began to unfold in a decade or more. Red Quills and Hendricksons by the thousands came bobbing down the current for several hours. There were so many naturals on the water, all wiggling and fluttering as they tried to fly off, that I expected every trout in the river to be gorging, but that wasn’t the case.

Individual trout would rise from one to three times and then stop. If they were in casting range I covered them, and if they weren’t I simply looked for one closer. There was no point in moving toward a rise, as that trout would quit before I got within range. Those I did cover ignored every fly I put over them. There were simply far too many naturals to compete with. As the afternoon continued the flies in the drift would change a bit. As it got later, the smaller Red Quills seemed most abundant, and a few trout began to feed more steadily. The skies became darker and I cursed my dark sunglasses as I couldn’t track the somber winged flies I had in the correct size and pattern.

When my dry gets lost among the naturals I get a bit too quick on the trigger, particularly with the level of excitement a mega hatch creates, and that was my undoing on this day. Three good trout took my fly and my quick strike only pricked them. The most I got was the beginning of a strong pull from one of them, before the fly popped free.

I spent some time at the bench the next morning, tying two dozen flies in hope of a rematch. Plenty of lifelike CDC flies and some bright Trigger Point wings that I could spot amid a maze of insects. There were flies the next day, though the hatch was much more reserved. The trout stayed with their sporadic rises for the most part. I saw a nice bulge at distance and let the Thomas & Thomas have it’s head. The long reach cast laid that small Red Quill down perfectly a few feet upstream of the open water target. The bulge came and I tightened into a nice trout that tugged sluggishly a couple of times then turned and hit the afterburners. Gone!

No one ever likes to loose a really big fish, and we immediately question why. I got my answer when I lifted the end of the tippet from the water. The very end was shaved neatly to a point. My tippet caught a tooth when that big boy turned and cut it. I did find an acrobatic brownie that liked the fly I showed him after a bunch of casts. That trout cleared the water at least half a dozen times! I ended my day with a smile after all.

Walking out, I wistfully took stock of the events of the past 48 hours. I had witnessed one of the greatest hatches I had ever seen, the kind I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to see again. I had pitted my skills against tremendous odds and had another dose of the wonder and humility that this sport gives you sometimes. I had managed to figure out which fly had the best chance of tempting a big wild trout to take a chance amid a plethora of mayflies, so I’ve done some more tying to be fully prepared with enough of those for me and my friend.

I hope today brings another terriffic hatch for John’s benefit, though not one of the same magnitude as the hatch I witnessed. You can get wonder and humility all through the trout season, but it would be nice for the two of us to catch a couple of those big fellows this time!

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