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Posts Tagged ‘hatch’

The other night was a rare opportunity in the realm of fly-fishing.  We were coming off of 3 days of stormy and windy weather and we got one of those bluebird evenings that come in the spring and make you pretty sure everything is right with the world.  There was virtually no wind, the sky was a color blue that would make a topaz self conscious, and it was in the mid 60’s.  This would be one of about 6 evenings like this all year here on the plains.  Naturally I was quite disappointed.  I had my rain coat already in the truck and I was ready for an entire evening of drippy droppy fishing.  The kind that gets you the water to yourself and the air full of hatching bugs.  Instead I was going to have this heavenly evening, which would ensure that the bug maternity ward would stand empty and that would fill my little spot with men on buckets flinging skewered worms to fish that weren’t interested.  So I did the only sensible thing that a person can do when they are disappointed…  I went fishing.  (See how I did that?  You like that?).

I left work late (no sense in hurrying on a day like this) and headed straight for the water.  The spot I was going to fish is about 5 miles on gravel off of the main road and is a nice 30 minute drive from work.  Just far enough to feel the tension leave and the thoughts of tasks unfinished settle into the spot in your brain they go to hibernate until the fishing is over.  Just long enough to get into the present and begin to actually see the things around me and enjoy the sights and sounds.  To see the world as it is rather than to see through it.  The drive is perfect for me.  As I turned onto that little gravel road I was just settling into the more attentive state of mind and I noticed a particularly large quantity of bug guts accumulating on my windshield.  Now I may be the only person in South Dakota that gets excited about seeing his windshield caked in the unearthly concrete that is a bug’s inner juices.  Hell the stuff could be used to plug the leaking oil well in the gulf, but when I get those guts as I follow this little road along the river I know that there is a fair chance that the bugs are coming from the water… and that means a hatch.

The road approaches this spot by a slow accession up an almost imperceptible incline, followed by a crest and view of the entire river valley and a screaming ride down what we called as kids a “roller-coaster hill” to the bottom where the parking area is.  You know the hill, the kind that as kids you would put your hands up in the car like you were on a roller-coaster and drive your parents mad by screaming weeeeee all the way to the bottom or until your breathe gave out, which ever came first.  To this day I get a kick out of these hills and this one serves 2 purposes.  It is just damn fun, for one, and it gives me a view of all of the water that I will potentially be fish that evening.  I was shocked to see that I would be all alone.

When I parked and caught by breathe from screaming weeee for the last quarter mile; I hopped out and strung up.  The bugs were everywhere.  Apparently there were a couple of hatches going on simultaneously.  One of large golden mayflies and one of smaller caddis.  They were so thick that I was worried I would inhale them if I were to breathe carelessly.  It was shaping up to be an unbelievable evening.  A cross-over hatch of 2 different species of bugs without the required sopping wet hat and cold fingers.  I was thrilled.

I approached the stream at a plunge pool and looked down to see that things were even better than I had thought.  The surface of the water was covered in bugs and beneath the surface were thousands of minnows looking like tiny underwater bomber squadrons; all moving in formation.  This was unbelievable.  There were flies everywhere, for the panfish, mooneye, carp and bass, and there were minnows by the millions for the walleye, pike, gar and well… everything else, the weather was unbelievably gorgeous AND I had the water to myself.  This was reaching once in a lifetime/lightening striking/win the lottery proportions. I was so excited I nearly wet my pants.

I started the way I always do, by sitting on the bank, lighting a cigarette, and watching the water to see where the fish are.  I saw positively nothing.  Not one fish grab a bug, not a splash or push or flip or flop or flash.  Nothing.  Ok fine, so nothing was eating the bugs… surely something was eating the minnows.  I work every inch of that stream at all depths with a few different patterns and I didn’t get so much as one hit.  Nothing.  I fished until sundown and then drove home.  I wouldn’t say I was satisfied, but I wasn’t distraught either.  I had the comfort of knowing that I had picked the right place, the weather change had brought the bugs and I had fished well if not successfully.  Every part of the evening that I could control I did as well as I can at this point in my flyfishing education.  If the fish were not there, or were dead, or asleep or possessed or had all gone vegetarian as part of the liberal movement… well I couldn’t control that and there is not a damn thing I could do to change it.  If you get too worked up about the effects of things beyond your command as a fly-fisherman, you are liable to go bonkers.  You have to understand that sometimes even the perfect situation can go sour for a reason you can’t affect or even detect.  It just is.

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Southeastern South Dakota, where I live, was having an unseasonably mild August.  By the middle of August the weather felt like the middle of a normal September.  Temperatures were warm all day with the evenings cooling off nicely.  The local flora and fauna were responding accordingly.  My five year old daughter and I had decided to do some fishing on a Saturday afternoon.  My daughter loves to fish, and the night before had been like an invitation to catch.  The sky had been clear and warm all day on Friday and right as the sun started to relent, a nice low pressure system had rolled in; bringing a little drizzle and a mating swarm of mayflies that, if they had teamed up, could have grabbed you by the shoulders and carried you away.  These things were gigantic, an inch or longer in the body, and were so numerous that your car would get covered with them at the nearby gas station when you stopped to pump.  I had never seen a spinner fall like this before and I had fished it alone and hard.  Fish were rising to these bugs and I caught many large ones.  The particular species that were partaking in the buggy feast are locally known as mooneyes.  Don’t feel bad, even with 20 years of fishing these waters I proclaimed, “Holy shit, I caught a piranha!’ when I landed my first one that day.  A google search when I got home revealed the real species.  These are flat, silver fish, with oddly upturned, toothy mouths and large scales.  The largest one I caught was nearly as big around as my net.  5215_1028855537454_1707303459_58241_7479688_n Anyway, I wanted my daughter to participate in this fishing bonanza.  While she wouldn’t be able to dead drift a mayfly look-a-like to them, I had noticed that once the feeding frenzy was on; these fish were aggressively biting anything that appeared semi-foodlike.  A minnow on a bobber should be particularly effective.  So I spent the half hour drive to the stream teaching her about the lifecycle of mayflies and the ensuing fish feast that would inevitably follow.  We fished for a few hours and the mayflies refused to breed and die.  My daughter was completely out of patience.

If you have ever been fishing with a 5 year old, you know that it can be a daunting proposition.  They want to catch fish, the bigger the better, just like any of us.  However, they would rather not wait for these fish to show up.  So you are left with a quandary.  Do you try to put them into some small bluegills, so they can catch many small fish quickly and eventually get bored with that and want to go home.  Or do you try to get them into bigger fish and run the risk of them not catching anything for a while and getting bored and wanting to go home?  The trick, in my opinion is twofold.  First, you embrace the experience for what it is; time in nature with your child and don’t be afraid to reel in and go look at the cow-patties and explore for pretty rocks.  It is the 5 year old equivalent to me sitting on the edge of a stream thinking about how buddha was right when he said life is like a river.  The inherent value in recognizing how truly unimportant our responsibilities can be and going to explore something new.  Secondly, and more practically, fish for the little ones without excluding the possibility of a wallhanger.

My daughter and I had been fishing on a prior occasion and she was catching bluegills as fast as I could get them off the hook and a new worm on it.  I had purchased a couple dozen crawlers for this particular fishing trip and we were going through them so fast it looked like we were going to run out.  I didn’t get to fish that day; I was too busy baiting her hook and taking her fish off. Despite the impending nightcrawler shortage I continued to put full, large worms on her hook and direct her to cast to the outside of the pingpong table sized area where the bluegills were hanging.  I thought there was a chance, with a nice looking worm and by being on the outskirts of the fishy circle, that we might pick up a big cruiser.  Sure enough, her bobber vanished and she fought with everything she had, nearly losing her pole in the process and, after screaming at me that this was her fish and to not help, she drug it on shore. She had landed a 19 inch walleye.  That is a fish that is nearly half as big as her.  She still talks about landing that beast and holding him and then letting him go.  The only thing bigger than that fish she caught that day was her smile.

Having the opportunity to share what you have learned about where the fish are and when, can be a very rewarding use of your fishing knowledge.  My mother and I had agreed to meet on dreary day at a spot near her house.  I got there about 15 minutes before her, and strung up and hit the water.  There was a beautiful seam that was easily fishable from shore right were I approached the stream and I swung a white wooly bugger into it.  I cast 5 times before Mom appeared on the bank behind me and I had gotten 4 hits and caught a beautiful dark gold walleye.  I was so excited that I immediately put Mom right where I was standing, pointed out the seam to her and suggested a lure (mom is a spin fisherperson) to her.  I then left to find myself a new spot.  Mom caught a couple very nice fish in that spot, including a chunky 17  incher.  I, on the other hand, didn’t get a hit for the rest of the evening.  I would say I got skunked, but the next morning she called me and thanked for the experience.  It seems she hadn’t caught a fish that size for a number of years.  I would call that a pretty good catch.

My mom is not the only other person in my family that fishes.  My Dad and my brother do also.  In fact, I recently went on a two day fishing excursion with my little brother.  Now this was not your average, everyday flyfishing trip.  My brother lives in Minneapolis proper and we were fishing in the city.  So there we were, a couple of guys in chest waders, fishing vests and hats, wondering the parks of Minneapolis.  It is a wonder we weren’t arrested.  After a full day and a half of looking for fish and only catching one small northern pike, we were close to calling it a weekend.  But lady luck had something more in store, for me at least.  As we were walking back slowly along a stream, my Brother spotted a nice little school of bluegills.  At this point it behooves me to point out that my Brother’s recent domestication and his career as an attorney have severely limited the time he spends on the water.  And in fairness, we were both pretty excited to see some fish after a good 18 hours of fishing with nothing to show for it.  Any way, he spotted the fish and immediately pointed them out to me by thrusting his 9 foot rod at them like a fencing sword.  That caused the fish to decide to move, obviously.  I chastised him appropriately and then asked him to again identify precisely where he had seen the fish.  And, with an absentmindedness befitting a wacky haired college professor, he repeated the rod thrust motion, completely spooking the school of fish.  When we finally located the school again, or more likely another school that hadn’t had our presence broadcast to them, I stepped back to give my brother a shot at fishing these fish.  He was so excited that you could visibly see it, and that doesn’t translate into effective flyfishing.  He managed to knot his line while trying to strip out to prepare for his cast.  He then took one step too many in approaching the bank and nearly fell into the water.  After getting his wits about him, he attempted to cast and managed to get the line wrapped about his body and his fly hooked in the tree behind him.  After we had utilized some moves reminiscent of a top to get him all ready to cast, he hooked his fly on the back of his vest in his backcast.  Needless to say, the fish had left the area long before he put a fly on the water and we came up empty.  But I did get a nice ab workout from laughing so hard at him that I thought I was going to wet my pants.

Anyway, my Daughter had lost all patience and was ready to call it a night.  I took my fly off and was winding up when she said, “Daddy, what does a Mayfly look like?”  I began to describe it to her again and she interrupted me, saying, “Does it look like that?” as she pointed to the water.  And the Spinner Fall was on.

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