On a recent fly fishing trip I was reminded of how important it is to be able to find out what is hatching and mimic it as close as possible. I know some people must be thinking that it is impossible to carry multiple colors and sizes of flies for every situation but that is not what I am talking about. In most cases fly anglers have what is necessary to catch fish in their boxes but just never really figure out what is driving the fish to the surface.
To explain what I am talking about let's take a look at the fishing trip I cited in the opening line of this piece. A few weeks ago out in eastern Montana I hiked to fish a small secluded lake for the opportunity to catch a few grayling and rainbows. When I arrived at the shores of this pristine body of water I was greeted by numerous fish flying through the air splashing candidly as they fed. I could barley control myself enough get my waders on before starting to strip line in order to cast to rising fish.
This should have been a piece of cake. I could see damsel flies above the water and the fish were obviously chasing these critters, but boy was I wrong. After repeated casts and fly changes, I was left fishless and frustrated. This is a situation that I think a lot of fishermen have found themselves in. You are able to visually see fish feeding and a potential food source on the water but just can't get the fish to take your offering.
At this point anglers need to take a step back and become a good detective. What is obvious is not always what the real picture is. In my particular case I spent a few minutes walking around the shore and in the shallows and was able to get a better idea of what was going on. Although there were damselflies everywhere there was also few small Callibaetis spinners laying spent on the water's surface. After a quick change to a brown Callibaetis pattern we were catching fish the rest of the afternoon. Hatches of different insects can occur together and for the most part will do so in dry or cold climates where the summer window for these events is small. Make sure you are taking to the time to properly identify what is on the water not just what you see flying in the air. Turning over rocks, stream sampling or checking the shoreline will give you clues as to what is in the area and what has been hatching recently.
Another good point to remember when fishing a hatch is to be patient! You will see fish rising all over but stick to a general area where you have seen fish feeding. Chasing every fish you see won't do you any good. Get your fly where you last saw the fish and leave it be. You have to give fish a chance to see your fly and mount an attack. In some case this will take a few seconds in others it could take a few minutes but you always have better odds at catching a fish if you fly is on the water rather than in the air.
Hatches are amazing events and when you hit things right the fishing will be incredible, get it wrong and you can be guaranteed not to get a bite. Matching the hatch is not always as easy as it seems but if you take the time to figure out what the fish truly are targeting you won't regret the results