Matchin’ That Hatch

May 30: In the long meadow pool of the Allegheny, rainbow trout were rising to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe surface but it took a while to figure out that it wasn’t mayflies or caddis they were feeding on, but midges. Tiny black midges. Of all the famous and diverse insects that potentially hatch from these rivers at the end of May, trout were locked on something my eyes could barely see… I caught some high-jumpers, finally, and missed a possible 18-incher, on a dry fly about the size of a consonant, a letter, ending this sentence on the post.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMay 31: The morning trout were rising on the Kettle, and again I struggled to decipher the hatch that raised them. Midges again, damnit. But thankfully, the overcast conditions soon delivered the larger Blue-winged Olives. I quickly replaced a #22 Midge with a “normal” imitation and had some fun. I got plenty of refusals, but I caught a few browns and even a wild brookie at a beautiful bend pool.

I was stormed out of my hopes to climb a feeder stream to Kettle. Trout were taking the olive mayfly on the faster water, but I never saw much of the anticipated Sulphurs or Green Drakes. To this point in time, the rivertops had seen a lot of caddis activity but the mayflies had been spotty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

June 1: Chill and showery, great for fishing. Blue-winged Olives (BWO) and Sulphur mayflies hatched in the mist of the upper Genesee. Rising trout were interested in a relatively large BWO, a barbless #14 hook.

Brooks and browns and rainbow trout slashed at the surface of a big pool on the West Branch. Powerful trout unraveled at least two flies before the Olives settled down and the Drakes finally appeared.

The fishing was fast and furious for a while but, oddly, by the time the Green Drake OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsurfaced and sailed off slowly in the rain, the feed was pretty much over. Either the trout had glutted themselves, or the tight line commotion had sent a warning about some madman in the water!

June 6: The sun shone brightly on upper Kettle. Insects, for the most part, were slumbering. I saw a couple of Drakes, and that was it, but the trout rose for an imitation nonetheless. It was fun to hook up with the hatchery browns and rainbows, and a lot of small wild brooks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI left the main stem and fished two tributaries, one of which took me into wild country– a small feeder stream with brookies and no sign of civilization whatsoever. It was what the Doctor of Beyond prescribed for mental health.

Playin’ the hatch is what serious fly-flingers do from time to time. Here in rivertop country that’s especially true at this time of year when any number of caddis, stonefly or mayfly hatches can occur on a daily basis. Sometimes trout become very selective in their feeding habits, so on these occasions the angler would do well to match the given hatch in color, size and profile.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJune 7: I was back on one of my favorite trout streams. What a difference an early morning makes. The bugs (non-biters) were everywhere– emergers, duns, and spinners– and the trout were feeding mainly on the Blue-winged Olive that the Kettle is renowned for on June mornings.

The weather couldn’t have been more comfortable or bright. Hooked rainbows leapt above the water. At the Ledge Pool, well upstream from the special regs area where most of the fly-fishers congregated, healthy browns fed quietly at the surface.

There was sweetness in the air, perhaps from the resins of hemlock or pine, or from the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAblooms of various wildflowers, reminding me of Rocky Mountain summer streams. A male scarlet tanager sang its hoarse robin-like song from high in a creekside maple.

I quit after landing trout 18. I’d seen a mix of larger-than-average stockers and wild brookies. It was the kind of day I dreamed about last February. It was match-the-hatch, catch-and-release fishing that the non-angler or the bait-fisher might construe as rarified or even elitist, but wait, there’s more….

I sympathized with several worm-casters I spoke with. They had seen their hour in the sun. For the most part, trout ignored their offerings now that flies had become top items for the daytime feed. These were guys who claimed to release a big portion of their trout but admitted that a swallowed hook killed fish. I reminded them that fly-fishing would extend their season if they liked it, but I came off sounding lame.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t like to be so involved with trout behavior that I seem as fussy as selective browns. I don’t want to miss out on the other stuff. You know, the mourning warbler chatting in the understory; the monarch sipping at water’s edge; the black bear keeping an eye on the angler’s trout….

To keep myself balanced today, I sang to myself– a gutsy rock ‘n’ roll lyric or some improvised jazz. To function as my own audience is schizophrenic, I suppose, but at least I wasn’t lonely.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI sang to “Crawfish,” by the great Roger Chapman, former Family guy, with the Streetwalkers (1975): Ah well I went to the Bayou late last night/ There was an old moon and the stars were bright/ I put a big long hook on a big long pole/ And I pulled Mr. Crawfish outta his hole…

Gritty, downhome, bayou times…

Matchin’ that hatch with crawdaddy soul.


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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18 Responses to Matchin’ That Hatch

  1. Les Kish says:

    Just love “playin the hatch”. Isn’t it nice when the fish play too?

  2. Love it, Les. Yes, yes. With thanks!

  3. Brent says:

    Ahhh, summertime, when ye olde trout bums get to spend more time in their natural habitats, at least until the water warms up. I assume you’ve been having good rain and slightly chillier weather the last week, which has to help.

    • Summertime… and the livin’ is easier for the trout bum, IF… it doesn’t get too hot and the water holds cool enough. We’ve had mixed weather, chillier than usual with some rain (not enough) and sun, which has been nice. More rain promised, but we’ll see. Hope it doesn’t get too hot down there in your tropics!

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    The Streetwalkers – nice! Liked the lap steel solo, and the hecklers at the beginning was a nice touch, too. The hatch matching here has been a little slow. The tan caddis has started on the Allegheny, though the fish have been slow to respond. No worries though, I’ll keep plugging’ away at it.

    • Glad you liked the slice of Streetwalkers there, Bob. John and Roger came straight from Family and, in my opinion, Red Card is the strongest album by the later group. I’m not famililar with the tan caddis hatch on the Allegheny– I mostly stop fishing the river about this time of year (till fall, once more, though I do make exceptions). I know the tan hatch from Pine Creek, though it tends to come off there in early May. I’m hoping you find some good mayfly hatches. For me, they’ve been pretty sparse until just this past week.

  5. Sounds like a great day to me. We’re all anxiously awaiting the willow flies down here to start dropping. That’s when the bluegill will hit anything that hits the top of the water.

    • Willow flies sound interesting. By dropping, I presume you mean that they are laying eggs (?). If they make the bluegills crazy, fishing must be lots of fun (especially with a light fly rod!). Thanks Jim.

  6. plaidcamper says:

    I love reading these pieces, particularly enjoy the wry humour that flows through…I don’t fly-fish, but that may have to change. Wonderful photographs to go with the writing.

    • Thank you, Mr. Plaid. Sure love having you aboard as a reader, and as one who digs the great outdoors. Fly-fishing isn’t for everyone (thank god) but I think you’d be an excellent candidate for trying and enjoying. I find that it’s a wonderful way to study and appreciate our natural wonders.

  7. Mark W says:

    This is a wonderful time of year. Love the shot of the Dame’s Rocket and the reel (Orvis Battenkill?)

    • It felt natural putting rod and reel down by the Dame’s Rocket, which I always like to bump into. The reel is a Scientic Anglers System 6 by Hardy Brothers, a go-to with my 5-weight line. Thank you, Mark.

  8. Walt
    What a rewarding feeling when the hatch matches on any stream. That June 7th trout stream, your favorite is a beautiful piece of water. Midges have to be one of my all time favorite patterns to fish for trout; using only the indicator as my surface fly.
    By the way what is the brand fly rod pictured in the post. Great post!

    • Matching the hatch and having the trout play along is rewarding, for sure, Bill. It felt especially so on this stream which has a great mix of hatchery and wild trout, with the latter holding their own pretty well. Midges are a challenge for me, especially because they require such a tiny hook, but I like to fish them on the spring streams in winter, when it’s about the only thing that hatches. At this time of the year I much prefer the larger fly. But yes, if that’s all the trout are rising to, I’ll take them! As for the rods here, I used a 7-foot Riffle cane (4-wt.), and an 8-foot T&T Classic for a 5. Thanks again, Bill.

  9. Midges are a challenge to me also. But there is nothing like hooking up with a fish when you’ve successfully figured out the puzzle.

    • Nothing quite like it, Howard. Maybe it’s like getting a small pay-off at the lottery, I don’t know, but it certainly reinforces the game. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. Gramps says:

    Midges are very popular on our streams in Northern Colorado. I can’t see them well enough to fish them, so I don’t. However, I do know that trout love to feed on them and they need to eat a bunch of them to get full. So the odds are in favor of someone who has the skill and eyesight to hang in there with them. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Walt….

    • Midges aren’t much fun to fish (the way I see it when I can’t really see ’em at all) unless they’re the only bug in town and the one the fish seem to want. Like in wintertime. After that, I’m thankful that the larger offerings are hatching. Midge fishing, for me, is sight fishing. See the trout, offer a midge somewhere nearby, see the trout move, set the hook. Yeah it helps to have good glasses, as you know Gramps! Thanks, and have fun fishing.

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