You can hit the major rivers at prime time, or you can find your own game to play, on a mostly deserted field.
by Dave Hughes
I know folks who wouldn’t dream of taking a trip to fish a famous river without first researching to see which famous insect was scheduled to hatch at what famous moment, then calling ahead to make sure it was emerging on schedule.
Only on reception of the perfect news do they then make their dash, pause to tie or buy the hot flies to match the hatch, and complete their rush to the river. There, not surprisingly, they join a crowd operating on the same set of widely broadcast information. The internet, bless its tell-all heart, has exacerbated the situation, which is to say, it has increased those condensations of anglers on famous rivers during well-known hatches.
This focus on gathering solid and reliable information serves a couple of useful purposes, though they cut in opposite directions. First, it provides some assurance that fishing will be good when the recipient of the news reaches the river: few well-informed anglers will mistime the hatch, trot home disappointed. Second, it compacts anglers onto a defined stretch of water and into a relatively narrow time frame where and when the hatch is known to be best. Anglers who did their due diligence gather on a single piece of water, during a short stretch of time. All the waters surrounding the famous one will be relatively abandoned. And, before and after the peak of a renowned hatch, the famous river may be free from overcrowding.
Researching a hatch to exhaustion, and booking to be in the single best place at the precise right moment, is one kind of adventure. There is another.
It can be wiser to prepare in a fundamental way for whatever hatch you might meet, wherever and whenever you might meet it, than simply go fishing when you get a chance: see what you find hatching when you get to the river, or to the lake if that’s your preference. Such broad preparation leads to a different, and to many a much more rewarding, type of adventure.
As a mild example, entomologist Rick Hafele and I got caught in a rainstorm during our travels home from Montana while doing the research for what became Western Mayfly Hatches. We sat on a sloped bank above Idaho’s upper Lochsa River, nibbling at sandwiches, hoods of
our slickers drawn over our heads. It was not accidental that we wore waders and had strung rods within reach. But we had no plans to meet any specific hatch. Those rods were rigged with nymphs, because that’s what the gloomy conditions predicted would work. We’d already done well enough with them to be happy.
We neared the end of lunch, and the rain neared the end of our drenching, when Rick noticed that a flock of swallows had emerged from nowhere, and darted and danced right above the river. I’ve usually got a light pair of binoculars dangling around my neck. I raised them and began to scan the surface above which the swallows worked. Rises so dainty that they were almost invisible dimpled the water. I handed the binoculars to Rick, said, “I have to wonder how long that’s been going on while we sat here eating these soggy sandwiches.”
A bunch of tiny blue-winged olive duns, size 20 at their largest, showed up in Rick’s collecting net when he suspended it in the currents. We fumbled off all the trinkets involved in the nymphing for which we were rigged, replaced it all with three feet of 6X tippet, tied on size 20 BWO imitations, got busy catching trout.