June 19th 2019 | H E X H A T C H ?
It's Wednesday, and the weekend is looming. Plans are forming, and reforming, by the hour. Strategizing for the hex hatch can be stressful. Seems like everyone scrambles to form a plan designed to outwit everyone else. It can be an endless loop of pivotal decisions.
"Where are we going!? What stretch are we floating!? Are the bugs happening yet!? Are we too early?! What if we try downstream farther!? But are we gonna be too far downstream!? Should we be higher up!? Where will the crowds be!? AGGHHHH!!"
"Why don’t we go way upstream, to the headwaters, and hope for a hatch up there!? Maybe the hatch is about to burst in that section, and nobody knows about it! Nobody will be up there! We could hit it perfect!"
"Hold on, what if there are other people thinking the exact same thing!?What if we get up there, and we encounter 10 parked empty trailers!? Maybe we stick to the plan, go with what we know, and hope for the best?" etc etc
This "planning" can be tiresome, but fun. Tilting the odds in your favor with timing, location, and prediction can be thrilling, especially when it pays off.
Since the water has been very high this year, and the overnight temps have been quite low, trying to "hit it right" can be futile. Plus you have the fact that the water has been nearly a foot above average for 3 months now, allowing the trout to gorge themselves on nymphs and worms. Once those nymphs and worms start drifting in huge numbers, trout want very little to do with a measly little Cahill floating overhead. The dry fly program has been relatively quiet this year, compared to most seasons.
Streamers might sound like a viable option, and very likely could be. But this prolonged high water has really given us trout fishermen a true test of spirit. It may not look it from the surface, but if you can get a glimpse into the water, when the lighting is right, it is astounding how much food is flowing through that turbid water. Nymphs are dislodged, displaced, and adrift, which are easy meals for small and big trout alike. Imagine being a big brown trout, living in a tiny undercut bank. High, dirty water all of April, May, and now June is ideal; the prime maturation months for most of the large insects. Imagine sitting down there, with all those colossal nymphs simply drifting by, barely able to swim, and all you have to do is lean your head in, sip, and collect the morsels as they drift by. You couldn’t ask for an easier existence. Not to mention all the worms, scuds, and crayfish that are jostled off the grass and banks, hopelessly floating downstream. And all the confused minnows and baitfish that are trying to spawn or migrate. It’s a veritable smorgasbord, but we just can’t see any of it happening on the surface.
That seems to be the main problem we have been faced with this spring thus far. Pair that with repeated cold nights, it doesn’t setup very well for the dry fly angler. Can’t tell you how many stories we’ve heard lately, of a “blanket hatch” with no fish rising. And we’ve all heard the anecdotes and stories saying “oh, if there are enough bugs on the surface, the fish can’t ignore that amount of biomass” etc etc. Clearly, that's not always the case.
Whether you agree with it or not, the fish are full. Period. Just like every single other living organism on earth, trout can engorge themselves, and become “full.” A large trout has the stomach roughly the same size as a bratwurst. It has a capacity. It can fill up with food. When this happens, their desperation is lessened, and they simply lie on the bottom, dormant, digesting, half asleep, like we Americans do regularly.
Keep in mind, this is not a gloom and doom report, and this weekend could be epic. But damn, the consensus at the shop has been unanimous. Things are tough. We firmly believe it’s due to the prolonged high water. But thankfully, the hex are hitting their calendar due date, and are within days of erupting, if not already.
The Hex are a bit different than your ordinary mayfly. They are enormous. Colossal. Dinosauric. They are big enough to draw out the biggest fish from their deepest lairs, and often puts them into a hypnotic feeding trance. Year after year, the biggest brown trout are caught on the hex. And the reasoning is simple; the fish are finally exposed.
In Michigan, (unlike the Rockies), we are essentially fishing in a sandy swamp, with a little current running through the middle. Naturally, the banks soften over time, and the trees will slowly lean downward into the water over the decades. Repeat this process for hundreds of years, and you end up with a sandy, woody environment that is perfect habitat for giant trout. The problem, though, is it provides infinite cover for lazy brown trout. They spend days upon days, hiding in these logs, not needing to go far for a meal. Western rivers are usually broad, open, rocky escarpments with little to no wood for concealment, allowing anglers to present flies to them day after day. Here, they are burrowed so deeply in cover, that many times they can't even see your streamer, nymph, or dry fly.
The hex flies are about the only thing that will draw them out of these woodpiles. Other than spawning, they simply cannot ignore the abundance of food drifting past their dwelling, and are essentially forced from their lair. On a trouts scale, a singular hex fly must be similar to the size of a cocktail shrimp to us. Compare that to a measly caddis or sulpher, which equates to a something like a single grain of rice. Not worth the effort (usually).
There are times during a heavy hex hatch, where literally every single trout within your midst, is feeding. Every. Single. One.
The 8 inchers up to the 28 inchers. It’s my belief that once the small ones start feeding mid-channel, it acts as a beacon, signaling the bigger fish there are bugs hatching. Once those little fish start slashing at hex, it is like a dinner bell for those bigger trout. It's a rare occurrence when those top caliber fish are out of their logjams, feeding in a rhythm, right in front of you.
This week looks fairly dry, with no huge amounts of rainfall. Daytime temps are “normal,” with no drastic dips foreseen. The overnight temps are forecasted to be low, but at a certain point, these flies have to hatch. There is rain predicted for Saturday and Sunday all day, which is a bummer because this usually keeps the flies roosted in the trees, but doesn’t sway the nymphs from hatching. So it could be good, and likely will be a solid weekend.
Overall, we get the sense that the brown drakes and ISO’s have started in most areas, and hexes are just about to burst. The calendar is right, but the conditions seem to be inhibiting it slightly. To be honest, we can’t say with any certainty when or where it will happen. Our only advice is to go, and hope for the best.
There is no other adrenaline rush in Michigan that compares to the sound of that first good rise from a giant brown trout in your hex spot. When you post up in a likely bend, and the small trout start feeding all around you in the dark, then you hear that first giant gulp, it will make your blood run cold. Some of the most terrifying/exhilarating moments of my life have occurred while slowly getting into position across from a giant trout, slowly sipping hex spinners. When you dangle that fly over it’s head, slowly following the drift down, and see a giant water ring form in the moonlight, your mind stops briefly. It’s a weird blackout moment that a lot of anglers try to describe. A paralyzing moment that is sort of overstimulating. But when you lift that rod and feel the heavy weight of that fish, it’s truly remarkable.
Now for our shameless plugs for gear that is vital for summer weekends spent up north chasing trout and hatches...
Keep your brew cold and close with the River Rat Coozy
Dry your fly out with Loon Top Ride
Keep it riding high with Fly Spritz
Deliver the bug with the Amplitude MPX
Or the glow line MAGNUM GLOW
Good pair of nips is crucial. Flow Nippers from Orvis are legit.
Favorite net, the Nomad Emerger Net. Perfect size for wade anglers.
Keep the bad bugs at bay with the Simms BugStopper lineup
Thanks for the support lately, things have been really busy in both shops. We appreciate the business. Feel free to call us with any questions. Good luck out there! -Erich