Start fly fishing and you’re sure to hear talk of “matching the hatch” constantly, whether you’re in a fly shop, on the river or just cruising around on Facebook. The concept is simple enough, making your fly choice to what’s in the river, but how do you actually do that? It all comes down to knowing what the first are eating, not just what kind of bugs are around, that takes “matching the hatch” from a concept to a fish-catching tactic.
Do A Little Digging
As soon as you get to the river there are two things that must be done before you start fishing. The first is probably the hardest, since all an angler wants is to start fishing. Before you make a cast though, you have to sit down and watch. Just watch. Soon enough you’re likely to see a pattern emerging if the water is clear enough for you to spot fish. You’ll see fish rising to bugs on the surface, maybe you’ll see fish slashing at bugs in the middle of the water column, or maybe it’ll look like fish are barely feeding, which means they’re likely feeding on nymphs close to the bottom.
If you can’t spot any fish or they seem to be feeding lower in the water column, then it’s time to start digging. While you may be able to catch a flying bug with your hands like in an old karate movie, you’re not likely to be able to spot the nymphs that are floating by deep in the water column. Instead of guessing, start digging around at the bank and flipping over rocks. You’re likely to find a few bugs clinging to the base or underside of the rock, which you can imitate on your next drift.
Start With Size, Not Species
It’s really hard to get the exact imitation that the bugs are feeding on, and while it’s possible, it’s much better to have flies that will replicate a few different species of bugs, rather than having one fly for every bug that flies or swims. If you’ve identified some of the bugs that are in the river, whether you can indentify them by common name, scientific name or just, “it’s a little black bug,” you have enough information to tie on the fly that you need.
Start out with a bug the same size as what you think the fish are feeding on. When in doubt, a fly that is smaller is more likely to catch fish than a fly that is too big. If you aren’t catching fish, or you’re getting refusals, then use that rule and downsize your fly until you start catching. When it comes to color, try and replicate the general tones of the fly, but don’t worry if the bug you saw had a brown belly and slightly more reddish tint on it’s back–just throw something brown. Close enough.
Don’t Forget About Streamers
Yes, contrary to what every elitist or how to book may have preached, the same principle of matching the hatch can be applied to streamers. Trout, especially big trout, are looking for the biggest meal they can get their jaws around and a meaty streamer that looks exactly like a baitfish they’re willing to eat can trigger a strike. A really big, rip your arm out of the socket, shit-eating grin strike. Enjoy.