Technically, matching a hatch is a text book exercise in dry fly fishing logic. In actuality, however, there are times when it’s not so easy. Trying to match & fish a hatch can be one of the most confusing & frustrating things an angler can attempt. Most of the books I’ve read on the subject all say mostly the same things: you study the streams surface, identify the hatch or hatches that are occurring, & select a dry fly that closest resembles the bugs on the surface.
This sounds simple enough. Sometimes it is, but the angler will find themselves in situations where, try as they may, they aren’t catching any of the many rising fish around them. The first question is why. Well, there could be many reasons for this. Maybe they’ve miss-identified the hatch. Maybe the dry fly they chose isn’t a good enough match. Maybe the fish aren’t taking the hatching bugs the angler saw on the surface & instead are feeding on a different bug that has been hatching for the past few days. As you can see, there are a lot of variables.
The next question is what to do. Here are some thoughts on the subject that might help the angler succeed during a difficult hatch:
1.) The angler may be trying to match the bug with an exact imitation & might be slightly off the mark. For example, the fish might be eating a size #18 bug & the angler is using a size #16. Close, but no cigar. Also, the color of the angler’s imitation might be slightly off. It may look like the same color as the bugs on the water to you & me, but not to the trout looking at it from under the water. So maybe the angler could try a slightly different size or different color fly, if they have them.
2.) With so many naturals on the water, even if the angler has matched them perfectly, what are the odds of their fly being taken by a trout? One trick in this situation is to tie on a completely different, larger fly than the hatch entirely. The trout that wouldn’t take a size #16 because it wasn’t a #18 will not be so careful or critical of, say, a big & bushy #12 Wulff-style dry fly. Not only that, but because it’s so different than all the naturals around it on the surface, the big #12 might get more attention from the trout that see it.
3.) When the hatch began, it’s likely that the trout were taking the bugs as they were emerging to the surface. The fish were happily feeding away on these emergers before there were many adults on the surface. Most bugs struggle & fight as they emerge to the surface, making them an easy meal for trout. The angler can try changing over to an emerger pattern & fish it continuously through the hatch. The fish that see the emerger may very well opt for this easier meal, rather than the adult insects who are leaving the water’s surface.
4.) Some anglers live for particular hatches. You might be one of them & if you are, than you know what I’m talking about. These anglers wait all year for their favorite hatch & have the imitation matched perfectly. Still, there are days when even these experienced anglers will have trouble catching fish during the hatch. When this happens, study the behavior of the naturals very closely. Watch how they move on the water’s surface & try to imitate this movement with your fly. I know a very experienced angler who will tell you that on certain days when fishing a particular caddis hatch, you must “skate” your dry fly on the surface or you’ll get no strikes. On other days of the same hatch, “skating” your fly will ruin your chances of any fish & you must achieve a natural drift. So study the natural insect’s movements, or lack there of, very closely.
These are just some points to consider when you’re trying to fish during a hatch. These can be the best, or most frustrating, times for any fly angler. Some days, by the time you’ve figured it all out the hatch is over. That’s okay, there’ll be another hatch coming soon.
Every angler has there own ways of dealing with the challenges of fly fishing. If you have any ideas or suggestions about fishing a difficult hatch, I'd love to hear them!!