Tactics and Techniques

Four Tips for Hooking Up When the Hatch is On.

It was August on the Bighorn River when I learned that trout are lazy.  

The river was alive with riffles from rising fish.  More now that the sun had begun to beam against my face.  I stopped wading and looked back at my father casting from the drift boat.  Past him the other side of the river was still in shadows.  The moving water was a dark bubbling cauldron of hungry trout.  Sunlight cut across the buttes above the river and sparkled on tiny Trico wings that hung above the water like a fog that made me squint to see.  I knew it was just beginning. 

The sound of a fish rising over my shoulder brought me back.  I turned and cast and watched my fly drift past the ripple.  The fish rose again.   I stepped forward in the water, picked up my line and cast well upstream and managed a large mend and watched as the speck of white parachute drifted towards my fish.  The fly was a foot away when he rose again.  I felt a jolt of excitement as my brain told my arms to wait.  Almost.  The tiny fly drifted directly over where the fish had risen.  When it was several feet behind, the trout rose.  I winced and cast again.

Trout Are Lazy. 

It is odd to say.  Most fly fishermen and women consider trout smooth and noble creatures, usually observed aggressively fighting to throw a hook and then gracefully swimming away from our wet hands.

The Trico hatch on the Bighorn River taught me that an abundance of food will reveal the trout’s natural, lazy state. 

If you are not catching fish during an obvious hatch there are two basic assumptions that we must make before moving forward.

First, you have the right fly.  If it is August in Montana on the Bighorn River and there are Tricos everywhere, it’s safe to say you need to be throwing some variation of a Trico.

Second, you must have a solid presentation with a natural drift. Basic fly fishing still applies.

If you have the right fly, your presentation is good, and you are still not catching fish when they are rising all around, try these techniques to help hook up:

  1. Get your fly closer.  When there are a lot of flies on the water the placement of your fly becomes especially important.  A trout may not take your fly because it is just one or two feet out of the way.  Sometimes inches.  Lazy trout thought: Why would I eat that Trico when I have to swim 9 inches out of my way.  Here comes another much closer fly to eat now.
  2. Time it just right.  When there are tons of bugs around and the fish are rising, they tend to get into a rhythm.  If you watch, you can see that the same fish will rise every so often and fairly regularly.  If you can time it right so that your fly is there when he is likely to rise, then your odds are better.  Lazy trout thought: That Trico looks delicious, but I just ate one two seconds ago.  I’ll just swim here until I’m ready to eat again.  Okay, that’s long enough.
  3. Tweak your fly.  If you know that there is a big Caddis, or Trico, or PMD hatch on, it is likely that you have the correct type of bug on the end of your line.  But lazy fish are picky.  They may just want a different size or a slight variation in color.  Observe the flies around you and see if you have a more accurate size, or color.  When I switched to a parachute Trico in a size 20, the lazy Bighorn trout seemed happier to slurp my flies.  Lazy trout thought: I’m not in the mood for a size 18 Trico.  Today, I feel like size 22 parachute.
  4. Be Patient.  It can be frustrating to watch fish feeding on the surface and not taking your flies.  Have confidence in your presentation and strive to be as precise as possible with your cast and your fly.  It may just take a few more looks to convince him.

Over the next four days we learned our lesson, and the ‘Horn did not disappoint.  Casting to rising fish, with the right size fly, timed perfectly, and close enough to bump their nose made dry fly fishing on the Shemchuk Rendezvous a great success.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE |The Rendezvous – More Than a Fly Fishing Trip.

Do not get discouraged if rising trout are not interested in your fly during a big hatch.  There are still some things that can help your odds.  Get your flies closer, time it just right, and try to be patient and precise.  At the end of the day it’s a pretty good problem to have.  Wadeoutthere.


Jason Shemchuk

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