She hoots and there’s a splash, a whine. Spray from her squealing reel peppers my neck. She’s in the back of the boat doing her thing with a rainbow while I row us between the first few fliers of an oncoming Salmonfly hatch.
If you’ve spent any time fly fishing, you’ve heard the saying, ‘big fish eat big bugs.’ And when you hear it, it’s usually about the Salmonfly folks, the bug responsible for one of the most prolific hatches on the continent. Of course, when the hatch rolls around every June, anglers who’ve spent years dreaming of a sky thick with bugs often spend their trip waving their rods at clouds of bugs and netting an enormous goose egg of fish.
Yep, even at the height of the hatch, they can’t catch a thing. Why? Because by that point in the hatch cycle, there are so many overstuffed fish that your fly is more likely to make them heave than eat.
As my wife taught me early on, while most people look at the air and the surface, you’re better off peering into the dark, hidden underbelly of the Salmonfly hatch. You see, before those bugs make it into the air, they have to emerge from their eggs and wriggle about for a few hours, right there in the faces of hungry trout. Each of those emergers is like a surprise free steakhouse delivery from Uber Eats. The first few dozen ribeyes are welcomed with glee, but by the time those delectable meals are taking flight, the fish below are well on their way to a serious case of the meat sweats.
I’ve learned a lot about fishing the big bug, all from watching my wife. She doesn’t think she's anything special, but I’ve had years to observe her while manning the oars, asking dumbly-formed questions and trying to understand her saintly patient explanations. And I can tell you, she sees things that very few others do.
Now I won’t give away all her secrets, mainly because I like not sleeping on the couch. But what I can tell you – beyond shifting your focus to the subsurface – are three things that will help you fish more like my wife:
GET ALL THE BETA
Local fishing reports will tell you where the hatch is at on any given day. And by hatch, we mean where the big bug is out flying around. Read up the day before, and even the morning of, to gauge how fast the hatch is moving upstream. Check the weather and know that especially hot days will push the hatch upstream faster.
Don’t choose your stretch ahead of time, but be pliable. Your plan should be to fish a section that is well above where the hatch was the day before. Why? If you’re fishing in the center of where the bugs are flying, the majority of fish will have already filled up on emergers.
MIX IT UP
There are a lot of patterns to choose from, and there’s no way to say which ones work and which don’t, because it varies day by day and seemingly hour by hour. So tie up or pick up a quiver of options: low profile, heavy on the water, wide wings like a flutter bug. Vary the color; black, orange, pink, yellow etc. Consider fishing rubber legs, or even other flies like Yellow Sallies, BWO’s etc. My wife is purposeful, I have watched her tie on 6 different flies within 20 minutes while fishing one hole.
Unless they’re stuffed, fish have to eat. So if you’re not connecting it means you haven’t cracked the code. Change up your flies until you crack it.
This should go without saying, but whatever’s happening out on the river, it’s not exactly like you’re working a shift. So drink a beer or three, bring your favorite snacks, hang out with your kids, stop and grill for lunch, actually talk to the people in your boat... You know, live a little. My wife is a pro at this, and it’s one thing I really admire about her.