The art of fly fishing tries to imitate the life cycle of a particular insect: insects like the graceful sail-like mayfly; the fluttering moth-like caddis; the epic stonefly; and the mysterious hexagenia (hex) night hatch.
The haunting and ethereal song of Whippoorwills, a la "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", signals the start of a Midwestern United States hex hatch. A hatch with a potentialy intense but sometimes short-lived mating dance that can leave the water, trout, and angler in a frenzy, in complete darkness, in the middle of June. Here is one robust occurrence that happened at dusk on the Pere Marquette River near Baldwin, Michigan on June 13, 2010:
I think Walt Disney must have loved to fish the hex hatch. My first hex hatch trip was to the Pere Marquette River in Michigan and the ambiance reminded me of what Mr. Disney was trying to portray in some of his animated nature movies.
Instead of seeing Pirate Johnny Depp when rounding the gentle bend in the stream, we saw mystical creatures - half man/half pontoon boat that rose high above the water, creatures puffing smoke with a red cyclopic eye. Some had long raised sticks with a luminescent silvery line that looked like silver swords, medieval weapons used to guard the entrance to the forest.
In pitch black darkness, the view from the boat in the river was of dancing fireflies in the forest and swarming grey drakes above our heads. A flash from a camera revealed a milky way of insects silhouetted against a deep black sky. From the milky way, insects fell fast and hot like meteorites into the water when tunneled light from a flashlight hit the stream. "My way of chumming", said the master guide.
The star of the show, Tinkerbell, aka Hexagenia Limbata (2" yellow mayflies), showed up near the end of this mating drama and gave us splashing and gluging sounds from the river. The sounds made by very large and hungry brown trout. The same group of brown trout that slashed ferociously on deer hair mouse fly patterns fished topwater the other night. One of the cyclopic centaurs stated that the rhythmic bank riser was in an almost impossible drag/current protected lane. And that was the one we wanted.
In pitch black darkness, we threw our fly lines and hopes in the direction of those sounds. In pitch black darkness, our flies waked back to us. Ours minds fully awake to such a mystical event tried to encourage our legs to stand and our arms to keep casting.
So much of this game is of the mind and of trusting our intuition. If we had not trusted our gut, we would have remained all night in one spot and would have not found our next riser. And the best method, said our master guide, would be to have enough discipline to leave an area early to "follow the hatch".
When one cannot see the results of a cast, let alone whether or not our dry fly and leader are straight or tangled, one relies completely on experience, hope and faith. And hope and faith without courage of the mind and heart a fisher does not trust, a cast loses energy, and a drift is full of drag.
There, another splash and a missed strike.
There, a lift of the rod and a bending of something heavy and moving.
Click, on goes my headlamp.
"A log" says the master guide.
And, splash into the net is a trout, brown and spotted.
Flash, and my eyes are temporarily blinded by the camera.
And, splash into the water back goes the brown, all 21" of trout.
Back to join the little frogs to feast on the flying buffet.
John Miao www.pmlodge.com