Fifty years ago, I visited a northern Michigan fly shop in early June. Ignorant about basic aquatic entomology and the concept of “matching the hatch”, I naively asked the shop owner, “What’s hatching?”. The other two customers, whose conversation I had interrupted, turned to hear the shop owner’s answer. “The Howdie”, was his reply. The look on my face must have said it all. A smirk appeared on the lips of all three. OK, I thought. I’m the rookie that hasn’t a clue. I’ll bite. “What’s a Howdy?”, I shot back. “The white-gloves. The iso’s. Isonychia bicolor.”, he added. Oh, that clarified it. “Thanks”, I said. Thoroughly embarrassed, I blindly went about picking a few flies that probably had no relation to the isonychia bicolor hatch I was going to encounter on the river that evening. It was that moment that I swore that if I ever owned a fly shop I would gladly try to share as much fly fishing knowledge as I could. And I have tried to do that for 27 years.
So, what is this White-gloved Howdy? It’s a mayfly that emerges evenings in the middle of June on most northern Michigan, cold-water rivers. Some of the characteristics of the bug are that it emerges a couple of hours before dark and often lives, and swims (yes, swims) in the grassy mounds and gravel scattered around the middle of the river. Those are the grassy mounds that I trip over when I’m wading and not paying attention. Their spinnerfall also occurs around dark or an hour or two before dark. Although the adult has a dark grayish maroon body with dun gray wings, its rear two sets of legs are white, or “white-gloved”.
The isonychia bicolor, or iso’s, are part of a mid-summer hatch list that makes June the best of the hatch months. In mid-June, beginning around 7:30pm, tiny #18 dorothea, sulfur-colored mayflies begin and continue until about 9pm when the isonychia bicolor and brown drakes are likely to begin to show up. The appearance of larger insects on the water and the increasing darkness bring more and larger trout to feed and often bring them into the middle of the river, and best feeding lanes, in anticipation of the iso’s arrival. As the season progresses into the last week of two weeks of June, the arrival of the hexagenia limbata, or Hex Hatch, completes the night as they begin to show up on the water at. dark (around 11pm) when the iso’s finish for the night. So when you prepare to fish the evening hatches of June, be sure to take sulfur, iso, brown drake, and hex patterns with you. That way, if the next hatch begins, you’ll be ready.
Here’s how we get ready for this smorgasbord of flies that range in size from tiny #18’s to huge #4’s. Start with a 7 1/2 foot 3x leader. Now put 12 inches of 4x on the 3x leader. Then put 12 inches of 5x on the 4x, and a piece of 6x on the 5x. You’re now ready to fish the #18 sulfurs around 8pm with a 10 1/2 foot leader when you get into the river. At the first sign of iso’s and larger fish feeding on them, cut the 6x tippet off and tie a #10 or #12 isonychia pattern like a Dave’s Oh-So-Iso on. If you see a brown drake spinner fall hit the water (a good reason to carry a small aquarium net with you collect samples and match the hatch), tie on a Robert’s Yellow Drake or other brown drake pattern on the 5x tippet. Once you see a hex, or more likely hear a large fish crash the surface eating one. Cut the 5x and 4x tippet off and fish your hex pattern on the 3x tippet of the original leader you put on. Now you have been able to fish the entire evening, three different tippet sizes and all hatches without tying on any tippet.
Now get out there and make sure you’re ready for the hatch. But stop by Streamside Orvis first and check out the “Hatch Match” cards to load up on the patterns that our guides are having success with every night. And make sure you have those 7 1/2 foot leaders, as well as 3x, 4x, 5x, and 6x tippet. If you need any of these items, you can order them from us on-line and even order fly assortments for all of the hatches described above. Just click these links: