Gearing Up For The Hex Hatch

    by Dave Leonhard

    The big bugs are nearly here. Sulfurs (both of the tiny pale yellow mayflies ephemerella invarias #16 and ephemerella dorotheas #18), yellow stoneflies #12-14, brown drakes #10, isonychia bicolor #10, and of course, the hexagenia limbata (hex #4-6). It doesn’t matter that you know the Latin names of the insects that will be hatching over the next several weeks, but it will certainly matter that you match the size, shape, and color of them with your flies to fool the feeding fish. Size does matter.

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  2. The Silent Hatch

    This article appeared for the first time in Spring of 2003 as an article I wrote for Michigan Trout’s Shooting Lines. I suggested we reprint it in an effort to avoid a “silent hatch” this year on our favorite streams.

    The Silent Hatch

    By Dave Leonhard

    Many years ago, I wrote a fictitious article about two fly anglers fishing on a Michigan river during the brown drake hatch just as the hex were starting in late June.

    The story revolves around two anglers who set out for a weekend of fishing. The two fellas had set up camp at a nearby State campground one Friday night in mid-June and hurried off to the river to find clouds of brown drakes over the water. Filled with excitement they found fish feeding all over the river. With nearly a dozen large trout feeding in front of them they each caught and kept two browns over 16 inches which they

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  3. How to do the reach cast.

    The reach cast is a method of adding slack to the line above the fly to allow the fly to float without dragging in the current.  (See Figure 1) Unlike other casts that add slack, the reach cast has the slack under control so that one can easily set the hook. It is accomplished by mending the line upstream of the fly while the line is in the air on the way to the target.  This is referred to as a “mid-air mend”. For it to be successful though, all of the line must be above the fly when it lands on the water.

    Figure 1 Drag


    Two casting principles are in play with the reach cast. The first principle is: The fly goes where the rod is pointed when it stops. The second is: Whereever you move the rod tip after the stop determines where the rest

    of the line goes.  (see Figure 2) Because there is a short delay after the rod is stopped, some line fails to mend upstream. If I delay a little, a little line continues straight toward the target and the rest of the line goes upstream.  If I delay longer, more line continues on toward the target and less line is mended upstream. Theoretically, for all of the line to be mended above the fly, one would have to mend at the exact moment that

    the stop of the rod occurs.  However, if one stops and mends at the same time, there is, in fact, no stop and the result is a lack of loop formation. The resulting wide loop often piles line in the direction of the intended stop.

    Figure 2 Reach Drag


    How then does one consistently mend all of the line above the fly while in the air? Pulling the rod back gently as one mends upstream pulls the line that is going straight toward the target back in the same direction as the mend. Thus, all of the line lands on the water in a straight line from rod tip to fly with all of the line

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  4. Hauling Made Easier

    Long cast image

    One of the many casting techniques that our school teaches each year is the “haul”.  As one begins to challenge their skills and attempt longer casts, one soon learns that it becomes increasingly difficult to add the increased amount of energy into the cast in a smooth enough manner to avoid tailing loops. The short wrist-and-elbow dominated stroke that sufficed for the twenty-five or thirty foot cast now requires more arm movement and a longer stroke to smoothly deliver the extra power needed for a forty foot cast.  Once one approaches sixty feet, it becomes much more difficult to provide power smoothly enough to make the cast without a tailing loop.  At such distances withou

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    Here's a variation of the great pattern invented by Dan Byford in the mid-70's. Replacing the mylar body with a conehead and dubbed Hare'e Ice body is a fantastic sculpin/leach pattern that should be tied in several colors.

    This first night pattern is simple yet effective and students tied some very nice flies.













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    Summer hatches are a distant memory, and the weather is turning colder. As the water cools, the sun gets lower in the sky, and the hours of daylight shorten, brown trout and brook trout put on their brilliant spawning colors and get aggressive as they build their spawning redds and begin the spawning ritual.

    Fall streamer fishing can produce some exciting results.

    Watching over their redds turns them into protective predators who will eat anything that gets too close. Throwing streamers and stripping or swinging them across the river becomes the preferred tactic to fool some of the largest fish of the year.


    Here are some tactics that may help you make your Fall streamer fishing more productive. First, since today’s modern s

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    As the summer months arrive and the giant mayfly hatches slowly fade into distant memories of late nights, big fish, and massive riseforms, many fly anglers retire their gear for the season. Others embrace the midday warm sunshine and grassy banks to wander the river listening for the clicking of grasshoppers along the banks as the sun rises above the treetops. By late July, grasshoppers, beetles, and ants have matured and are gathering by the river’s edge to eat, drink, and mate.

    Warm temperatures at midday brings these insects to the river to drink and eat the lush grassy banks and as the air warms, winds increase and blow them into the river. Large trout recognize this and align themselves along the bank waiting for them to fall into the river.


    Ant colonies, now growing and expanding their sandy tunnels are regularly washed into the river by heavy rains that often accompany hot summer afternoon temperatures. Once again, trout become aware of this and key in on these tiny morsels.

    Beetle populations grow this time of year in the dark shadows of the cedar swamps that line many sections of the cold water streams. They too become prey for the trout that lay along the edges of these swampy sections.


    Just as many think the mayfly hatches are finished for the season, here comes the tiny tricorythodes (#20) hatch in late July. Fearful of baking in the hot, midday sunshine, the little trico’s emerge in the cool overnight, and early morning air. Don’t be caught off guard in the morning if clouds of these tiny mayflies gather, mate, and spin to the water bringing every trout in the river to the surface to feed.


    Here are few tips that may help your success during this season. First, trico fishing is specialized and requires that you prepare to arrive early, fish longer leaders and fine tippets in the 6X and 7X diameters. If you intend to look for the feeders in the early morning light, be prepared with all phases of the hatch — emergers, duns, and spinners.


    Hopper fishing utilizes larger flies in the #8 to #12 sizes. They are fairly wind resistant and require tippets in the 4X to 5X range. If you’re fishing faster, Western rivers, shorter 7½ foot leaders will be fine. In Michigan, 9 foot leaders are better for the slower, flatter water.

    If hopper fishing is your game for the day, take your time getting started. Grasshoppers won’t arrive at the river to drink until the sun is high in the sky and the winds have begun to build. Remember, it’s the wind that builds in the afternoon sun that provides the insects to the trout. So, trout are not looking for them until the sun reaches above the treetops. Plan to fish areas that receive direct sunlight. It’s the grassy banks that boast good populations of hoppers. So fish sections that allow you to wade downstream and cast to the deep undercut, grassy banks. Listen for the clicking sound that adult grasshoppers make. That’s a sure sign that trout will be looking for these big morsels.

    As you wade downstream in Michigan streams, be aware of your surroundings. If you suddenly find yourself in a dark, section shaded by cedar trees, change from a hopper to a beetle pattern. Beetles inhabit the rotted logs and decaying regions of the wet cedar swamps. Then as you emerge from the darkness to more grassy banks basking in the sunshine, change back to your hopper pattern.

    Fishing terrestrials out West is a little different than fishing them on an Eastern river where one is unable to walk a bank because of the brush that grows thickly along its banks. Along the western rivers of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, Eastern tag alder lined banks are replaced by open banks and sagebrush. This allows anglers to walk banks and fish upstream. In this situation, you can cast upstream tight to the bank ten or fifteen feet upstream and lift the rod as the fly comes down stream toward you. You can then walk a few steps up the bank and cast agai

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    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.

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    The Sulfur Hatch


    Springtime brings warmer water, feeding fish, and emerging mayflies. April and opening day of trout season typically brings emergences that occur in the mid-afternoons, and spinnerfalls that come later in the evening. Often fish are not metabolizing yet, and separating the emergences and spinnerfalls makes it difficult to be on the river for both. However, by late May air temperatures are pushing into the 70’s and water temps are in the 50’s making fish hungry. It’s at this time that the first of the pale yellow mayfly emerges. Ephemerella invaria, commonly called “sulfurs”, begin emerging in mid-May. In Grayling, this first of the sulfur hatches is referred to as the “Light Hendrickson”, a remnant of the days when the hexagenia limbata hatch was referred to as the “Caddis Hatch”. Today, the invarias are more commonly called “sulfurs” because of their sulfur colored bodies.

    These pale yellowish-bodied, gray-winged size #16 mayflies emerge in the late evening around 7pm-8pm just as the sun’s warming rays are slipping behind the tree-line on the river. This happens to be warmest time of the day as the falling sun lights up the tiny mayflies emerging from the water and slowly rising into the air over the stream. Sulfurs are numerous in clean, cold Michigan streams, and their numbers fill the air evenings from mid-May through June. While they prefer gravel bottom and fairly fast moving water, they can be found in most sections of typical sand and gravel Bottomed cold, Michigan streams.

    Once they emerge, the duns (sub-imago) leave the water and head for the trees where they will molt and become sexually mature (imago). Mature invarias (sulfurs) now have a rusty brown colored body and clear, shiny wings.  They will gather in a comfortable air mass high over the river

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    Early season trout fly fishing in Northern Michigan is typically centered on the Hendrickson (ephemerella subvaria #14) hatch. This three-tailed mayfly was given it's common name by Theodore Gordon who tied flies to imitate the hatch for Albert Everett Hendrickson. The Hendricksons are sometimes referred to as the “Gentleman’s” hatch because of its late morning emergences and late afternoon and early evening spinnerfalls. Theoretically, one could play cards all night, sleep in after a night of great intemperance, get to the stream in time to catch the emergence, return to lunch, a nap, and then catch the spinner fall in time to return for the cocktail hour. Now that’s a full day of hatch fishing. At least that's the story my late-rising, intemperant, ol' timers told me.Hendrickson nymph

    There are two important factors for good Hendrickson fishing. First, correct habitat is necessary for good numbers of Hendricksons who love faster moving water and gravel. So, don’t expect to find them where your favorite silt bed, Hex waters are located. Next, correct water temperature is crucial
    for the emergence to occur and temperate air temperatures are needed for the spinner fall.

    My mentors were careful not to go to the river during Hendrickson time without their thermometers. As the morning sun warmed the water, they carefully dangled their gauges in the water and checked regularly to see the temperature rise from the upper 40’s into the low 50’s. Most expected the hatch to commence at 53 degrees. The ol’ pros nymphed Hare’s Ear nymphs below Hendrickson emerger patterns as they waited patiently for the water to warm. Sure enough, as the temp reached 52 or 53 degrees, they popped. (Usually late morning or early afternoon.) The tiny dun-winged flies could be seen floating and leaving the water during a hatch that lasted about an hour and then sporadically throughout the afternoon.Hendrickson Dun

    Once leaving the water, the newly hatched insects would wing their way to a nearby tree or bush sporting freshly budded leaves. Over a period of two or three days, they would molt one last time and become sexually mature adults ready to mate. No longer a pinkish shade of gray and tan, they now are a rich brown color with clear wings instead of the cloudy gray. Warm late afternoon air temperatures and calm winds would entice the spinners to gather in the air over the stream. Clouds of the tiny bugs would gather as the late afternoon and early evening sun fell low in the sky. In the clouds of male adults, females would fly through, mate, and fall to the water to lay their eggs. Tiny yellow egg sacs would be visible to both angler and fish as the female spinners fell to the water, deposited their precious package, and then died. Males Hendricksons, Hendrickson spinnernow spent and weak, would also fall to the water and die. It wouldn’t take long for the eager trout to take advantage of this and start to feed on their remains.

    There would be one more important element to consider for good fishing though. In Early May, trout are just coming out of a Winter-long nap. For them to aggressively feed, their metabolism kick into gear. Trout need several days of upper 40’s and 50’s to get their motors going. Warm daytime temperatures are common to encourage emergences. However, so are cold 35 degree nights that will once again cool the water slowing the trout's appetite. Many an early season angler has been frustrated with clouds of Hendricksons without a feeder in sight. No worries, the fish will feed tomorrow.

    The tricky part of the Hendrickson hatch is that after a week of emergences, we will typically start to see tiny black caddis flies emerging all day long. Initially, trout will turn their noses up at the caddis, preferring to eat the Hendrickson. But, once the black caddis are around for a few days, the trout begin to eat them and look for them. In fact, trout will often avoid the Hendricksons choosing instead to look for telltale bright green egg sacs on the back of the egg-laying bl

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