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Before I dive into anything, let me just say that trout are naturally opportunistic. Trout will eat almost anything that drifts in front of their face because they need to constantly feed to survive. No trout is going to say, “You know what, I’m only going to eat stoneflies today — nothing else.”
In fact, many anglers that have pumped out a trout’s stomach never found it full of just 1 type insect. They never found a trout that just specifically fed on caddis. All of them had an mixed abundance of insects.
What I’m trying to say is, don’t think that there is just one fly for a particular situation. Just because blue winged olives (BWO) are hatching, doesn’t mean you need to use a BWO pattern. You can fish a stonefly nymph or even a streamer during a hatch and still have success.
If you do fish a BWO pattern during a BWO hatch, it only needs to meet 2 basic requirements (if that).
- Similar size
- Similar silhouette
What applies above goes for any hatch, not just BWO’s. Moreover, I’ve found that using an exact color is not particularly important.
Additionally, when I mean “match the hatch,” I mean selecting a caddis larva fly to imitate the caddis larva in the stream. You don’t need to have the fly look identical to the living caddis. Your fly can be extremely basic. Not so surprisingly, I witnessed an angler catch a trout on a mayfly nymph made from duck-tape.
“Match the hatch”. That’s what everyone says. But is it really that important?
Well, let me answer that by telling you the first thing Joe Humphreys does when he comes to a stream.
He gets down into the freestone stream and lifts up a rock. Joe even grabs a bit of underwater vegetation. What is he looking for? Joe is looking for insects and which are the most abundant.
Under the rocks he spots mayfly and stonefly nymphs and a whole handful of caddis larva under their webs or encased in their pebbles and twigs. In the vegetation he discovers that the stream is rich with freshwater shrimp and scuds.
Stonefly Nymph And a Cranefly Larva. Photo taken by Allen Gardner of The Catch And The Hatch
Great. So now he has a handful of buggy rocks and vegetation. What next?
Using his decades of experience and knowledge, Joe calculates which insects to imitate. No, there are no equations or numbers. Just pure science and a bit of judgement.
You don’t need a lifetime of fly fishing to choose correctly, either. Allow me to show you how to choose the correct imitation.
Let’s consider his options. (Let’s say he’s fishing during the time that this was written, late March.)
There are no emerging insects so Joe chooses to nymph.
A mayfly nymph is a good choice, but the temperature of the water is a bit cold and, thus the mayfly nymphs will not be extremely active. Cold temperatures won’t stop trout from feeding on drifting mayflies, but rather that it will be less common due to inactive mayfly movements. There is a better choice, in this instance, for a fly imitation.
Large meaty stoneflies or even their smaller species are great for opportunistic trout. Joe will easily be able to hook into a few trout with a good stonefly imitation, but for the sake of this lesson we will continue onward.
Everyone loves tying on a caddis larva. Even I have a weak spot for nymphing caddis. Some call them the most important trout stream insect in North America.
When disturbed, the larva can become dislodged from their tethered homes and forced to find or construct new ones.
Trout feed on caddis clinging to the rocks by picking them off or eating the ones riding the currents downstream.
A caddis is a great option. Although, Joe, with all his years of fly fishing streams, observed something about this stream that we may have failed to notice. He knows about a certain crustacean, scuds.
SCUDS + FRESHWATER SHRIMP
Why are scuds so important?
By nature, scud and freshwater shrimp are fantastic imitations wherever plants take root in moving water. Scuds feed on vegetation and decaying organisms. For tying flies, scuds will take on the color of the vegetation they eat.
Unlike other insects, scuds do not hatch. They are present in waters at all times. This makes them a reliable food source for trout when cyclical hatches do not take place.
So, back to the story. Joe is deciding which imitation to tie on.
WHAT TO CHOOSE
Joe Humphreys knows this stream well. He knows that this freestone stream is heavily populated with freshwater shrimp and scuds.
Even if you didn’t have this knowledge, you could come to this same conclusion just by looking at the plethora of scuds and freshwater shrimp living in these large vegetation patches found on rocks and bank.
Like most fly anglers, he also knows that mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis are a key source of food for fish.
Alright, what insects does he choose to imitate?
Hypothetically, Joe would probably choose to fish a tandem rig with a scud fly pattern and a pheasant tail nymph. He chooses a pheasant tail because it can imitate a large variety of mayfly and stonefly nymphs. A win/win of sorts.
So, back to the real question, “is matching the hatch really that important?”
You bet it is.
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