How to Extend a Hatch

Spotting mature insects on the surface of the water is easy, but you’ll catch more fish if you match the hatch all day long.

by Al Ritt

Many fly fisherman have pursued our sport longer than I have, but I’ve seen enough change to feel like I’ve ben at it for a long time. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is how new anglers and tiers are introduced to the game.

When I began, fly fishing was just beginning to break out of a somewhat mystical place. Up to that time, fly fishing and tying secrets were largely handed down between anglers, almost like masters and apprentices. If you didn’t have a mentor, it could be very tough to learn the ins and outs of fishing and tying. There were few fly shops, and we ordered most of our fly-tying materials or obtained them as a by-product of hunting.

ARF Life & Death Callibaetis

Hook: Tiemco TMC100, size 16.
Thread: Gray 8/0 (70 denier).
Wings: Organza.
Post: Orange polypropylene yarn.
Tails: Black and white barred Mayfly Tails.
Abdomen: Gray stripped quill.
Thorax: Callibaetis Superfine Dubbing.
Hackle: Grizzly

Books and magazines eventually included more instructional information for anglers and tiers, but in my mind the big breakthrough was a series of instructional videos produced by Scientific Anglers featuring some of the most skilled and innovative fly fishermen of the time. While books and magazines could convey ideas through the written word, video added a dynamic visual component that excited many budding fly fishers. For example, we could visualize a casting technique and break it down into relatively simple motions we could quickly learn. Those videos also covered fly tying, reading the water, wading safety, and a subject I found fascinating, identifying trout foods.

It seemed obvious that if you wanted to fool a fish into striking an artificial fly, you would tip the scales in your favor if you understood what the fish really ate. I didn’t become an entomologist—far from it—but I did learn the basic lifecycles of some of the important local trout foods.

But how does a rudimentary understanding of entomology help a fly tier and fly fisherman catch more fish?

What You Need to Know

I don’t use bug Latin when describing an insect; I don’t think this information will necessarily help you catch more fish. If I am fishing during a hatch and can see feeding trout, all I need to do is capture an insect to choose an appropriate imitation. Even if I can’t tell the difference between a mayfly and a caddisfly, if it’s a pale amber insect with light gray wings, that’s all I need to know to select my fly. I simply choose a pattern about the same size and color with similarly shaped wings. What, then, is the big deal about identifying the various insects, and how can this help you catch more fish?

Bead-head Bird’s Nest

Hook: Tiemco TMC3761, size 16.
Thread: Tan 8/0 (70 denier).
Bead: 5/64-inch copper.
Tail: Wood duck.
Abdomen: Tan Sow-Scud Dubbing.
Rib: Copper wire.
Legs: Wood duck.
Thorax: Tan Sow-Scud Dubbing.

Identifying the exact species of an insect may not help your fishing right that moment; once you’ve captured and examined a sample, it becomes relatively simple to select an imitation that is the same size, color, and shape. But identifying that insect and knowing something about its lifecycle might help you continue catching fish after the hatch is over, and it can give you a leg up the next day when you’re deciding what fly to use before the hatch.

Think about the lifecycle of a typical mayfly. From the point of view of a fly fisherman, it begins life as a nymph. The nymph might be a free swimmer, or it might cling to rocks or vegetation on the streambed. As it matures, the nymph transforms into what we call an emerger. Mayfly emergers primarily rise to the surface and emerge through the film in the middle of the stream, although some might crawl onto shore, midstream rocks, partially submerged wood structure, or vegetative stalks. As the mayfly emerger breaks through the film—mid-stream or crawling out of the water—its immature skin begins splitting and the adult dun works its way out. Next, the dun makes its way from the water’s surface to streamside vegetation where it matures into its last stage of development, the spinner. The spinner is the mating stage of the mayfly. After mating with the males of their species, the females return to the water to oviposit (lay) their eggs on the surface, although some species actually swim to the streambed to lay eggs.

Now consider how you can use this information to your advantage.

Fly Box #1

Quigley Cripple

Hook: Tiemco TMC100, size 16.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Pheasant tail.
Abdomen: Butt ends of the tail.
Rib: Gold wire.
Thorax: PMD Superfine Dubbing.
Wing: Deer hair.
Hackle: Dun

Bead-head Pheasant Tail

Hook: Tiemco TMC3761, size 16.
Bead: 5/64-inch brown.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Pheasant tail.
Abdomen: Pheasant tail.
Rib: Copper wire.
Wing case: Pheasant tail.
Thorax: Peacock herl.
Legs: Butts of the wing case.

Biot Hackle Stacker

Hook: Tiemco TMC2488, size 14.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Bronze mallard.
Abdomen: Rusty brown turkey biot.
Rib: Copper wire.
Thorax: Rusty brown Superfine Dubbing.
Hackle: Dun.

Partridge & Yellow

Hook: Tiemco TMC2488, size 14.
Thread: Yellow 8/0 (70 denier).
Body: Yellow floss.
Rib: Gold wire.
Thorax: Hare’s-ear dubbing.
Hackle: Light coq de Leon hen soft hackle