BEGINNER’S CORNER: How to Extend a Hatch

Plan of Attack

Two hours ago you captured a mayfly adult, found an adequate imitation in your box, and enjoyed an afternoon of productive dry-fly fishing. Now you’ve noticed there are fewer of these adults on the surface of the water, and your catch rate is dropping significantly. What should you do? If you can identify the adult mayfly you’ve been matching with your fly, and if you understand its basic lifecycle, you can make a logical plan of attack for the rest of your trip.

AK’s Quill Body Parachute

Hook: Tiemco TMC100, size 14.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Wing: Gray polypropylene yarn.
Tail: Coq de Leon.
Abdomen: Red stripped quill.
Thorax: Rusty brown Superfine Dubbing.
Hackle: Dun.

The next morning you will know what to anticipate when fishing. You will know the approximate color and size of the adult mayflies you will see on the water. You know the immature nymphs will be active as they prepare to mature. In addition, you know the type of habitat those nymphs prefer and something about their behavioral patterns.

If the nymphs are bottom clingers, dead-drift a weighted imitation near the streambed. If they prefer living in or near vegetation, concentrate your efforts along the edges of weed beds. If the nymphs are more active and swim freely through the water, fish a matching imitation with a more active retrieve.

As the insects mature throughout the day, you can anticipate that they are entering the emerger stage of development. Now concentrate your efforts where the fish will see the emerging mayflies. If the insects emerge mid-stream, fish your fly more toward the middle of the river, possibly using a swinging or lifting retrieve. If they crawl out of the water to emerge, retrieving your fly toward shore will imitate mayflies migrating toward the stream bank.

Rosborough Little Yellow Stone

Hook: Tiemco TMC3761, size 16.
Thread: Yellow 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Wood duck.
Shellback: Wood duck.
Body: Gold Antron yarn.
Rib: Chartreuse Ultra Wire.
Wing case: Butt ends of the shellback
Legs: Wood duck.

After the duns have hatched, think about the spinners. What color are the female spinners? (More females are likely to be found on the water because they come back to lay their eggs.) Does mating occur in late afternoon soon after the hatch, or will it occur the following morning or possibly even overnight? Don’t overlook the diving egg layers; they require a totally different style of fly from the more typical spinners. Soft hackles and winged wet flies are excellent patterns for imitating diving spinners. After laying their eggs, the dying females are more easily matched using drowned adult imitations than flat-wing spinner patterns; soft-hackle wet flies and winged wet flies fill the bill nicely.

None of this requires knowing Latin. You simply need a rudimentary understanding of the basic lifecycles of the most prominent insects in your fishery, and some basic identification skills. Applying this knowledge might extend enjoying a two-hour hatch into a plan for selecting flies for the entire day. Mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and midges have varying lifecycles, but the variables are similar and easily learned.

The accompanying patterns imitate the various stages of some of my favorite summer hatches for the eastern Rocky Mountains, but your waters might contain other important insects. Use simple identification techniques and look up the details of the lifecycles of the insects in your waters. Go prepared with a roster of subsurface and floating patterns to match the stages of development of those insects, and you will catch more fish.

Al Ritt, who lives in Colorado, is a regular contributor to this magazine. He is also the author of a great book titled 25 Best Most Versatile Flies: Their Histories, Stories, & Step by Step Tying Photos (Stonefly Press).

Fly Box #2

Rusty Spinner

Hook: Tiemco TMC100, size 14.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Wing: White polypropylene yarn.
Tail: Light dun Mayfly Tails.
Body: Rusty brown Superfine Dubbing.

Denny’s Callibaetis

Hook: Tiemco TMC3761, size 16.
Thread: Olive 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Wood duck.
Body: Hare’s-ear dubbing.
Rib: Copper wire.
Hackle: Grizzly.
Shellback: Wood duck butts of the tail.

PMD Spinner

Hook: Tiemco TMC100, size 16.
Thread: Olive 8/0 (70 denier).
Wing: White polypropylene yarn with a few strands of opal Mirage Flash.
Post: Orange polypropylene yarn.
Body: PMD Superfine Dubbing.
Tail: White Mayfly Tails.


Hook: Tiemco TMC3761, size 16.
Thread: Yellow 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Red hackle fibers.
Body: Yellow beaver.
Rib: Gold tinsel.
Wing: Barred mallard.
Hackle: Light coq de Leon hen soft hackle

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