ARF-Articulated-Sculpin fly

Matching the Meat Hatch

Summer is drawing to a close, and most insect hatches are wanting. The trout are keying into new—and larger—forms of food. Are you ready?

[by Al Ritt]

FOR MATCH-THE-HATCH ENTHUSIASTS, fishing doesn’t get much better than late spring and summer. The weather has largely stabilized, and water flows and temperatures are likely as optimal at this time as they will be all season. In the Rocky Mountains, these conditions favor predictable and prolific hatches: pale-morning dun, green drake, callibaetis, golden stone, little yellow stone, and more. By mid-fall, however, the entomological landscape changes.

In autumn, the weather will swing from sunny and pleasant to wet, windy, and cold.  While a few hardy hatches such as BWO’s and midges persist, we can’t count on them. At this time of the season, many fly fishers transition to dredging the streambed with small nymphs, midge larva and pupa, or annelids.  Other anglers, however, use imitations of other forms of trout food.

To understand what food sources become more important as fall progresses, it is helpful to understand the changes that occur in the fishes’ habitat. These changes are primarily due to colder temperatures and shorter photoperiods. As the weather and water cools, a few hatches persevere, but most insects become less active; those that were so plentiful during the summer spend autumn and winter under rocks or burrowed in the streambed. This leaves the fish looking for other sources of food.

Another effect of colder water and less sun is that aquatic vegetation begins dying. As the plants go dormant for the winter, their tops break free and decay. With less weeds, there are fewer opportunities for minnows, crayfish, leeches, and scuds to escape foraging trout.

Belly Up to the Table

Minnows and leeches are available as food throughout the year, but in the fall they become more vulnerable to predation. Scarcity of weeds leaves fewer places to hide, and being free swimmers, they are naturally vulnerable to the trout. When exposed, they make large, calorie-rich meals, and the fish belly up to the table.

As the weather and water cools, a few hatches persevere, but most insects become less active; those that were so plentiful during the summer spend autumn and winter under rocks or burrowed in the streambed.

Reliable imitations include the Clouser Deep Minnow, Lefty’s Deceiver, Zonker, Muddler Minnow, Woolly Bugger, MOAL, and Mohair Leech. Articulated streamers such as the Circus Peanut, Galloup’s Boogie Man, Double Deceiver, Articulated Ganga, and others have recently become popular. Discerning anglers also find success with Intruder-style patterns and tube flies. You can experiment with different sizes and colors to discover what the fish will respond to, but I usually begin with a match-the-hatch type of strategy.

Start with a pattern that matches the color and size of the most common baitfish in the water you’re fishing. When using a leech imitation, begin with a color similar in tone to the habitat. If that doesn’t produce results, go to a black or claret fly. This is even more challenging than matching a dry fly. While you may be able to identify what’s in the water, it is very likely you won’t be able to actually observe which food source the fish are feeding on. Solving this puzzle may take some experimentation and careful observation.

With weeds scarce, look for minnows and leeches near bankside cover, rocks, rubble, overhead cover, or submerged logs and branches. Look for wakes and splashes, signs that the fish are chasing minnows and other baitfish. If these in-shore areas do not produce, switch to casting along the edges of drop-offs in slightly deeper water.

Crayfish are masters at hiding under rocks or wood, burrowing into the mud, and tucking away in aquatic vegetation. When the summer growing season wanes and the lush weed beds turn into mud flats, crayfish become more exposed. While they can still hide under rocks or in burrows, crayfish must come out and scavenge for food. To make the situation riskier, cooler water temperatures slow their metabolism, leaving crayfish more vulnerable to predation by trout, bass, pike, and carp.

I do equally well retrieving crayfish patterns from shallow toward deep water, and from deep toward shallow water. Since the trout don’t seem to have a preference, I just keep my fly moving along the same travel corridors the fish use: the edges of large boulders, rubble, brush piles, downed trees, or parallel to drop offs. Most anglers use crayfish imitations in deep water, but I prefer the opposite; fish cruising near streamside drop offs or on shallow flats are usually feeding. I frequently have success casting a crayfish ahead of a trout and retrieving it across its path of travel.

When using a crayfish imitation, I generally start with a slightly slow retrieve in cold water and a bit quicker retrieve in warmer water. I usually catch the majority of my fish using 6- to 12-inch-long strips of moderate speed, and I pause between strips to let the fly settle back to the bottom.

Crayfish are masters of camouflage, so select flies that match the color of the streambed. While larger patterns are sometimes productive, I often use slightly smaller flies. Some of my favorite patterns are Ritt’s Fighting Crayfish, Whitlock’s Near Nuff Crayfish, and a Clouser Deep Minnow in an appropriate color. Crayfish patterns should be weighted to fish near the bottom where the naturals live, and weed guards are often helpful. I also prefer flies that fish with the hook inverted with the point riding up.

Scuds Are Also Important

Scud imitations are difficult to fish in the summer because the real scuds stay in the weeds for protection and food. With the approach of winter and thinning weed cover, scuds find it more difficult to hide. Most scuds in the Rocky
Mountains are gray, tan, olive, or a blend of these colors. When they die, scuds turn orange.

A scud pattern works well suspended under a dry fly or indicator, or with a very slow finger-roll retrieve. I’ve used scuds as small as size 22 early in the spring, but sizes 16 to 12 are more representative; some lakes in the region have scuds as large as sizes 10 and 8.

In moving water, drift your fly through the seams along slower water, riffles below slow flats, or pool tail-outs. In lakes, fish the areas that had rich weed beds in the summer, near brush, branches, and other woody cover, and sometimes in areas where algae is growing on submerged rocks.

Many scud imitations are tied on curved-shank hooks because real scuds assume a protective fetal position when they become dislodged. When swimming or not alarmed, however, a scud remains in a straight posture, so I tie most of my scuds on standard nymph hooks.

Scuds have a simple appearance: a carapace over the entire back, antennae, several sets of legs, and distinct segmentation. I use very general scud imitations tied with dubbed bodies, carapaces of a material called Scud Back, and wire ribbing. I brushed out the dubbing to represent legs and antennae.

While there are fewer insect hatches in autumn, you should still match the prevailing sources of food to consistently fish. Minnows, leeches, crayfish, scuds, and other foods form their own types of hatches. Don’t think of fall as the end of matching the hatch, simply expand your definition of the word “hatch.”

Al Ritt, who lives in Colorado, is a longtime contributor to this magazine. He works for Peak Engineering, the manufacturer of the Peak fly-tying vise. Al also guides, specializing in the waters of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Fly Box

Whitlocks-Near-Nuff-Crayfish fly

Whitlock’s Near Nuff Crayfish

Hook: Tiemco TMC5263, size 6.
Thread: Orange 6/0 (140 denier).
Weight: Lead dumbbell eyes.
Antennae: Black Flexi-Floss, pearl Krystal Flash, and pumpkin Crazy Legs.
Mouth parts: Tan rabbit fur.
Eyes: Monofilament eyes.
Body: Orange Whitlock’s Crawdub.
Claws: Crayfish-orange Indian hen feather.
Legs: Hot-orange grizzly soft hackle.
Tail: Tan rabbit fur.

ARF-Maratruder fly

ARF Mara-Truder

Tube: Yellow Pro Sportfisher.
Thread: Yellow 6/0 (140 denier).
Butt: Yellow Pro Sportfisher Sonic Disk.
Tail: Yellow marabou.
Body: Pearl Diamond Braid.
Shoulder: Yellow Pro Sport-fisher Sonic Disk.
Wing: Brown marabou.
Flash: Pearl Krinkle Mirror Flash.
Topping: Yellow Rhea or peacock.
Collar: Yellow silver pheasant.

Leftys-Deceiver fly

Lefty’s Deceiver

Hook: Gamakatsu B10S, size 4.
Thread: White 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: White saddle hackles.
Sides: White bucktail.
Topping: Herring back Krystal Flash.
Throat: Red Krystal Flash.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes coated with Clear Cure Goo Hydro.

Skips-Dad fly

Skip’s Dad

Hook: Tiemco TMC5263, size 10.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Weight: Lead dumbbell eyes.
Head: Mud-brown Whitlock’s Crawdub.
Claws: Pheasant tail fibers.
Rib: Brown Ultra Wire.
Body: Mud-brown Whitlock’s Crawdub.
Carapace: Pheasant tail fibers.

Dead-Scud fly

Dead Scud

Hook: Tiemco TMC2488H, size 12.
Thread: Red 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Amber Sow-Scud Dubbing.
Rib: Medium gold holographic tinsel.
Carapace: Clear Cure Goo Thick.

Mohair-Leech fly

Mohair Leech

Hook: Tiemco TMC5263, size 12.
Bead: Copper.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Claret arctic fox.
Body: Wine mohair yarn.

Chamois-Leech fly

Chamois Leech

Hook: Tiemco TMC 5262, size 8.
Bead: Gold.
Thread: Olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Rib: Ginger Ultra Wire.
Tail: Tan Ultrasuede.
Underbody: Tan Tri-Lobal Dubbing.
Spots: Brown permanent marker.

Gray-Scud fly

Gray Scud

Hook: Tiemco TMC3769, size 14.
Thread: Gray 6/0 (140 denier).
Antennae: Barred mallard flank fibers.
Body: Dark gray Sow-Scud Dubbing.
Rib: Small silver wire.
Carapace: Clear Body Glass.
Legs: Grizzly hen hackle.


Olive Scud

Hook: Tiemco TMC3769, size 14.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Antennae: Olive Brahma hen hackle fibers.
Body: Light olive Sow-Scud Dubbing.
Rib: Small gold wire.
Carapace: Olive Scud-Back.

Dubbing-Loop-Leech fly

Dubbing Loop Leech

Hook: Tiemco TMC5263, size 6.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Black marabou with a few strands of fuschia holographic Flashabou.
Body: Bloody-black leech Tri-Lobal Dubbing.
Rib: Red Ultra Wire.

Marabou-Leech fly

Marabou Leech

Hook: Tiemco TMC5262, size 12.
Bead: Brown.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Wine marabou.
Rib: Brown Ultra Wire.
Body: Wine marabou.
Collar: Red coq-de-Leon hen hackle.

Egg-Sucking-Rabbit-Strip-Leech fly

Egg-Sucking Rabbit-Strip Leech

Hook: Tiemco TMC5262, size 8.
Head: Orange cone.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Rib: Wine Ultra Wire.
Tail and wing: Black rabbit strip.
Underbody: Bloody-black Tri-Lobal Dubbing
Collar: Bloody-black Tri-Lobal Dubbing.

North-Platte-Special fly

North Platte Special Tube Fly

Tube: Yellow Pro Sportfisher.
Thread: Yellow 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Gold Mylar tubing.
Throat: Red marabou.
Wing: Yellow and brown saddle hackles.
Hackle collar: Yellow and brown saddle hackles.

Clouser-Deep-Minnow fly

Clouser Deep Minnow

Hook: Gamakatsu B10S, size 4.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Eyes: Lead dumbbell.
Belly: White bucktail.
Lateral Stripe: Pink Krystal Flash.
Back: Olive bucktail.

ARF-Articulated-Sculpin fly

ARF Articulated Sculpin

Hook: Daiichi 2451, size 4.
Thread: Olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Brown saddle hackle and black barred tan marabou.
Articulated shank: 35-millimeter Flymen Fishing Company Shank.
Butt: Brown saddle hackle and black barred tan marabou.
Body: Tan underneath and alternating bands of brown and dark tan Laser Dub.
Flash: Roor beer Krinkle Mirror Flash.
Collar: Grizzly variant brown schlappen.
Head: Small brown Flymen Fishing Company Sculpin Helmet.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes coated with Clear Cure Goo Hydro.


Ritt’s Fighting Crayfish

Hook: MFC 7073, size 6.
Thread: Tan 6/0 (140 denier).
Weight: Lead dumbbell eyes.
Antennae: Tan UV Krystal Flash.
Eyes: Black rubber legs.
Claws: Brown foam glued onto tan barred rubber legs.
Carapace: Tan/tan speckled Thin Skin.
Underbody: Tan yarn.
Body: Tan Tri-Lobal Dubbing.
Rib: Ginger Ultra Wire.
Legs: Tan barred saddle hackle.