Big Bugs

Big Bugs

There's nothing like a hatch of huge insects to bring out the kid in a fly fisherman. For one thing, most of the larger bugs tro

There's nothing like a hatch of huge insects to bring out the kid in a fly fisherman. For one thing, most of the larger bugs trout feed upon are around only in late spring and summer, the seasons we all associate with carefree playtime. But there's more to it than that.

For instance, whenever you see a flotilla of something size 10 and larger twitching its way down the river, all your grownup preoccupations--your job and your family, along with such schoolwork as long, delicate leaders, finicky presentations and trying to decide whether to fish in the film or on top of it--go right out the window. Instead you're using a fly the size of a Matchbox car, and not only are you casting it at the end of a short line and an abbreviated leader, but often you're smacking it down on the water in imitation of the birth struggles and crash landings being made by the Jurassic-size naturals. Then you impart a little motion (and how often do you get to do that when you're fishing dry flies?) before just sitting back and waiting for a fish larger than you deserve to come sharking up from the depths in expectation of a big and easy meal.

Speaking of big and easy, grasshoppers are the "Big Easy" of large bugs. For a few solid weeks in the summer they're almost always around, and on any windy afternoon you can be pretty sure that the fish will be feeding on them.

My all-time favorite hopper experience was the afternoon when, wearing shorts and sandals and traveling by myself, I fished my way up a small tributary of Montana's Smith River, making one-handed casts to plop a hopper into every pool and riffle I came across. I was having the time of my life catching a mix of fairly small browns and rainbows. Then, from the bottom of one bathtub-size plunge pool, a 16-inch brown rose to gulp that hopper.

But most big-fly hatches are a great deal more mysterious than is the dependable phenomenon of drowning hoppers. So much so that any angler who has ever struck a big-bug hatch "just right" tends to keep retelling the story for years thereafter. For example, in order to hit one of the big, Western stonefly hatches--Salmonflies, Golden Stones and the like, you have to be there when it happens. Time your trip imperfectly, and it's likely you'll return home with a bellyful of anguish.

And, not only do the Eastern Hexagenia hatches tend to occur beneath the cover of darkness, but just being out there at twilight during the right time of year in no way guarantees that the Hexes will come out to play that evening. I can tell you firsthand that standing out in the fading light with no bugs around makes you feel like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin…

However, I have successfully hit the Hex hatch, and then it's a breathtaking miracle of thickening darkness, mirror-like water covered with squirming, inch-long bugs, and the almost-scary v-wakes of big trout cruising over to check out your bobbing fly. It's enough to make a grown man giggle.

Catching a hatch of any of the Drake mayflies also requires an angler to time things right. I experienced several failures at trying to hit a Green Drake hatch before I finally got lucky on the West Branch of the Delaware one cold, overcast day after Tim Moody and I stopped by to fish with our friend Al Caucci, who owns the Delaware River Club. When it finally happened, the Drakes were all over the river, and the trout were on them hard.

Unfortunately, the hatch didn't get started till late afternoon, and Tim and I absolutely had to be somewhere else that evening. We actually forced ourselves to leave the river while the hatch was still on. Needless to say, the next place we went to had no Green Drakes; in fact, it had very few fish.

I almost felt like crying.