Three Summer Hatches

Naturals on top? Try wet flies rather than dries.

By Dave Hughes
Photographs by the author

Sometimes what you see on the surface, during a hatch, is just a hint of what’s going on down below. Mayfly duns, caddis adults and winged stoneflies all boat the currents, and all get trout up and feeding. Sometimes those trout feed selectively on the insects that you’re able to see. When that happens, you should fish a dry fly. In all likelihood, when trout are so employed, you’ll dance a sufficient number of them to keep you happy with a fly that floats.

However, with three important mid-summer hatches, what you see is not always what you get. Aspects of their emergence or egg-laying behavior often make them more available to trout beneath the surface. You might see a few of these insects on top, and you might even see trout working them on the surface. At times, though, the few that you see taken are a fraction of the numbers that trout take subsurface, out of your sight. If you get into hatches of any of these three—one a mayfly, another a stonefly, the last a caddis—and your dry flies fail, try the same trout with wet flies. You might surprise a bunch of fish, and be pleasantly surprised yourself.

Pale Evening Dun (Heptagenia)
These mid-size and mid-summer mayflies emerge at evening, almost without variation right along the edges of rivers and mid-size streams. They’re easy to miss: Because days are long and PEDs hatch so late, you might be off the water before they ever begin to emerge out of it. You’ve already had many hours of satisfying fishing. It’s easy to reel up, declare victory and head for the bar or the barn. By the time the hatch begins, you’re long gone from the river.

They’re also easy to overlook because of where they emerge. PED nymphs migrate from the fast water in which they’ve passed their one-year lives, and move into more peaceful flows on the inside edges of fast water. Sometimes they emerge so near the shore that it’s difficult to notice them. I’ve too often fished a broad run with my back to the bank, given up when it got too dark to see my dry fly, turned to wade out, and discovered trout feeding eagerly in the shallow water I had to thrash through to get to that bank.

Whenever you fish in mid-summer on streams of modest to large size, I recommend remaining on the water, if at all possible, until the last light leaks out of the sky. Pack a streamside dinner if necessary, and nibble at it sitting on the bank. Or have dinner early and return to the water at dusk. Keep an eye out for trout feeding in calm water, far inside of the water you would normally fish, as evening quiet descends around you.

Pale Evening Duns emerge by taking a grip on bottom stones, still in the nymph stage, splitting their nymphal exoskeletons there and rising to the surface as duns. Trout feed on PED nymphs when they migrate. They feed on PED duns that succeed in escaping to the surface. But they focus on emergers in the transitional stage from the bottom to the top. You should do the same.

DunNymph

Pale Watery Dun Flymph
Hook: Standard wet fly, 1X heavy, size 12 to 16
Thread: Tan 8/0
Hackle: Light blue dun hen
Tail: Light blue dun hen hackle fibers
Rib: Silver Mylar tinsel
Body: Tan fur mixed with clear Sparkle Yarn

Ginger

Ginger Flymph
Hook: Standard wet fly, 1X heavy, size 12 to 16
Thread: Tan 8/0
Hackle: Ginger hen
Tail: Ginger hen hackle fibers
Rib: Gold oval tinsel
Body: Pale yellowish fur mixed with clear Sparkle Yarn

Yellow Sally (Isoperla)
Yellow Sally stoneflies emerge after dark, on shore. When you see winged adults over the water, it’s not a hatch, but an egg-laying flight. These usually happen on broad rivers to medium-size streams in early to late afternoon, on mid-summer days, most often over riffles or runs. You’ll also see Yellow Sally adults on low-gradient, willow-lined streams of smaller size. The adults will be riding the currents, and it looks precisely like an open-water emergence. It’s not. More likely, adults are flying to the water to wash off their eggs in the brisk water upstream, are taken under, and struggle to the surface farther downstream, making it look like they’re popping out of the nymphal skin right there.

When Yellow Sally adults are on the water, it’s often possible to take trout with dry flies. As always when you see adult insects on top, especially if you see any of them go down in swirls, it’s an instinct and also wise to try dry flies first. But it’s been my experience—even in the presence of abundant Yellow Sallies visible on the top and trout occasionally rising to them—that dry flies fail more often than they work. For a long time I couldn’t figure out why. Then it occurred to me that the nature of their behavior makes them perfect candidates for imitation with wet flies.

The first time I tried wets to imitate Yellow Sallies happened on a broad and peaceful run on Oregon’s Willamette River. I was surprised to find trout that had consistently refused a dry fly were suddenly eager to whack a wet. My initial efforts were with standard Light Cahills, a wet fly that I always keep on hand. The traditional Cahill dressing, as old as the proverbial hills, still works better than any dry fly, for me, when Yellow Sallies are out.

In recent years I’ve been using a Tup’s Nymph more often. Though covered in James Leisenring and Pete Hidy’s book The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph, and listed in the book as a nymph, it’s tied as a wet fly, and I consider it a flymph. It’s the perfect shape for Yellow Sally adults. Though the Tup’s is tied without weight, it’s a dense fly and sinks quickly, enabling me to fish it on the swing. I use it most often during sporadic rises when a few Sally adults are visible, but not enough to constitute a fishable hatch—as we’ve seen, actually an egg-laying flight.

The Tup’s has the advantage of imitating Yellow Sally nymphs as well as it does drowned adults. Since that nymph can swim quite well—a rarity among stoneflies—having a fly that fishes for both stages means it can cover twice as many fishing situations.

LightCahill

Light Cahill
Hook: Standard wet, 1X heavy, size 12 to 14
Thread: Tan 8/0
Hackle: Ginger hen
Tail: Ginger hen hackle fibers
Body: Light Cahill dubbing
Wing: Wood duck flank fibers

Tups

Tup’s Nymph
Hook: Wet, 1X long, 1X heavy, size 14 to 16
Thread: Primrose yellow Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk
Hackle: Blue dun hen, one size undersize, one or two turns
Tail: Blue dun hen hackle tips
Abdomen: Yellow Buttonhole Twist or Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk, doubled
Thorax: Yellow and amber fur and Sparkle Yarn, mixed (substitute burnt orange fur or synthetic)

Spotted Sedge (Hydropsyche)
You’ll often see tannish-brown caddis flying in dense circles, around sagebrush or juniper tops alongside larger rivers, always right at evening. They’re gathering in preparation for later egg-laying flights. It’s another occurrence that’s easy to overlook, like that of the Pale Evening Dun, because we’re often off the water by the time the caddis arrive, or it’s so dark when they do that it’s difficult to spot trout feeding on the insects.

Trout usually feed on Spotted Sedges with what the great Gary LaFontaine called “pyramid rises,” little shots of water sent straight up into the air. They feed greedily on the sudden abundance of those returning caddis. Dry flies often work, and should always be tried. But female Spotted Sedges swim to the bottom to lay their eggs, and a sunk fly will usually fool more trout than a fly that floats.

These egg-laying flights are augmented by pupae of the same insect rising for emergence at the same time: right at evening. The two often overlap. The consequence is a near panic among trout. They slash at adults swimming in the first few inches just subsurface. They get on the tail of a pupa, and sometimes take it so near the surface, with such momentum built up, that they ghost right out of the water. When you see spurting rises, and notice an occasional trout arcing over the water to topple awkwardly back in, you’ll know that you’re dealing with a Spotted Sedge happening . . . it’s much more than just a hatch.

Even if dry flies succeed in enticing trout, it can be almost impossible to see them in the failing light. The solution is obvious: Try a wet fly that imitates either the diving adults or the rising pupae. If you’d like a little more adventure, tie one wet on the point and the other as a dropper. You might get into as much excitement as those feeding trout. Just hope you don’t hook two big ones on the same swing, and that they don’t take off in opposite directions.

HaresAllFur

Hare’s Ear All-Fur Wet
Hook: Curved scud, 2X heavy, size 12 to 16
Thread: Brown 8/0
Abdomen: Hare’s mask fur mixed with clear Sparkle Yarn (substitute #1 Hare’s Ear Plus, Natural)
Thorax: Pine squirrel

HaresEar

Hare’s Ear Winged Wet
Hook: Standard wet, 1X heavy, size 12 to 16
Thread: Brown 8/0
Hackle: Brown hen
Tails: Three pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Oval gold tinsel
Body: Hare’s mask fur (substitute #1 Hare’s Ear Plus, Natural)
Wing: Hen pheasant wing feather sections

Dave Hughes
About Dave Hughes 7 Articles
Dave Hughes is the author of Reading Trout Water and the recently released second edition of Wet Flies.

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