August 06, 2010 4 min read

Earlier this spring I was talking to a friend on the phone at the shop and he was telling me about a hatch on unnamed river he’d recently been fishing. “They were just coming off in clouds,” he said, and from the sound of his voice I knew he meant it. It had that slightly unhinged quality, like someone who has just come out on the far end of a quasi-religious experience.

Evening bloom of caddis near MP19

Image by Scott Butner via Flickr

After we hung up I started thinking back about some of the truly great hatches I’ve seen. There was a flying ant hatch in the catskills one spring that seemed for all the world like a biblical plague, and I’ve seen some pretty good mayfly hatches on lots of rivers. There were also a few which weren’t big in terms of numbers but where impressive when it came to size, hatches with big bugs that practically everything in the river seemed to go bonkers for.

Still while I know I’ve seen a lot of good hatches, I’m still not sure how many great ones I’ve seen.

One thing I know I’ve missed out on are some of the big western hatches, the famous mother’s day caddis hatch for example, or the big green drake hatch on the Henry’s Fork. From what I’ve been told it brings fisherman from hundreds of miles away. Of course that presents it’s own problems, though I still think I’d like to see it, at least just once.

Of course fishing such hatches is another matter altogether. I’ve never been able to really make up my mind with blanket hatches, whether it’s more important to have a dead-on imitation or whether it matters less, and I’ve heard good fisherman argue both. On the one hand, it seems reasonable to assume that if you just throw something approximate out there, the fish, in their frenzy, will hit it just the same as the naturals. The opposite argument, of course, says that because good hatches get fish so keyed in on the naturals it makes it even more important to have a good imitation. I’m not totally sure myself, though I suppose that could be because I haven’t seen enough real blizzard hatches to put such theories to the test (and of course if I see a hatch like that, the last thing I’m thinking about are theories).

Trout Rising To Blanket Caddis Hatch on the Yakima – via flickr: Scott Butner

If I really get down to it, I’d wager that I only see one really tremendous hatch every few years and of course it’s not always very predictable. It’ll usually be in the spring of course, but other than that there are just too many variables to be able to guess such things with any great accuracy. Some years you get several of them, and other years they never really materialize at all. I suppose that’s as it should be, since it really makes you appreciate those rare days when you hit it just right. And of course it’s also important to remember that adjectives like “great” are pretty squarely in the eye of the beholder too.

One of the more memorable hatches that sprung to mind after the phone call must have been in the early 80’s, after Tom Maxwell and I had left Leonard, and he had moved to the northwest corner of Connecticut, living on Music Mountain near the Housatonic. I came down from the Berkshires to visit him one day and we drove over to the Hoosie just to take a look around. I’m not even sure what prompted the trip but I do know that we didn’t pack our rods which was probably the reason why we stumbled upon one of the best hatches I’ve ever seen. You can’t tempt the fishing gods like that and just expect to get away with it.

I remember turning Tom’s car into this pull-off which overlooked the river and the bugs were just billowing off the water. There was a guy out in the stream in front of us who — naturally — couldn’t cast worth a lick, and so there Tom and I were, without rods, watching this guy flog the water with sheets of bugs coming off and trout rising all over the place. At one point I think there were more trout rising in back of the guy than in front of him. Tom was speechless and I had practically jammed my cap into my mouth to keep from screaming aloud.

Of course the larger questions here — irony, chance, fate, etc — are topics best left to someone else, but I know I’ll certainly never forget that hatch. I bet I sounded a little unhinged afterwards too.

If I learned anything from that experience, and it’s no guarantee that I have, it was to make sure that you carry a rod in the car at all times. You never know when you’ll get the Every-Few-Years-hatch that you’ve been waiting for.


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