Classic fly-fishing phrase “Match The Hatch” is a wise guideline that is well known and practiced amongst the anglers for centuries. However often the true meaning of the phrase is over shadowed by the angler’s wealth of knowledge, or shall I say information overload from all the guidebooks and media exposure. For this time of the year (mid summer) in New Zealand, it is quite easy to see what the fish are eating; trout are happy to rise for bigger terrestrial insects such as Beetle, Grasshopper or Cicada under the heat of the summer sun. It is such an exiting time of the year to be out on the water watching the fish emerging from the depth and swimming up to the surface and slowly opening its large jaws, and taking big terrestrial insects. Anglers can match the insects using large fly patterns to imitate what they are eating, and enjoy the dry-fly fishing at its best.
So, to enjoy the terrestrial rise, anglers need to narrow down what the trout are praying on. Then carefully observe the size and colour of the pray, and how the trout are eating. Here in southern part of New Zealand, summer is short, and trout have only 2-3 months to get their mouth on terrestrial buffet. 90% of the time trout are not fussy about the small details of the flies, as long as the fly shape and size are close to real insect. However once in a while you will come across one of those wise fish that has a good look at your fly, testing if the fly is alive or not, they will swim around the fly, lifting it up with the nose and even drift with the fly for a while then swim away. Explaining these situation, anglers have commonly blamed that bad presentation of the fly, or fish was caught before and wised up, as the concepts. However I had numbers of miss opportunities with perfectly presented fly, with what it seem like an exact imitation, in a place fish should not have had too much fishing pressure.
Then the question is; Have you really looked at the flies, and compared against the real insects? A few years ago I has a 5-6 miss takes in one day, fish came up to the fly with its mouth wide open, then completely stalled at the fly and did not eat it. I could not figure out what was wrong, then changed fly pattern, size, and even flattered the fly to give some movements, however it made no difference to the trout. In my frustration I walked around and caught a cicada off the grass, and compared to the fly I had tied on. I was shocked to see the difference. Even though the size and profile of the fly was the same, actual colour of the cicada was half as pale as the one I had tied on. Out of curiosity, I went after grasshoppers near by, caught a few and had a look, they were the same colour as cicada. This got me thinking, and started digging deeper into my fly boxes but I did not have any terrestrial fly that looks remotely as pale as the real insects. So I carried on fishing with what I had, and still caught a few fish, but that missed opportunities (with bigger fish) really haunted me. When I got home, I sat on the vise and tied up what I thought it was the right shade of cicada and grasshopper with sun-faded deer hair. A few weeks later, I went to the same place, started fishing with store bought cicada, when I came across a fish that rejected the fly, I tied the one off my vise, and I could not believe the result, same fish missed the generic fly pattern just a second before, rose to my fly and took it with no hesitation… That was such a satisfying feeling decoding the nature’s secret.
* Please check the photos above; these are the pictures of same cicada about 30min apart.
First photo was taken when it came off a tree in my garden and landed on my jacket, and then I got him/her off my jacket and left him/her on a plastic box, within 30min, it changed colour significantly. This leads me to believe some insects have quick camouflaging colour adjusting capability, just like the fish are. I guess it kind of does make sense, if you are the play and you want to survive well; it’s better not to stand out too much. Oddly enough this is the same for aquatic insects, a lot of crawling type insects blend into the environment well. Hence matching the ground/bottom colour can be quite a helpful guideline to anglers. This was a simple yet huge lesson learned, and since then, I have emphasized the importance of entomologies and observation skills, in any fishing lessons, and presentations.
It is such fly-fishing 101 skills, however in the days of information overload, it can often be overlooked. Apart from mastering basic skills, key to the great fishing is simply observation –observation – observation! Or as my mentor says “Talk to the river”.
As I mentioned earlier, 90% of the time you can get away with using generic fly pattern. However in a difficult condition or for a wise fish, it may make a huge difference. “If you have any doubt, find out what they are eating (Match The Hatch) first, but if it’s difficult to do so, then Match the ground/bottom colour”.
It may sounds too far fetched, but who knows, it may just help you charm the fish of your dream. Good luck, and have fun out while the summer lasts.