This might make a bunch of folks laugh at my angling prowess, but I’m going to say it anyway. I don’t “match the hatch”, fly fishing or otherwise. I can’t tell you the difference between trico and BWO (well, I can, but I had to Google it), I don’t know what exact color the crayfish in my home lake are, and I have no knowledge of the life cycle of fathead minnow. In truth, I barely care at all what the fish I’m trying to catch are eating. Furthermore, the only reason I have even an inkling of concern for what they might be eating is to help me locate where the dining is taking place. From there I can work on duping them.
I realize this sounds blasphemous to many died-in-the-wool fly types, and probably a bunch of other anglers, too. I mean, really, how could I not care exactly what they’re eating giving that my goal is to get them to bite?! My answer for this has been developed over the last six years; specifically once we started traveling a bunch to foreign waters to film FTTV. Please allow me to back up a step, and apologize too.
This column is not a knock on matching the hatch. After all, there’s a whole lot of fish that wish the concept had never been conjured, and a slew of anglers that are very good at finding just the right fly or lure. What I mean to point to out is that there are other and often simpler ways to elicit a strike and keep your tackle to reasonable levels in so doing. The beauty of fishing is that there are no wrong answers. Find what makes you happy and run with it.
Now, Fishful Thinker TV is filmed on public water. We don’t “pre-fish” and we film each show in somewhere between two and six hours of fishing time. What we catch is what you see, and we try hard to communicate how we’re figuring it out while we’re figuring it out. In rare cases (as in four or five out of the 130+ episodes we’ve aired), we’ll produce a technique or fish specific show utilizing clips from various days on the water, but that is way outside our normal gig. We produce 26 episodes per year so that’s a lot of bodies of water to visit. In only a handful of cases have we used local guides; when we do it’s typically because we need their boat (My Ranger is not set-up to troll, I don’t own a drift boat, etc). And for the record, we never discreetly fish multiple days to create one show full of fish porn.
Sooo, why does this matter to my match the hatch topic, you are rightfully thinking? Because, in short, I catch more fish now, by far, than I did before I started traveling this much. And before the travel, I obsessed over matching the hatch. Now, with this many destinations, types of waters, and species of fish, combined with my guiding schedule, writing, post-production, etc., I don’t have time for researching much of anything beyond basic conditions, and I certainly can’t learn the nuances of baitfish colors or hatch times. I usually find time to dig up water levels and temps and maybe even scrounge up a map here and there, but that’s about it. Figuring out what trout in some obscure river in Wyoming will be eating a month from now ain’t in my strategy.
Instead, I’ve learned to fish with a more open mind and more to the conditions we find when we arrive. In many cases, we don’t even have a species pegged; we may show up at a lake known for bass and fish walleyes instead simply because we spotted a bunch of them on the Lowrance. In all cases, I’ve determined that fish are very opportunistic feeders.
I’ve had large fish tanks my whole life. Put a crappie in one and then add two dozen goldfish. Do you think they’ve ever seen a goldfish in the wild? Not likely. Does it slow them from eating those goldfish in a matter of minutes? Nope. Same thing with any other species I’ve ever had in captivity, fresh or salt water. So what if the crayfish smallmouth bass eat are greenish brown? Drop a dark chocolate colored one with big blue claws in front of him and he’ll eat it. It’s all about the opportunity.
In our angling, we’ve found that being in the right depth range based on season, water temp, and light conditions is critical. We’ve found that being around the right type of cover and structure, preferably together, is also very important. And we’ve found that even oddball flies and lures will get bit if presented right. If you’re talking pelagic species like striped bass, knowing where they are eating is critical, but necessarily not what they’re eating; pelagics usually feed in schools so anglers can use their own competitiveness against them. It’s nearly impossible to match the hatch for kokanee salmon (which eat miniscule stuff) but we catch lots of them in fall using giant lures to provoke strikes out of territorialness. Divers don’t wear shiny stuff because barracudas normally eat Rolex’s? I think not; t’s just flashy and peaks their predator nature. Fat, lazy largemouths are commonly duped by interrupting their sunny day snooze with a heavy jig bombing in and surprising them.
Fly guys have drifted a gillion flies over feeding trout only to be refused repeatedly. They keep switching flies hoping to find just the right size, profile, and hue which will net them the coveted rise. That is a classic match the hatch deal. Yet, that same trout is catchable on fly tackle by using something other than a perfect dead drift to provoke the take. I’ve salvaged many days of not having just the right fly and compensating by adding motion to my less than ideal fly. It’s funny how many sniffs turn into committed takes if you strip the fly away from them just before they refuse you. Trout are suckers for speed and big bites, even in the presence of lots of tiny dead bugs.
I’ll end by saying I carry far less tackle or flies now than I ever did, yet I fish a much wider range of waters, conditions, and species. I carry a few basic colors and lure/fly genres. I focus very heavily on depth range, casting accuracy, and line control in all cases. I fish windy areas, edges, transitions, and basically focus on the fundamentals of angling. I avoid tricks, dock talk, and especially negative reports from others because, on any given day, some dude on a lake is whackin’ ‘em while some other dude is struggling, and their respective reports on the fishing will differ. Some guy has changed flies 100 times and still no bites while a some kid with 10 flies total is swinging a Micky Finn through clouds of bugs and catching ‘em good. The only thing we can truly count on is that they have tiny little brains and great big mouths; keep an open mind and you’ll find ways to put a hook in it!