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Fly Fishing the Midwest
Fly Fishing the Midwest
It is not natural for fish to try to eat feathers so I try to catch every one that will so that those that won’t eat feathers go on to populate our lakes rivers and streams, no that is fly fisherman logic.
By S.L. Merriam
I’d be willing to bet that very few fish in the Midwest wake up each morning and say, “What’s for breakfast? I can’t wait to taste some feathers from a Royal Coachman or a lead headed jig covered chenille and white marabou.” Before the day is over that’s exactly what they’ll bite. It doesn’t make sense, but they do it over and over again. I always wondered why they were attracted to artificial flies and lures then I did some research and figured out the reasons.
It doesn’t matter if we’re fishing for trout using dry flies, angling for crappie, brim or bass using poppers or terrestrials or trolling for big cruiser lake trout using streamers. All of these flies have one thing in common – they’re a fairly accurate representation of something that’s in that fish’s natural food chain in his home environment. I know that you’ve heard it a thousand times, but to be successful as a fly fisherman anglers have to learn how to “match the hatch”. Simply put, in order to catch fish the fly has to look natural and replicate one of the native bugs, bait fish or amphibians that live in the fish’s home water.
Matching the hatch is the key to fishing success! Fly fishermen can throw the latest creation from their fly tying desk at fish all day long, but if their offering doesn’t look like something that the resident fish have seen before and want to eat then it’s all wasted effort. If you’re trying a new fishing spot a good way to match the hatch is to check in with the guys at the local fly shop. Most shops have someone on their staffs who has fished the popular spots in the local area – they’ll know which flies are hot and which ones are not.
A good part of matching the hatch has to do with timing. The flies that work right after the snow and ice melt in early spring probably won’t work well during the “dog days” of summer. During the cold winter months, fish survive by retreating to deep pools and hiding under deep cut banks in the lake or stream. Here they can find security and feeding cover which will help them survive the harsh environment. As water levels drop after the ice and snow melts and runs off the water in area lakes, streams and rivers will clear and warm up. The resultant increase in insect activity will give fishermen more opportunities to catch fish.
When you’re prospecting a new fishing location it’s a good idea to survey the stream for a period of time before you wade in and start casting your fly line. Walk down to the water’s edge, take a seat and look for whatever insects, amphibians and small bait fish inhabit the area. Gently turn over a few rocks on the bottom of the stream looking for insect larvae and pay attention to the flying insects buzzing around above water level. After your survey is complete, rummage through your fly box and select flies that imitate the aquatic life that you discovered during your survey. It won’t do you much good to throw a dry fly such as a blue winged olive when the fish are scouring the stream bottom digging up nymphs.
Most streams produce a wide variety of insect life as the season progresses and the weather warms. The hatches that produce this abundant insect life follow a fairly predictable pattern – midges start off the rotation in late spring when the water is still cold followed by caddis which appear in early summer. Terrestrials appear as the weather warms up and they are a fish favorite all summer long. Be sure to look for small bait fish and hatching fish fry which are easy prey for larger predatory fish such as trout and bass. Some of the flies used to imitate midge insects include the Griffith’s Gnat, Parachute Adams and the Pale Morning Dun. The Copper John and Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear are nymphs that work well. Large foam bodied hoppers and ant patterns work well when these insects travel out of farm fields to the water. Streamers like the Clouser and muddler minnow imitate small bait fish that live in most lakes and streams.
The flies that you offer to fish don’t have to be works of art like some of the Atlantic salmon flies found in New England and eastern Canada, but they should be a fair representation of some form of aquatic life that is native to the stream you’re fishing. Keep your fly offerings simple, your fly presentation delicate, match the hatch and you’ll catch fish.
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