The salmon fly hatch at Hook’d Up Bar and Grill is nothing short of legendary. Anglers from all corners of the world make pilgrimages to our pristine streams to experience the thrill of fly fishing during this extraordinary event. It’s a true angler’s paradise, with voracious fish eagerly devouring these big bugs. However, mastering the salmon fly hatch takes skill and timing. Let’s dive into the fascinating world of this elusive hatch and explore the techniques to make the most of this incredible fishing opportunity.
The Hatch: A Test of Skill and Luck
The salmon fly hatch emerges shortly after the runoff subsides and the water temperature reaches the mid-50s. However, predicting the exact timing of the runoff is no easy task. It depends on various factors such as mountain snowpack depth, spring rainfall, and the gradual rise in temperatures required to melt the snowpack. In Montana, this hatch typically occurs during the first few weeks of May, usually concluding by the end of the third or fourth week. Conversely, in Wyoming, where the elevations are higher, the runoff often extends into mid-July. So, to seize the opportunity, some diligent homework and a sprinkle of luck are in order.
As the water meanders downstream, it gradually warms up. Consequently, the hatch commences in the lower sections of the stream before gradually progressing upstream. This intriguing “here today, gone tomorrow” pattern persists until the hatch reaches the headwaters of the stream. The hatch’s duration hinges on the speed at which the stream warms up and the length of the waterway itself.
Salmon Fly Lifecycle: The Canaries of Our Watersheds
Salmon fly nymphs undergo a remarkable journey before reaching maturity. Their lifecycles span three to four years, and during this time, nymphs of varying sizes coexist throughout the year. These nymphs thrive in clean, cold, and well-oxygenated water, which explains why they inhabit only a select few of our trout streams. They serve as indicators of our watersheds’ health, much like canaries in a coal mine.
Once they reach maturity, the nymphs migrate from the deep center-water to the stream’s edge, where they crawl onto rocks or logs and shed their exoskeletons. From there, they make their way into the streamside brush to mate. The females, a little clumsy in their ovipositing frenzy, drop onto the water’s surface, resembling out-of-control motor boats. This spectacle catches the attention of the nearby fish, who eagerly seize the opportunity for a feast.
Apart from their significant size, ranging from 2 to 3 inches, adult salmon flies offer an abundance of nutrition. Trout feast on these bugs, gaining an astonishing 30% of their seasonal weight during this single hatch. After this gorge, the trout take a few days to recover before they resume feeding. Therefore, the best strategy is to fish a stream slightly ahead of the hatch and during the hatch, but not immediately afterward.
Fishing the Surface: A Dance of Weakness and Temptation
Salmon flies are not known for their aerial prowess. They are weak fliers, and some unfortunate ones lose their grip while resting or mating in the riparian foliage, plummeting into the water, where they become easy prey for trout. To fish them effectively, position yourself near the center of the stream and cast toward the banks. If there are gaps in the brush, aim your fly there, close to the bank, and let it drift tantalizingly beneath the outstretched branches. In case the brush is dense with few or no openings, adopt a sidearm cast, targeting a spot about a foot outside the brush. By delivering large and buoyant flies this way, they will bounce a few inches above the water’s surface and continue their journey for another foot or two, comfortably under the branches. This technique works wonders when fishing the banks with terrestrial flies. It’s possible that a few flies may become entangled in the branches, but most will reach the desired drift line.
Another surface technique involves imitating the ovipositing females. Opt for a fly with a bushy and heavily hackled thorax. This design allows you to skitter the fly across the water’s surface, mimicking the erratic behavior of the egg-laying females. It’s not uncommon for big fish to eagerly chase down such a tantalizing dinner.
Fishing the Subsurface: Exploring the Hidden Depths
Salmon fly nymphs typically cling to the streambed rocks, feeding on algae and other micronutrients. However, there are instances when they lose their grip and get caught in the drift. Therefore, one effective approach is to dead drift nymph patterns through the deep and cool riffles where they reside. Depending on the water’s depth, you may need weighted nymphs or sinking tip lines to reach these nymphs.
During the hatch, another productive technique entails fishing from the stream’s bank and casting toward the midstream. Employ a slow twist retrieve to mimic the behavior of the migrating nymphs. If possible, bring the retrieve all the way to the stream’s edge, as trout often lie beneath the streamside brush, eagerly awaiting their next meal.
Embrace the Challenge, Reap the Rewards
Fly fishing the salmon fly hatch is not for the faint of heart, but those who seize the opportunity will be rewarded with some of the biggest trout of the year. At Hook’d Up Bar and Grill, we understand the allure and excitement that this hatch brings. So, when you find yourself here during the salmon fly season, rest assured that majestic fly fishing experiences await you. Don’t miss the chance to create unforgettable memories and land those trophy-sized trout!
Written by Al Simpson, July 2022.