[Author’s Note: Last year I wrote an article on “Fishing Before the Hex,” which was intended to give the reader a better insight to the various bugs that emerge in the weeks prior to the hex hatch. This article covers what an angler can expect to find on the water the months following the hex hatch.]
The Hex hatch is what gets not only the larger fish out of their bunkers, but also what brings out more anglers in pursuit of carnivorous fish eating recklessly. When the big bugs are gone, so are the crowds but plenty of fishing opportunities exist. Here is what you can expect to see on the local trout rivers in July and August, where to find them and tips on how to fish them:
- Latin Name: Isonychia bicolor & Isonychia salderi
- Common Name: Iso, White Glove Howdy, Slate Drake
- Hook Size: #10-14
Isonychias continue to earn their appreciation amongst anglers as bug populations/densities on certain rivers not only continue to build, but also the time window of when they hatch seems to get larger. The big numbers of Iso’s typically occur in the middle of June, but bugs can be seen through mid-August in the evenings. Don’t expect to find them thick enough to cover the water,but because of their size, it doesn’t take many for the fish to notice them. When they aren’t on the water, a dry fly angler will appreciate the response a well presented Isonychia receives. When you flip your calendar from June to July, leave the Isonychias in your fly box.
Tip: Take your nice Iso pattern and bend the shank sideways making it look like a dead cripple.
- Latin Name: Tricorythodes
- Common Name: Trico
- Hook Size: #18-24
These are some of the smallest bugs Northern Michigan anglers will find in big numbers with fish actually feeding on them. Just after the nocturnal hex when an angler finds himself staying up late, the trico angler is an early riser – from first light to about noon. The cool evenings and lack of sun will delay the hatch until mid-morning, but when they come off, they typically do in decent numbers.
This mayfly is not known to get the big fish of northern Michigan rising in the bright sun, but the Tricos do however get smaller fish to key in on them and it’s a lot of fun with a lighter rod. Pay close attention to the rises – they are often small dimples in the water as opposed to slurps and even the rare but large fish that comes to snack will leave the smallest evidence on the surface. Look for Tricos to start in early July and extending mostly through August.
Tip: Since they are small, fish them as a trailer behind a larger dry fly that will act as a strike indicator.
- Latin Name: Siphlonurus
- Common Name: Gray Drake
- Hook Size: #12-14
Grey Drakes are smaller than their brown and green brothers and really like sections of rivers with gravel, often building in heavy numbers as adults to mate. Target adult spinners and the fish feeding on them in the slick water below the riffles where they hover above to do their mating dance.
These bugs start in mid-June and can extend to mid-July. An easy way to confirm a Gray Drake is to catch one and inspect the eyes – if they are outlined on the bottom with white lines – it’s them. This is the closest mayfly that matches an Adams dry fly pattern.
Tip: Bring your headlamp as you can have action into the dark hours.
- Latin Name: Stenomena canadense
- Common Name: Cahill (Kay-hill)
- Hook Size: #12-14
Light Cahills are one of those bugs that are around for months, but rarely are found in large numbers. My experience with these meaty, cream colored flies suggests they are not a favorite of fish – they will eat other bugs on the water leaving the Cahills. Because of their numbers and their lengthy hatch period, I’m sure to have some in the box whether they are the only bug on the water and/or if the fish do key in on them.
Tip: Have them in your box but make sure fish are taking them – not another insect- before fishing them.
Blue Wing Olives
- Latin Name:Pseudocloeon
- Common Name: BWOs, Baetis, Olives
- Hook Size: #18-22
The name Blue Wing Olive and Baetis includes a number of different bugs that are widespread throughout the U.S. and northern Michigan. From winter hatches below tail-waters, to their reputation of emerging only on cool, cloudy and slightly rainy days, anglers in July and August will want some “olives” in their box regardless of whether it’s raining or not. Blue Wing Olives in size 18 – 22 are a good call, and a pattern like Galloup’s BWO cripple is a great choice when fish lock in on them.
Tip: Just like an Adams should be carried in your box at all times, always have a selection of BWOs too.
- Latin Name: Ephoron Leukon
- Common Name: Ephorons, White Flies
- Hook Size: #12
Typically hatching in the last hour or two before dark, the Ephoron will emerge heavily and fast, looking similar to snow flurries. This bug makes the transition from nymph to adult to spinner within a few hours before falling spent to the water so you will want all stages of the fly with you. Certain sections of certain rivers experience these in mid-August through September when water temperatures can be high; if it’s too high, forgo fishing as even catch-and-release practices result in a high mortality rate.
Tip: Have an emerger tied on and be prepared for a flurry of action because when the bugs come they come off the water fast. After things slow down, tie on a spinner pattern and wait for the bugs to return. It can all happen quickly so be prepared.
Terrestrials encompass all sorts of bugs that play a role to the fly fisher. Insects like grasshoppers, ants and beetles are just the most common examples of these so you’ll want a box of them in all sorts of sizes, shapes and colors. I have written an additional article specifically on terrestrial fishing — Read “Terrestrials and Terrestrial Fishing” here »
This is the most popular insect in this category of bugs, as they should be. When the wind blows them out of overhanging grass and trees or out of the air as they fly, trout often crush them wherever you find the two. Once the mid-morning sun has burned off the dew, fish hoppers on the sunny days through the evening when the wind is at its highest. Hopper fishing is a fun way to fish from late June through mid-September; target the banks with your casts with a plop, then skitter, drag and move them on the water.
Tip: Each day is different on what presentation the fish prefer, but know that hoppers don’t feel at home when on water and they move like it – fish your flies similarly.
These are always around, but usually not in numbers. However what really makes trout go nuts are flying ants – of all sizes. Any angler who has experienced a flying ant hatch has experienced some of their best fishing. Flying ants are the “crack-cocaine” to trout – once they have one, they will do anything to have more of them – even if that means moving into shallow water in bright sun to feed on them.
Tip: Have some flying ants in your box or you might miss out on the best surface activity you will experience in years. Really – it can be an angler’s nirvana.
Beetles are popular with the anglers who relish terrestrial fishing. Small in size and dark in color, they can be hard to track on the water. Fish them to risers that are keyed in on beetles, or fish them as a trailer to a larger fly that works as an indicator.
The size fish these small flies ((#14-20) can convince to eat can be shocking – use light tippet and a good presentation to convince them to eat along with a soft tip rod and smooth playing of the fish to get the fish to hand.
Tip: If you see fish rising but can’t tell what they are taking, look closely for any beetles that might be drifting by but are hard to see.
Foam and Rubber Hatch
Big flies like Chernobyl Ants tied with multiple colors of foam and active rubber legs and other natural and synthetic materials do a good job of imitating nothing, but suggest, rather, hoppers, cicadas, and stoneflies performing as a general attractor that looks like a mouthful of protein. These big bugs have a sizable silhouette, and often are enough of a temptation to pull fish out from hiding in the low water and high sun.
Tip: Fish them with and without activity, often in the middle of the river over scattered, submerged timber/structure.
While it isn’t considered a hatch so to speak, big flies that look like mice imitate the naturals that hurriedly cross the river. Yes, mice do swim, and those nocturnal browns that lie in shallow water will eat the scrambling fur balls as it comes down and across the river. Right at dark and before that cold dewfall hits on the darkest nights are the best conditions for those armed with a stout leader and hook covered in hair and fur. This is also a good way to fish during the hex after the last of the bugs have emerged or floated by for the night. Glow-in-the dark fly lines and a 6 or 7 wt. rod make it easy to cast these flies and land the fish that eat them.
Cast close to the bank and inside of bends and swim that fly down and across to form a wake.
Tip: Set the hook when you feel the fish, NOT when you hear it.
The Other Hex
Speaking of the last of the hex, the hatches experienced the last few years have been spread out thanks to inconsistent weather. Some bugs – not necessarily in thick numbers, will continue to emerger for a while into mid-July and adult spinners will often be seen on the water before dark, which can make for some great and exciting fishing. In addition to the Hexagenia limbata we are most familiar with, the Hexagenia recurvata is a smaller, darker version of the large mayfly which typically starts a few weeks after the more popular bug is done. Another mayfly that is difficult to predict but can hatch in July and into August is the Golden Drake (Potamanthus) which is similar to a hex, but larger and are more cream colored. Both of these bugs typically hatch in the late afternoon and evening and can bring up fish of all sizes.
Tip: Keep some hex flies with you from mid-June into August. As odd as it may seem, float a natural looking hex pattern in the evening or early morning well after the crowds are gone and watch what happens – you might be pleasantly surprised.
Presentation and Equipment
Having the right fly in your box is only part of the equation that is going to make your time on the water memorable. Remember: presentation trumps fly selection.
By understanding where and when the bugs are likely to emerge or fall as adults will greatly improve your chances at hitting the summer bugs. Further, imitating them with the right action can be the difference between hooking up and casting.
When the hex hatch is “over” don’t put your rods away – the next couple of months can still serve up some good fishing. If none of the bugs mentioned above are emerging or falling and if blind fishing the patterns doesn’t work, tie on Royal Coachmans, Stimulators, Patriots and other attractors to break-up the dog-days of summer – it’s a great way to fish while wet-wading your favorite stream or river staying cool and catching fish with flies that suggest rather than imitate.
Don’t abandon the streamer program at this time of year – after a rain, a meaty streamer intruding the space of a trout will trigger that predatory response. As always, practice catch and release while you have the river mostly to yourself after the busy hex season has passed.
To learn more about the various bugs, where and how to fish them, book a trip by calling 231.883.8156 or e-mailing Ted@Current-Works.com.