“The hatch is just above the bridge!” said the voice from the phone. While this may be a rather innocuous phrase to the non-angler, in me, it induced an involuntary fist pump, a silent whoop, and a sudden onset of Steve Martin’s Happy Feet in the middle of my office cubicle. I was calling the fly shop in Ashton for the sixth consecutive day, asking about the salmon fly hatch. Ignoring the strange looks from my fellow office workers, minutes later my friend and I were escaping the gopher farm and racing our way across the Idaho desert toward an afternoon of casting orange bellied behemoths, more akin to miniature Goodyear blimps, than the delicate creations normally presented to Henry’s Fork trout.
The guy in the shop answering the phone each morning understood completely and likely would have had a similar reaction to mine if the roles were reversed. Surely he had been tolerating the daily inquiries, in anticipation of the fulfillment of the unspoken agreement that we would be stopping into the shop to purchase a few of his handmade creations in exchange for the information we anxiously pursued. It is my adherence to this type of arrangement that helps to explain the many boxes of “local flies” that continue to fill every pocket, pouch, and sleeve in my fly vest. Indeed, you can never have too many flies. You just don’t have to carry ALL of them with you everywhere you go. Last year, I consolidated some of these into boxes that would only be inserted for a trip to that specific locale. The alternative being a vest more suited for combat training than fly fishing.
Eventually, every angler decides to target a specific hatch of insects. Sometimes it is on local waters; sometimes great distances are traveled in hopes of fishing the often finicky, always ephemeral, and like most things in nature unpredictable, and yet potentially epic insect hatches. I once shared a flight home to Idaho Falls with a couple from New Zealand who were targeting the Mother’s Day hatch on the Madison. We all found it amusing that we both wanted to circumnavigate the globe to fish each other’s home waters.
Some believe that these epic hatches are nothing short of urban legends; or perhaps rural legends as it were. My wife has yet to experience a true dry fly hatch of any kind. Last June, in an effort to remedy this situation, I scheduled a guided trip for us in Yellowstone National Park. The week preceding our trip it rained nonstop causing the rivers in the park to swell well beyond their banks. I still remember the look on our guide’s face as he implored us saying “please don’t make me take you into The Park today”. We gladly changed our plans to float the Madison and had a fantastic day throwing rubber legs. While my wife landed countless trout that day, an insect hatch remained in the same category as our elusive friend Sasquatch.
I find it interesting that while trout play a critical role in this pursuit, the primary focus is on a species of insect. This change in focus allows anglers to tolerate what, under other circumstances would be considered unbearable conditions. Combat fishing; which is normally avoided by all but the most oblivious, some might say imbecilic, of anglers, is suddenly kosher. It seems that when the fish are eating flies as if they were a bunch of skittles that have been strewn about the floor of a day care center, an occasional tangle with another angler is abided by all. The solitude so often sought in our sport becomes a party where proximity is only limited by the propensity to catch each other, wasting precious fishing time.
Ed and I had a blast splashing down sofa pillows that day on the Henry’s Fork. Despite having wings, salmon flies are clearly not designed for flight, especially in the windy conditions of Eastern Idaho. I have to admit that having giant bugs crash land into your head and proceed to crawl up your body in search of who knows what, is a bit unnerving. Eventually I discovered that the brim of my hat is their preferred vantage point.
Whether it be cicadas, green drakes, salmon flies, bikinis, stones, or sallies, chasing something that may or may not happen when and where you end up adds another dimension to an already fascinating obsession. I just heard that the green drakes are coming off on the Middle Provo and my happy feet are shuffling toward the truck…