Dry Fly Fishing During a Hatch – 5 Tips

Dry fly fishing during a hatch can be thrilling. It can also be frustrating.

I’ve had moments where a river or creek comes alive. The water seems to thrash with rising trout. Yet my fly will drift through the frenzy untouched. I’ve learned a few things, though, over the years, when dry fly fishing during a hatch. Here are five tips that have increased my success during Caddis, Pale Morning Dun (PMD) and Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatches.

Be ready for the waves

Hatches typically arrive in waves.

Sometimes they are sustained, but often they subside after a few minutes. If you’re not ready for the next wave, you might miss out while you’re tying on a fly. I had this happen recently. I was leisurely switching from a size #18 Parachute Adams to a size #20. As it turns out, I was too leisurely. By the time I was ready to cast, the BWO hatch suddenly started, slowed and then stopped. I had to wait fifteen minutes until the action began again. It always amazes me how trout will ignore the right pattern for ten minutes and then suddenly begin attacking it.

Dry fly fishing dishing a hatch is all about timing.

Land and release fish quickly

I realize that this sounds like a tip from Captain Obvious. But I’ve squandered some five minute feeding craze because I took three minutes to land a trout that should have taken one minute.

Use a net and have your hemostat (forceps) handy to remove the hook and release the trout gently and quickly. The goal is to get back to fishing to catch one more before the hatch subsides.

Make your dry fly visible

A blizzard of bugs on the surface means you will have a hard time identifying your fly. You may laugh the first time this happens. But after a while, it will drive you crazy. I have found a little hack that works, though.

If you’re fishing during a BWO or PMD hatch, use a pattern with a red or lime green post. If you’re fishing during a Caddis hatch, use a pattern with red or green fibers on the top of your Elk Hair Caddis. I’ve purchased flies like this, and I’ve even put red synthetic fibers on the top of the Elk Hair Caddis flies that I’ve tied.

If you can’t find a red or lime green post on the BWOs you purchase, use a Sharpie marker to turn the white post red or lime green.

Use an emerger or a nymph as a dropper

Recently, while fishing a little creek in the Minnesota Driftless, I felt helpless (and a bit angry) that I couldn’t get a trout to rise to my size #20 Parachute Adams. I knew it was the right size given all of the bugs I saw fluttering in the air.

But then, during a particularly intense hatch, I realized that the trout were feeding on emergers. I saw several dart through the water without breaking the surface. Those that did simply broke the surface with their fins. So I tied on a foot of tippet to the bend in the hook of my dry fly. At the end of the tippet, I tied on a small beadhead Copper John. I had action immediately and ended up catching about ten trout in the next half hour.

Switch to nymphs or streamers if nothing works

Sometimes, though, nothing works.

Before giving up, try a streamer. Or try nymphing. Yes, you can use a nymph as a dropper as I described above. But traditional nymphing will get your flies deeper. That might just be the ticket to success. Trout, at times, prefer to feed on emerging nymphs well before they approach the surface of the river. Streamers can work, too. A trout that won’t budge for an emerger may well show interest in a super-sized meal.

There’s nothing quite like fishing during a hatch. But there’s nothing to like about it if you’re not getting some strikes and hooking a few fish.

2 Replies to “Dry Fly Fishing During a Hatch – 5 Tips”

  1. To throw a rock in the water, I offer some alternative methods to fishing huge hatches of caddis. There can be so many caddis on the water (30 per sq. ft.) you will never determine which is your fly and which are real caddis. Under conditions such as light, distance, currents and winds along with hundreds of caddis, it can be quite difficult to identify your bug with or without a “flag” of color. Knowing your cast is always fully extended and understanding the speed of the drift will give you a good idea as to where your fly is. Setting hook on no fish will occur but it is worth trying. Stay focussed and don’t get frustrated. We’ve all missed a set when we see the fish take our bug. BWO hatches can sometimes fool you even when you’ve determined the right size. The difference between a standard tie and a parachute can make the difference in hooking up or not. It’s how it sits on the water.
    Through experience, I’ve come to the understanding that when fish have been on the same hatch for days that offering something drastically different in colors and size can be the trick. Particularly when the waters have been and continue to be pounded by angler after angler. I’ve caught fish after fish throwing a #8 giant stone in heavier waters just 20 feet away from anglers throwing caddis.

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