06/24/15 Watching the sun rise after an all night fish is both familiar and foreign, like eating McDonald’s in another country. There’s a sense that you cheated time in an existential sense, and you and you alone are locked between two days. Do this for a week, and you can feel detached from the calendar and daily responsibilities in a profound, and potentially dangerous, way. But what the hell. It’s hex week. Or hex weeks, in the case of 2015.
The rivers were mercifully, and finally, spared the rain that flooded the rest of the state. The hex started on the South Branch, perhaps due to the flush of water from St. Helens, and are spreading throughout the Au Sable system. The cool daytime highs and downright cold nights have created the perfect scenario: trickling hatches and just-enough-spinners for anglers to find some fish while still prolonging the duration of the hatch. They should start on the Manistee — if they haven’t already — and work slowly northward. On the Au Sable, the hex should begin hatching through the upper main and into the Holy Waters thru the weekend and early next week. We have lots of night fishing left, and I expect the first real big dump of spinners to happen tonight (which is why I’m writing this now instead of at midnight!)
There is something profound about coming tight to a big trout in the dark, and that experience alone draws people from all over. The rivers get crowded this time of year. But hex fishing is more than an action comic book. We’ve had moon-drenched rivers, northern lights, flickering fireflies, dusk flights of woodcock. The sound of hex wings alone is special. The first night of hatchers — hit on my favorite bend with a best fishing buddy — was special. This is a beautiful time of year to fish, and night is a beautiful time to be on the river.
Lots of pictures like this from this past week
Other hatches? There’s lots of them. We get a blue wing olive this time of year — the drunella — that is a deep olive color and hatches at dusk in the riffles. The light colored hebe crawls from the pucker brush. The sulphurs continue to hatch and spin at dusk, and the Isonychia are at their peak. In some stretches, these other flies are very important. In others, the sheer biomass of hex is overwhelming and leads to more one-dimensional fishing.
Everyone has their secret hex fly, their secret leader, their secret trick. I personally like to sneak behind fish and make as few casts as possible. Once I feel I’ve covered a fish a few times, I wait for another rise. It’s good to have different flies, if only because it’s hard to get a good drift at night, and once a fish comes up and refuses one fly, they’re pretty good at refusing it for the rest of the night. Time to switch! With the moon out, I think you have to pay attention to drift, silhouette, and tippet more than on a dark night. On the plus side, it’s much easier to get a good drift on a bright night as the rise form — and sometimes even the fly — is visible.
Be safe out there, and patient, and communicate! Wading anglers tend to find pools and sit on them. Boat anglers, though, must move at some point between rising fish, or just to call it a night. This is accomplished by using lights and communication. One of the best ways to allow a boat past you is to shine your light toward the bank you’d like them to go, and then leave the light on — facing toward the far bank, not in their eyes — so the folks in the other boat can get past you. This not only helps the other boat out, it helps you out by getting them past you without disturbing your fish. On the flip side, if you’re approaching another boat, slow-up and ask what side they’d like you on. North side. South side. River right (looking downstream, this is the right side of the river) or river left. I always assume that any stopped boat is working a fish and that I should do whatever I can to not mess it up. Once, near a popular landing, I assumed a boat was waiting in line to load up — there were three our four boats in line and they were the last — and ran right over their fish. I felt terrible and five years later, still do!
Seele Fly Rods Demo Day: This Friday afternoon, June 26, award-winning fly-caster and master fly rod maker Mike McFarland, of the Seele Fly Rod Company out of Bellwood, PA, will be at Gates Lodge! We’ll be casting bunches of rods in the field. These rods are extra special to me. We were one of the first dealers in Michigan, and are devout believers in their fast, full-flex rods and their “fishability.” These rods seem made for the Au Sable. The 9’1″ 5 wt Tailwind is my favorite 5 weight on the market, and the 6 weight has been my hex and drake rod all spring. The 8’2″ 6 weight fiberglass rod is a serious hexin’ rod! This is a diverse and fun line to test cast, and a great way to pass the time between daylight and dark.
We’ve been thinking about it, and thinking about it…now we’re going to do it: a simple, fun, homespun fly-fishing catalog. If you want in, send an email to me at [email protected] with your mailing address. We’ll also have sign-up forms at the shop on Saturday and beyond. We’re looking forward to making it, and we hope you’re looking forward to reading it. So far the response has been HUGE! We can’t wait to stumble through issue #1!