Fishing a Hatch on Purpose

By: Andy Marks

This fall I got an email from a fly shop saying, “The Fall Baetis Hatch is Coming, are you Ready?”. For most it was probably just a reminder but it triggered me, the way a slow fuse might excite a charge eventually. I once watched a young Cooper’s Hawk swoop toward feeding quail but then pull up, fan the air frantically, and land on a branch above where the quail had been. I laughed at its naivete then, but recently I realized it was like me coming upon a hatch. In the middle of my third year of fly fishing I decided to get it together and fish a hatch on purpose.


I started dissecting the email. It had a picture of a small mayfly with gray or pale blue wings and a dark olive segmented abdomen. I’ve heard of BWOs, but this was my first sighting. I bought some Fall BWO’s from local tier Phil Bair, but knew I would have to search my desk for the 3”x4” box they came in. The email asked if I had any sparkle dun, massacre midge, Juju Baetis, and/or Barr emergers. I have a bunch of them, and have caught fish with them. That sparkle dun mention reminded me of the drubbing I got the Friday before.

That Friday, there were backs and tails everywhere in fast water just below where a run broke up over underwater obstructions. The fish were feeding in the surface I thought. I fished with a Tenkara USA Hane, offering just about every tenkara wet fly I had, and got ignored. Back in the lot a fellow slipped his rod and reel into his truck. He was my age (but not a late starter). He said he had a great afternoon, fishing with size 22 sparkle duns. Perhaps I had struck out on another Baetis hatch: I’ve seen this fish behavior before but didn’t understand it.

I googled, “fall Baetis hatch”. I read that wet and cool weather is favorable. I checked a weather app, looking for days like that. A few upcoming days had temps in the 40s, with rain turning to snow after 4 pm under overcast skies, and 8-10 mph winds from the south (upstream where I planned to fish). It said they usually happen around 1 pm, in riffles and runs, and might last 3-4 hours under favorable weather conditions.

To fill the time between then and my selected day I tied a few tiny sparkle dun and massacre midges. I also  found the midge I tied last winter, and my Phil Bair flies. Then I gathered more gear. I got my Redington Escape hip waders (to wade near the bank). I would wear a short sleeve t-shirt as a base layer, a long sleeve shirt, a hoodie, an AKHG rain shell, and a knit cap. I got my Orvis Clearwater 8’6” 4 wt rod, and a Cortland Crown 3-5 reel loaded with Cortland Classic 444 SL WF4F mint line. Vinny from NY fished that setup while I waited for a Pacific Marten. I got a hand made 7’ tapered thin leaders (2’ of 12# red Amnesia, 1’ of 4# tangerine orange Sufix Siege, 4’ of 1X tippet, 1’ of 3X tippet), a tippet ring, and 5’ of 5X tippet. 

My day came. I eased into the river at 12:50 with low clouds, gusty winds, and light drizzle, about 30 yards below some vigorous porpoising browns. I wanted to focus on stealth, presentation, and slack. I waded slowly upstream near the bank, using short casts and medium length drifts. The water was shiny gray and I didn’t know where my fly was. I applied desiccant and it helped. The fly was 9’ past the red and orange leader section! That’s what I get for fishing an orange Tenkara level line for six weeks. 

With that detail cleared up, I watched the fly riding the shiny choppy surface, applied upstream mends, and then it got side swiped by a brown. I waited a second, lifted the rod tip a bit to set the hook, and netted a 10” brown: Not skunked. I moved upstream, closer to the louder and larger tails and fins.

I cat up and across into a hard diagonal current. My dark Phil fly got side swiped again. The fish jumped three times with the last one just as I reached to net it. I rationalized that as a short distance release of a larger brown on a barbless 18 hook. But I had nervously rushed things.

As I edged upstream the fish broke the surface within a rod length of me. They didn’t know I was there! I cast just upstream of a large porpoising fish. I had slack in the line because it drifted my way in the lighter current near the bank. The fly was taken by the large finned fish. I waited a second or two, the fish hooked itself, and I let it tire a little before bringing it to the net, no rush. It was about 16” long. A beaut.

As I played that one I saw the right flank of a BIG fish several yards beyond my last cast. I scaled the bank, tied on a fresh fly, and cast where I had seen the big fish. I was standing a few yards back from the bank in my harvest gold rain jacket. Stealth thrown to the wind, I saw no more action. When I saw the large fish it was about 3’ from the bank and pointed toward it. Maybe it saw me and recalled how it had gotten so large. More power to it. I was content: I found and fished the fall Baetis hatch. Way better than the Friday before. Thanks for reading. 

Bio: : I’m 65, I live in UT, fish in UT, in WY, Yellowstone, and ID. I’ve been fly fishing for 2 ½ years, I have 15 fly rods and 4 tenkara rods and since I’ve used the latter I haven’t touched the former.

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