Scratch The Hatch

By Braxton Batey

The early morning gives way to a bright intense sun. The haze is lifting and the insects emerging. Trout are haphazardly sipping the bugs off the surface as they fall from the massive clouds of the hatch. Yet here I am throwing a size 8 wooly bugger instead of matching the hatch with a size 20 blue-winged olive. Scratching your head yet? I’ve had that same confused question from multiple anglers anywhere I go and I tell them all to scratch the hatch. 

How did I come up with this off-the-wall concept you may ask? Well, to put it simply it was a lack of knowledge and skill. I lacked the technical skill of tying small tippets to small flies. I lacked the know-how of fishing small dries and even nymphs, I didn’t even know what an indicator was. In turn, this forced me into fishing hatches with less-than-ideal flies with even worse methods. Mayflies are hatching and I’m stripping a size 6 dumbbell eye streamer. Instead of floating a much smaller dry into eddies. I know it sounds crazy but this flat-out catches ‘em. 

Think about it for a second. We have all had days, myself included, where I had the right fly for the right hatch and fish would not hit my fly after carefully inspecting it in favor of the real thing. When you match the hatch you are competing with perfection. Even the best fly tiers cannot imitate a live insect 100% dare I even say 75%. These fish can inspect your fly for a while and decide it’s not what they want. Do you know what they don’t inspect? A streamer stripped aggressively amongst the feeding of other fish. This triggers their natural instinct to chase. When they are running something down all they are thinking about is catching it, not inspecting it. 

Consider this angle, a hatch attracts more than your target fish. It attracts all kinds of things from minnows to crayfish to larger fish that may feed on the fish you are trying to catch. Take for instance Old Hickory Lake where I freshwater fly fish often. The lake holds an abundance of sunfish, bass, and crappie. When the Mayflies hatch in June, one can target smaller bass and sunfish with a dry fly or a small popper. I target them and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the fish that are there to eat the fish you’re targeting aren’t eating mayflies. I caught one of my biggest bass on the fly doing this on old Hickory. He was targeting the bluegill and other small fish that were targeting the mayflies. Another instance is when I was trout fishing a good-sized creek. There were tiny white bugs hatching in mass, trout were sipping them off the top however I could not get a bite with the fly that looked almost identical to them. No matter how small the tippet, how

long the leader was, and how far in front I cast to let it drift naturally to the fish. So reverting back to my wayward disposition I tied on the size 8 rubber-legged bugger I tied the night before. I made the presentation against the opposite bank and popped it once. At that moment the big rainbow turned and I knew he wanted it. I started stripping erratically and bam fish on. 

After landing the fish and the other anglers nearby seeing the commotion of the intense battle they came over to chat. While they had had mild success with tiny flies and nymphs they were only picking up little fish here and there, meanwhile, my day had been just the opposite. I had landed several larger trout. They asked 

what I was catching them on and when I told them they looked skeptical until I showed them the bugger I had tied on. We all discussed the day and I commended them for being able to catch them on smaller dries etc that I could not. They all said they have never thought of scratching the hatch before and tried the wooly bugger approach. As I was leaving the creek that day they were as well and I asked if they had caught any more. They said that switching to the bugger made all the difference in the world and they had caught several larger trout. 

In closing, I hope that you consider this somewhat radical approach and apply it the next time your match to the hatch offering is being snubbed by the trout or any fish you pursue for that matter. I also implore you to consider what other species may be involved in a hatch and see the opportunity to target them as well. In this day and age of highly pressured fish and overfished waters going against the norm can have great results. I truly believe it will turn a bad day into a good day, but who has ever heard of a bad day of fishing?

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