My wife and I are getting ready to take a trip north for a little camping and trout fishing, and a big part of the preparation is picking a location, pouring over maps, and gathering all the equipment. Not the least of which is all the flies I expect to be needing. But which ones should I be tying (or buying in some cases)?
We get this question all the time while standing behind the counter and unfortunately for us and the customer, there's no real simple answer? "What are you fishing for?" "Where are you going?" "What time of year?" We go through a whole list of questions and in the end might not even have the right answer because there are too many variables to consider. Why is it so complicated in some cases?
The best way I've been able to explain it to anyone is like this. Imagine you lived inside one square block for your entire life and over that time the only food you saw and consumed were hotdogs in January, hamburgers in February, hotdogs in March, hamburgers in April, and so on. Would you know and trust that a pizza was edible if one showed up on some random day in September? Of course not! It might look interesting but by this time you've developed an instinct that hotdogs and hamburgers are food. Therefore you might not be willing to trust your life to testing something different.
Well, fish in a small section of river see food in the same manner albeit on a slightly more complicated scale. They've learned that the bugs inhabiting their world are food, and that those bugs transition through different life stages (nymph, emerger, dun, spinner, spent spinner) at specific times of the year or under certain conditions. They instinctively know that an olive-colored adult Caddis shouldn't be on the water's surface at the same time as a Sulphur Spinner. So guess what. You better get the fly right, or at least in the same ball park if you expect to catch a trout sitting behind that rock in the middle of the Nantahala River. Add in some small fish, terrestrials, other miscellaneous edible morsels and you've created a pretty complex menu.
Hatch charts like the one pictured are in effect a trout's menu for the year, identifying the bug species and color along with the corresponding fly pattern and size to remove some of the guesswork. Various websites and books publish these charts to help us pack our boxes and stock our fly tying tables with things that might actually work rather than having to go through years of trial and error experimentation. They can be an effective "guide" to what fish might be eating at a particular time of year and are indispensable when planning a trip into trout waters. Saltwater anglers can create similar things but we're only dealing with fish and crustaceans for the most part. You also have to consider that any fish smaller than the one looking for a meal could be considered food. Hatch charts can go a long way towards ensuring a successful outing to an area you aren't familiar with.
So, the next time you're heading into a new region, consult with a local fly shop and browse through a few hatch charts before you spend hundreds of dollars and countless hours stocking your fly boxes. That way you'll be well stocked with whatever's on the menu, whether it's hotdogs, hamburgers, or maybe even pizza..
Brian "Beastman" Eastman
White River Fly Shop