Saturday, January 20, 2018

Stillwater Angler Fishing Report

Matching the hatch

By the time you’re reading this, our area rivers and streams will have likely spiked and be running off color.
This may be the beginning of runoff unless we get another serious shot of cooler weather for an extended period of time.
I often get asked, “How do you know what fly to use?” In response, I usually give what I call my “lawyer’s answer” and reply, “that depends.” Much has been written on that subject alone, however, there are a few basic factors that influence the choice.
Where one is fishing is probably as critical as any factor. Every river system has its own unique idiosyncrasies. Freestone rivers like the Stillwater and Yellowstone have different aquatic insects than a tailwater like the Missouri or Bighorn. What works on one system may not necessarily work on another.
Since insect hatches are temperature driven, the time of year comes into play too. It’s probably going to be futile to attempt to fish a fly that replicates a spring insect in the fall. Fish key in to start looking for particular insects during certain times of the year based on water conditions. River conditions in terms of volume and clarity will also impact fly selection because it’s going to impact where fish hold and how they feed.
Although the term “fly” is a general term to cover anything tied on the end of the line, there are basically two broad categories of flies. There are exact patterns, which resemble a natural insect as closely as possible and attractor flies that don’t resemble anything specific, but approximate natural food of the fish.
An exact pattern is where the term, “match the hatch” comes from. A fly that is an exact pattern will resemble the natural insect as closely as possible. Fish that are feeding selectively often require a specific pattern fly in order to be caught. Profile, size and color are probably the main attributes to consider in any fly selection. So choose a fly that most closely imitates the natural in terms of those factors. Even if not the exact replica, it will likely get the job done.
Attractor patterns are a good place to start when prospecting water likely to hold fish, particularly during the summer season. They seem to appeal to fish based on instinct or reflex. They cover the entire spectrum of fishing conditions, and very often one or another of these flies will produce a fish when nothing else seems to work.
Another factor weighing heavily on fly selection is how the fish are feeding. When fish are actively feeding, or with visible bug activity, it’s usually just a matter of observation to determine what fly to use. Many anglers observe fish breaking the surface of the water and logically assume they are feeding on the surface and promptly tie on an imitative dry fly pattern. In reality, the fish may instead be contently feeding beneath the surface.
Observing “how” the fish are feeding is perhaps more important than determining exactly what they are feeding on. Simply figuring out whether it’s on the surface or beneath, and making a fly selection accordingly, will often make the difference between catching fish or not. Observing what’s happening on the water and making the appropriate fly selection will significantly improve an angler’s hook up and catch rate. Tight lines!

Chris Fleck owns and operates Stillwater Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters in Columbus. He can be contacted at 322-4977 or via