Wednesday 4th June, 2008
Giant Stoneflies. By other names, Salmonflies, Pteronarcys californica, or sometimes, simply, The Big Bug.
This is the hatch that defines trout fishing in the western US for many anglers. Bugs as big and nasty as the rivers where they live.
Volumes have been written about the promise of The Big Bug. The most common imagery likens an adult salmonfly, which sometimes reaches three inches in length, to a giant cheeseburger. Like a gluttonous American, the fish cannot resist the Big Bug. Often accompanying this imagery are tales of epic days when every big fish in the river is looking to the surface, and a seismic presentation with a bushy, size 2, dry fly is all you need to reach fly fishing Nirvana.
It's all true.
But for every epic day, there are perhaps a dozen days spent fishing the salmonfly hatch when everything seems perfect, the bugs are thick in the grass and flying low over the river all afternoon, but you can only manage to raise a couple of small fish, or none at all.
That's what happened last weekend to us on the Deschutes, a river famed for it's salmonfly hatch. And that's what got me thinking about the real, ugly truth about the theory of the salmonfly as a giant cheeseburger.
What really happens is that after a long winter, and a couple of months spent snacking on tiny midges, spring baetis, and maybe a few March browns, the trout are presented with the mother of all meals. The giant cheeseburger. It looks so good, the fish can't resist. And just like I react when presented with a giant cheeseburger after a few days of snacking on trail mix, the fish go berserk and gorge themselves... for about 2 days. If you hit those two days, you then go home and write another story of epic salmonfly fishing.
But after two days of chomping huge nymphs and dries, pretty much every fish in the river feels the same way as I do after downing about half of Bend, Oregon's famous, 18oz Pilot Burger - Stuffed, maybe having a bit of trouble breathing, and altogether not interested in eating, or even moving very much at all.
The big bugs keep coming downstream, but the fish are full. They just don't bother moving into the feeding lies, or putting in the effort required to swallow down another bird-sized insect. For the angler, the concept of a prolific hatch bringing fish to the surface suddenly backfires.
Fortunately, if you happen to miss those two epic days on the Deschutes, Madison, Gunnison, Yellowstone, or Henry's Fork, all is not lost. You can nearly always reel up and go find the true meaning of the salmonfly hatch - gluttony - a few miles from the river, and celebrate it in true western style with your fishing buddies in the local bar and grill.
PS - If you believe that wild & native steelhead are worth protecting, and that without solid science conservative fisheries management is the only answer, please, take a moment to sign the petition in support of the existing regulations that prohibit killing wild steelhead on Oregon's Umpqua River. Over 800 have already signed online and who knows how many more have signed the paper copies.
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