Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - April 11, 2011

How to fish during the hatch when the trout are selectively feeding on a certain stage of the hatching insect can indeed be a perplexing problem. Careful observation is the key to understanding what imitation to use and how to fish it.

Once again the key to being successful is careful OBSERVATION!!! Often I have used this phrase and then found that anglers either didn't know how to observe or what to observe. Therefore, I am going to explain each step I take when fishing a hatch, along with explaining how and what I observe that influences what imitation I use and how it is used.

What we are about to discuss is called situation angling and this topic could easily fill several well written volumes. What I am going to do is cover the basics by taking you through a typical late August day on the Paradise Valley still waters. Once again we can see where following the "Formula for Success" will help the angler to properly prepare to fish during this time period. Those who use the "Formula" will know what hatches to expect and have patterns and leaders suitable for the waters. If I were concerned with only fishing the hatches, I would never sleep in and would arrive on the lake about dawn.

I would first take a few minutes and just watch the water to see what was going on. The first thing that I might notice would be a few rainbows "flashing" over the weed beds. This would indicate that the trout are nymphing. I would closely observe these fish to determine how close to the bottom they were feeding and how often. If the trout were starting to feed in a fairly steady and regular rhythm, I would suspect that the midge pupas were starting to move and drift or that the midge worms were active. Midge larvas (worms) are often very active early in the morning or late in the evenings. You may have both things going on, the movement of the midge pupas and the activity of the midge (worms) larva.

This action by the midge pupas may start as much as 90 minutes before the actual hatch. The start of this process is gradual and slowly builds as the time for hatching grows near. In today's world of watching the clock, and managing our time, I find that anglers often try to apply such measures to hatches. This is wrong!!!! There is no whistle or bell that rings to tell the nymphs that it is time to start drifting. There is also no director yelling "OK! It's time to hatch. On my mark!' HATCH". No, this is a gradual process that slowly builds.

Once I had observed what the trout were doing, and already knowing that the midges would begin hatching around 8:00 to 8:30 A.M., I would then select an imitation of the midge pupa or midge worm that would imitate the natural and prepare to fish.  (If I was on a strange lake and didn't know what was coming, I would sample the water and shoreline area and around the weed beds to determine what was available to the trout.)


In this situation I would be using a clear intermediate sinking line. This is the slowest sinking line and would allow me to present the midge pupa down to the trout's feeding level and keep it there for the longest period of time. I would be using a 6' leader cut back to 5' with a 6X tippet.

My pattern choice would be an olive & black Moose Mane Midge Pupa or Tom's Olive Midge Worm. Because I will be fishing with a sinking line and moving the imitation, I will place a micro shot about 3" above the fly. I would then approach the trout so they were slightly across from my position so I could observe their cruising and feeding behavior. Then I would cast ahead of the trout and allow the pattern to settle down to their feeding depth and slowly start moving the imitation with a hand twist retrieve of the line as well as slowly raising and lowering the rod tip.

Remember, in this case I am working to trout that are visibly feeding, and would continue to fish in this manner as long as I was taking trout.

After a while I might notice the trout have moved up and are feeding in the middle water, and that the deep pupa or worm action was slowing down to nothing. (Note: I don't tie my midge pupa imitations with any weight other than whatever wire might be used in the tying process. Therefore, I simply remove the shot. The wire alone would be enough weight, coupled with the countdown delivery, to place the pupa in the trout's present feeding level. If I had been fishing a larva imitation I would switch to a midge pupa pattern.

The next thing I would observe is that the trout are taking pupas that are only 4 to 6 inches under the surface. Here I then change to a floating line. Then I could simply grease a section of my leader and move the same imitation up into the feeding zone. Or I might change patterns. I would also change leaders to a 12' 6X or 7X as the case may be.


Finally I would start to see the trout take the hatching pupa in the film. Then I would switch to the Foamhead Midge Emerger. As the hatch progresses, I switch over to a Captive Adult Midge. I would work fish that were across from my position. You want to approach as close as possible to your target. Longer casts mean more problems with missed casts, line control, and reaction time.

Often on bright, warm days I will continue to fish the Captive Midge Adult throughout the major portion of the actual hatch. I do this because observation has taught me that on warm, bright days the insects hatch quickly and the adults are only on the water a second or two. Therefore trout tend to ignore the adults and seem to concentrate on the emergers. However, on a cool day the adults will hatch out and ride the water for long periods of time and the trout will start to move on them. If this happens it is time to switch over and use a Griffith's Gnat, Tom's Multi Purpose Midge or a Travis Parachute Midge Adult.

If there were a light breeze blowing I might move to the shoreline where the midges were being blown. This area might hold a number of trout that are cruising the edges working the easy pickings!


One day while fishing Blue Damsel Bay with a Foamhead Midge Emerger, I noticed three very nice fish working the shoreline. These trout were cruising very tight to the reeds and the feeding rhythm was very irregular when compared to the rest of the trout in the area. After I worked my way into position and made a few casts to each fish, which they totally ignored, I proceeded to carefully watch one of the trout and at the same time see what was floating in the film. The rises were the same surface film takes that I had been seeing right along, but yet they wanted nothing to do with that midge emerger. It's not long before I noticed what, at first, appeared to be drowned adults in the film.  Upon closer examination I discovered that these were, in fact, adults that were half hatched and for whatever reason had drowned. The term for this is stillborn. I looked through my boxes and found some shuck trailing, spent wing imitations I had tied for this purpose.

Now I would like to tell you that after correctly figuring out what these trout were taking I was able to take all three of them. But that wasn't what happened. I did take the first fish, but I set the hook a wee bit too hard and broke off the second fish, and while moving up to get into position I tripped over a rock, which promptly spooked the third fish. By now the time was approaching 9:30 and the hatch was starting to fade.


Once I was back in action, I switched to a Griffith's Gnat and fished my way back up the shore line. Why the adult? Often times, as the hatch starts to fade and the flush emergers begin to disappear, a few "feeders of opportunity" will still move to adults. By now it's close to 10 A.M. and it's time for a cup of coffee and quick trip to the bushes. Here we have now covered one fairly straight forward hatch, yet it took up to seven different patterns to do so effectively.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

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