There was a cold north wind wafting through the trees, scattering the recently fallen leaves along the streets when my wife and I drove home from church on that mid-October day. I quickly changed from my church clothes to my fishing duds, ate a quick meal, kissed my wife good-bye and fired up the old fishing car.
Fortunately it's only a short drive to my favorite spring creek where I was certain that I would find a good hatch of fall Baetis. As I drove through the canyon just south of my Montana home it began to drizzle, and by the time I arrived at the creek it had developed into a steady rain. To make it even more interesting the rain was being pushed by a nasty upstream wind.
When I arrived at the middle section of the creek I pulled up on the culvert and looked upstream. Through the driving rain I could see rising trout everywhere; the hatch was on. I pulled into the parking lot where there is a cozy little hut with a woodstove. Grabbing my waders, vest and fly rod I made a dash for the hut. Once inside, before I got into my waders, I started a fire in the stove. I knew it would be appreciated when I needed to warm up after being outside in the rain. It was very nice to set inside and get into my waders and assemble my rod as the rain beat against the roof. With the fire burning in the woodstove and my body encased in my neoprene chest waders and Gore-Tex® rain jacket I was ready to go attempt to fool some fish. As I stepped out the door I couldn't help but wonder who was fooling who.
I walked up to the culvert and slipped into the stream just slightly upstream from where the water sucked through the opening. The water was alive with hatching mayflies and the trout were gouging themselves. This was one of the few times that I have fished this hatch that the trout were almost too easy. The wind was at my back as I faced upstream so it didn't really impact my casting. Anticipating what I would encounter when I got in the water I had tied on a size #18 fall Baetis dry fly imitation before I left the hut, and almost each cast that drifted over a fish resulted in a solid rise. Spring creeks browns that were normally extremely picky were like naïve kids in a candy store. They were solid, respectable wild browns, averaging 12 to 14 inches with an occasional 16 incher. Some jumped and cartwheeled across the surface and others simply dove toward the weeds or rolled up in the leader while shaking their head trying to throw the hook.
The cold rain changed to snow; big fluffy wet snow flakes that quickly turned the golden grass along the stream to white. Suddenly I was cold and I reeled in and walked quickly to the hut. I peeled off my rain jacket and shook off the wet snow that had completely coated my back. The warmth of the wood stove was a welcome treat, and I opened the door and pushed in two small cottonwood logs. Hands extended over the hot metal stove began to restore the circulation to my frozen fingers. Outside the snow changed back to rain.
Once I was completely thawed out I decided to make another foray back out to the stream. While I had set in the hut the rain had changed back to snow and then back to rain again. As I donned my rain jacket and pulled my fingerless gloves back on my hands the rain turned into a light drizzle, and when I stepped outside and began to walk to the stream it stopped. However, the cold wind had increased and had switched to the north. The hatch sputtered on for a few minutes and then stopped. The rising trout disappeared and I called it a day.
Recently I stood ankle deep in the same stream clad in chest high waders but wearing a light cotton shirt and sunglasses. The mountains were topped with fresh snow but the air temperature where I was standing was in the mid-60's. Fall Baetis mayflies were steadily hatching and the trout were on the fin. Between the exposed weed bed on my left and the grassy bank is a deep run where several good trout were leisurely feeding on the hatching duns. Unlike the day when I was fishing in the cold rain and snow the feeding was less frenzied but steady. While I would have preferred that the trout were feeding a bit steadier I really preferred the warmer temperatures.
Such are Baetis memories. These mayflies provide some of the most reliable fishing both in the spring and fall in many parts of the country. Trout can become quite picky when feeding on these flies, but for the angler that enjoys a challenge this hatch provides challenges galore. On my recent Baetis fishing adventure I caught two respectable fish, one each day. One day it was a brown and the next day it was a rainbow. I did manage to hook and release, at a long distance, a couple other trout, meanwhile several other very nice trout continued to rise, totally ignoring my best presentations. That's why I love those Baetis memories.