Trav

September 17th, 2007

If It's Fall It's Baetis Time
By Neil M. Travis, Montana

All week long the bright autumn sun continued the pattern that had persisted during my summer, but the weather forecast held forth the promise of a change. Unfortunately in Montana a change in the weather, especially in October, is a radical shift rather than a gradual change. We needed a change in the weather to cause our resident trout to start getting serious about preparing for the long winter months that were ahead, and we needed a change in the weather to persuade the Baetis to begin to hatch.

Sunday morning as my wife and I headed for church I noticed a line of black clouds building along the northern horizon. Walking into church a cold wind suddenly sent the autumn leaves swirling down the street and the smell of moisture falling somewhere nearby filled my nostrils. Change was coming.

At noon as we left the church a cold rain was beginning to fall and low scudding black clouds were being pushed along by a sharply colder north wind. This was the change of weather that I had been waiting for, and after a quick lunch I fired up my old suburban and headed for DePuy's Spring Creek that is just a short distance from my house.

By the time I arrived at the stream the cold rain was falling steadily being pushed by a gusting north wind, and intermixed with the rain an occasional flake of wet snow hit my windshield. I glanced quickly at the stream and the rise forms of feeding trout pockmarked the surface. The change of weather had gotten the attention of the trout. Squinting through the rain I could see that the surface of the water was covered with insects. The fall Baetis were hatching, and the trout were gorging on the bounty.

No matter in what part of the country you live you will find Baetis mayflies on your area trout streams. In many places the first major mayfly hatch of the season are members of the Baetis family, and the last major hatch of the season are members of the same family. Most of the members of this family are relatively small, and I carry patterns tied on hooks from size #16 to #26. Spring and fall Baetis tend to be dark in color, and I prefer to use body colors that contain olive overtones in both light and dark shades. I like to tie my dry flies with a single post wing and a parachute style hackle. For the nymph I use a pheasant-tail pattern.

Quickly I pulled my vehicle into the parking lot, grabbed my gear and made a dash into the fisherman's hut where I could change without getting soaked before I started. Thinking it might be nice to have a warm place to retreat to after fishing I rapidly kindled a fire in the wood stove before I stepped out to brave the weather.

Just above the hut is a long flat, and trout noses were continually breaking the surface to snatch the hatching flies. Slipping into the water I began by making a cast to the nearest riser and was instantly connected to a nice brown trout. As I eased the net under him the rain changed to snow, large wet flakes quickly turning a fall day into an early winter whiteout. As the snow increased the Baetis hatch seemed to intensify. The cold and damp kept the flies glued to the water, and rising fish were everywhere. For the next hour I seldom made more than a couple casts without hooking a trout. After releasing a heavy bodied rainbow I realized that I was having trouble feeling my hands, and I retreated to the warmth of the hut.

The wood stove had warmed the hut to a very comfortable temperature and it sure felt good on my icy hands. Outside the snow continued to fall covering the ground and turning everything a glistening white. Soon the feeling returned to my hands, I slipped on my rain jacket and returned to the stream.

I continued fishing for another hour in the falling snow. The flies continued to hatch and the fish continued to rise, but finally the cold began to take its toll on my body and I retreated again to the hut. Stoking up the wood stove I sat and listened to the crackling of the cottonwood logs and the sound of the wind sighing around the eves. It was beginning to get dark, and I realized that I was both cold and hungry but ultimately satisfied. It was fall, the Baetis were hatching, and I was there to experience it. For the trout angler it's not likely that it gets any better than that, at least not this side of Heaven! ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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