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WHEN IT DOESN'T HAPPEN
For the past two plus decades I have enjoyed fishing the evening spinner falls and caddis egg-laying flights on my favorite local spring creek. I would slip out of the house about two hours before dark, which during the summer months here in Montana is close to 10 pm, and make the short drive to the creek. On many of those evenings I could expect to encounter clouds of mayfly spinners dancing over the fields. As soon as the sun began to push toward the western horizon and the evening shadows would begin to stretch across the stream the spinners would begin to appear over the water; dancing, mating and falling to the surface prostrate, their brief adult lives completed. The plethora of dying insects would bring the trout to the surface and for the waiting angler it was if heaven had briefly come down to earth. As the activity brought about by the dying mayfly spinners began to wane caddis flies, as if on cue, would magically appear to continue to attract the attention of the resident trout. As the last rays of light faded I would wade from the stream; satiated after another evening of great angling.
For the last two summers those evenings seem to be just memories. The mayflies still dance over the meadows but as soon as the sun drops below the western hills they disappear back into the grass and only a few caddis make a brief appearance before they also disappear. The stream flows on its surface unbroken by the nose of a rising trout. The evening sky turns pink then mauve, the deer appear and head for the alfalfa fields above the creek and the night hawks sweep the air for unseen insects and all the world is hushed as another day comes to an end. Darkness settles over the Montana landscape as I stow my gear after another fishless evening.
This is a cautionary tale for all of those among us that think that everything will always remain the same. Some wag has said that there are only two things that are certain in life, death and taxes, but I believe that change is the only thing that is certain in life. My local fishing spot is still as productive as ever, the hatches still happen, the spinners still fly, mate and fall on the water and the fish still are as numerous and they still eat those flies, but currently the time table has changed. The spinner falls now mostly take place in the early morning hours and caddis lay their eggs through-out the day with only a scattering of flies still active in the fading hours of day.
Do I know why the situation has changed? The long and short answer is No. There are some things we don’t understand and there are some things that we may never understand. I think this is the latter. However, the upshot of this is that if I am going to continue to fish in the evenings on my favorite water I will need to change my tactics. The fish are still there but the insect activity that I have come to expect has changed. Now instead of casting to rising trout I will need to fish the water; I will need to use flies that imitate food forms that I know are available and I will need to fish them where I know the fish are likely to be holding. This may mean I will be fishing terrestrials along the banks or nymphs in the riffles. I may need to resort to attractor patterns and woolly buggers, even a small mouse twitch across the surface of some of the deeper runs. Would I prefer spinners and caddis on the surface, you bet, but when in Rome one must do as the Romans do. If the spinners and caddis are not available then I must use something else.
Over the years I have encountered anglers that have come to rely upon certain hatches to occur at specific dates and times only to be completely dejected when they don’t happen according to their timetable. I have seen hatches come and go, some completely disappearing only to reappear years later. At the present time the spinners and caddis that I have come to rely on in the waning hours of a beautiful summers day have ceased being reliable. I must adapt or simply sit on the bank and feel sorry for myself.