It’s a perfect Northeast summer morning: the sun, fish, and temperatures are rising, insects are hatching, and the water is meandering through a cow pasture. You tie on a fly, make your first cast near a rising fish and nothing happens. Not to be discouraged, you try again. Nothing. Rinse and repeat. This is a more common scenario than you would think. Odds are, you’re having trouble matching the hatch.
What is Matching the Hatch?
Matching the hatch is when anglers find and use a fly that properly resembles the insects that the trout are feeding upon. It doesn’t matter if you’re using dries, nymphs, or even streamers, you can choose a fly that resembles what they’re eating. If you are able to match the hatch, you’re going to have plenty of action. Trout will see your fly as something similar to what they’ve been eating and not think twice about it.
How To Match the Hatch
Many anglers get into fly fishing for trout with little to no knowledge about insects. While it takes time to know and understand the insect life in and around your local waters, it’s important to gain knowledge as quickly as possible. It’s going to make you a far better angler.
You can make perfect casts and mends, but if you aren’t throwing what the fish want, your catch rate is going to pale in comparison to anglers who are knowledgeable about the insect life on the water.
Thankfully, there are a few ways to help you match the hatch even if you have no idea how to identify the insects.
Look Under Stones or Logs
The easiest and most common way anglers match the hatch is by looking under and around stones or logs in the water. If you turn these over, you’re going to see all sorts of insects.
What you want to try and find are the nymphs; nymphs are insects that haven’t fully reached the adult stage, so they live in the water until they do.
When you find a nymph, pick it up and compare it to the flies in your box. If you find a similar color and style of a fly in your box to what you found, go ahead and use it. It’s an easy method to use if you aren’t aware of what type of insects are going to be found in the water.
If you’re able to find a log or stone in extremely shallow water, that’s your best bet for finding insects. Otherwise, logs or rocks on the bank will also have plenty of insect life.
Odds are, you’re going to find a variety of insects, so if one fly you used doesn’t work, do your best to find another fly that matches other nymphs you find.
Visit the Water During the Hatch
If you’re able to visit the water you’re fishing during the morning or evening while hatches are occurring, do it. Bring along your fly boxes for comparison. When you see clouds of insects swirling and fish jumping, you know the hatch is on.
Snag a few insects out of the air and compare them to what you have in your boxes. This way, you can get a great idea of what may work and what won’t.
If you’ve found a match, give it a try! The fish are hungry, so they’re going to be willing to eat most things that resemble what they’ve been feeding upon.
Use a Seine Net
Seine nets are a useful tool to figure out what is living in the water. Insect seine nets are delicate and do a great job of trapping all sizes of insects. In a river or stream, your best bet is to place the net between rocks in a riffle. The water is shallow and the insects living around the rocks will get caught in it.
Let the water flow through the net for a few minutes, and then you can retrieve it. You’ll have plenty of insects to study. If you have the patience and the time, you’ll find that this method is extremely helpful when you’re trying to figure out what fly to use.
If you want a full understanding of what the fish are eating, you can purchase a stomach pump specifically for trout. The Fly-Rite stomach pump is a quality option. Before you use the stomach pump on the trout, fill it with water. Once filled, slowly put it into the trout's mouth until you feel a small opening.
The small opening will be the stomach cavity. Once here, stop pushing and slowly release a bit of water into the trout’s stomach cavity. Then quickly press the pump again to suck in the contents of the stomach.
After you’ve done this, pump the contents into your hand to see what insects the fish have been eating.
Please be careful with this process! It can harm the fish if done too aggressively.
How to Identify the Insects You Find
While capturing insects and comparing them to the flies in your box is a useful method, it doesn’t give you the full understanding of what types of flies you’re using.
Use Experts a Fly Shop
One of the best ways to identify the type of insects you’re finding is to take pictures of them and bring them to a local fly shop.
The experts in the shop should be able to tell you exactly what flies are in place and their hatching cycle. Doing this will give you a deeper understanding of what is hatching in your local waters. You’ll learn what they look like as larvae, nymphs, and emergers as well as adults.
Look at Hatch Charts
If you’re fishing a local river in the Northeast, there is likely a hatch chart for it. Many of the rivers have a rich history of fly fishing, so anglers have taken the time to create hatch charts for the majority of them.
A simple search of “Hatch Chart for ___ River” is going to provide you with all of the information you need. Hatch charts will list the name of the insect, the size, and what time of year they hatch. A bit more research will show different types of flies that resemble the insects, so you can show up to the water plenty prepared.
Purchase an Entomology Book for Your Area
Entomologists have published books about insects all over the world. There are dozens of books about insect life in the Northeast that describe types of insects, where they hatch, when they hatch, and what they look like in all stages of their lives.
A study of this book will give you a deep understanding of everything occurring in your local waters. It may seem monotonous, but it’s extremely useful for fly fishing.
Common Insects You’ll Find in the Northeast and How to Match Your Flies With Them
There’s a reason the Northeast United States is known to be some of the best pure fly fishing in the world. Not only are the fish populations healthy and a blast to target, but the hatches are plentiful. Almost all year long there are hatches occurring and fish feeding. Understanding some of the most common hatches and what flies to use with them is going to make your fishing season that much better.
In the Northeast, the Sulphur hatch is a welcomed sight. Generally, these flies hatch somewhere between May and all the way through June. They’re the sign of spring and some of the best fly fishing conditions of the entire year. All types of trout are eager to eat sulphur patterns, so make sure you’re ready with a few different options.
Some dry fly sulphur representations include the Adams Parachute, Indicator Parachute, a regular Adams as well as the Klinkhammer. You can find most of these flies between sizes 12 and 22, but you’re going to want to use sizes 12-18 for consistent results.
Some nymph representations include a typical Hare’s Ear, a Psycho Prince Nymph, Copper John as well as a Pheasant Tail.
While midges can be challenging to fish with due to their small size, they’re extremely effective. In the Northeast, midges are one of the few insects that hatch year-round. Trout are most eager to feed on them from late winter through spring and from fall into winter. They’re a consistent hatch, so trout can count on them for food.
For dry fly options, Griffiths Gnat, Parachute Midge, and the I Can See It Midge are all great choices. You can fish these between sizes 16-22.
Good midge nymph flies are the Zebra Midge, RS2, Nuclear Midge, and Purple Haze Midge. Again, you’re going to want to go small with sizes 14-22.
Blue Winged Olives
Anglers and fish know spring has finally arrived when the Blue Winged Olives start hatching. In the Northeast, anglers are going to find these starting to hatch in late March all the way through May. As soon as the temperatures begin to rise and the snow melts, BWOs are out in full force. Trout eat as many of these as they can for the two months they’re hatching.
Some quality dry fly options include the BWO Foam Dry, Blue Winged Olive, Adams, and the BWO Thorax Dun. Most anglers like to fish these dries between the sizes of 16-22.
Some of the common nymph patterns are UV Baetis Nymph, Simple Baetis, RS2, and the Beadhead Flashback. These nymphs work well in sizes 16-22.
Quill Gordon and March Brown
Quill Gordons and March Browns are similar to one another. They’re both mayflies and are known as 3-tails. Similar to other Mayfly patterns, these flies hatch as soon as the temperatures begin to turn. Depending on the year, from February all the way until mid-May, these are a regular part of a trout’s diet. Many of these flies signify the start of the Mayfly season. In the Northeast, this is a favorite time of year for anglers. The fishing gets extremely hot as long as you can properly match the hatch.
Some good Quill Gordon and March Brown dry fly representations are Adams Parachute, Adams, Quill Gordon, Blue Quill, and Light Hendrickson. Fish these in between sizes 12-16.
Quality nymph options include the Quill Gordon, Pheasant Tail, and Hare’s Ear. Fish these in sizes 12-18 depending on what the fish want.
Some anglers roll their eyes when the word Trico is mentioned. These tiny insects seem almost impossible to fish with, but they prove to be extremely productive. In the Northeast, Tricos hatch all the way from July through October. When in doubt, throw on a Trico during the hatch and see what happens. The small pattern almost always seems to work and attract the fish.
Some good dry fly Trico options include the Hi-Vis Trico Spinner, Quigley’s Midge Cluster, and Female Trico Comparadun. All of these flies are somewhere between size 18-24. They need a light tippet.
Some Trico nymph patterns include the Drowned Trico, ASAP emerger Trico, Barr’s Trico, and the RS2 Trico. Again, fish these in sizes 18-24.
One of the final flies anglers who fish in the Northeast should know are Stoneflies. Generally, stoneflies hatch anywhere between late-March all the way through early September. These include everything from Tiny Black Stoneflies to Eastern Salmon Flies. They’re a blast to fish with and you should jump on the chance to fish with them whenever possible.
Some good Stonefly dry patterns include Yellow Sallies, Early Black Stoneflies, Dive Bombers, and Foam Bullet Salmon Flies. Other patterns like the Godzilla and the Gypsy King work well. Depending on what stonefly is hatching, you’ll use different sizes and patterns.
Quality stonefly nymph patterns include options like Pat’s Rubber Legs, Dirty Hipster Golden Stones, Tungsten Girdle Bugs, Jiggy Nymphs, and Hare’s Ear Nymphs. They’re buggy looking and attract all sorts of trout.
The sooner you’re able to learn how to match the hatch, the more fish you are going to catch. You can get away with worse casts and presentations if you’re using the proper fly. Plus, learning about local insects will give you both a greater understanding and appreciation for the water you’re fishing. Using things like a stomach pump, visiting local fly shops, and spending time at the water is going to make the learning process that much more efficient and your fishing more enjoyable.