I had been told the hatch started at 2:30. It was a cloudier day than the previous three days, so I wasn’t sure how that would impact the triggers of the Sulphurs to ascend to the surface. I looked at the clock in the truck as I was pulling into the parking spot. 2:34. Not ideal.
I had never fished the Sulphur hatch before. Actually, I had only been lucky enough to fish one Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatch on Spring Creek. The experience at Spring Creek is still fresh in my mind. Watching fish suddenly rise all around me in what feels like a feeding frenzy is amazing. Also humbling, as you realize that there are so many more trout in the stream than you ever imagined. Only catching a few fish per outing when I see dozens rising all around me, quickly reminded me of all I needed to learn.
I mainly fish after work and on weekends, when I am not busy running my kids to their various activities. I try to fish as much as I can, but generally my fishing trips are for short durations. I also try to take at least a couple boat float trips over each year. Having the ability to fish a hatch, and one I’ve heard so much about, was exciting and not something I’ve experienced often.
Because I knew I would be arriving close to 2:30, I strongly considered putting my waders on to drive to the river, but I resisted. I still appreciate the ritual of getting out of the truck, starting the mental checklist and preparation to fish while putting on my waders, sitting on the tailgate. There is something very satisfying about lacing up my waders and heading towards the water. I did, however, put together my rod and tie on a size 16 Adams Griffith’s Gnat on a 6x leader prior to leaving my house. I had just tied the fly and thought it may be close enough to resemble an emerging Sulphur.
When I am driving to fish, I am always more excited when I arrive at an empty parking lot. However, as I arrived, the parking lot was close to full, which was disappointing. I convinced myself that lots of people would be hiking, due to the nicer weather and the need to get out of the house as the quarantine was being eased. These couldn’t all be cars for fishermen/women, at least I told myself that story. I may have set a personal best for putting my waders on, lacing my boots, and getting my gear ready. It felt like Olympic speed. I thought to myself that was a good start, as I seemed to be mentally ready. A slight smile went over my face as I also had the self-deprecating thought that maybe my wader gear up would be my best performance of the day.
As I walked up the trail to my preferred spot, I noticed a fisherman sitting up on a rock ahead of the position I wanted to take. Water was open downstream of me, so I walked a little farther down so I wouldn’t crowd the upstream angler. I noticed that the sitting angler had the appearance of someone who had this hatch down, like he was waiting for the right moment to start, without wasting effort or spooking any trout, he was stalking out his spot and his prey. As I watched water, I started to see some rising fish. Jackpot! I casted out the Griffith’s Gnat in the locations I saw rising fish, and the only result was no more rising trout. So, I switched to a size 18 Sulphur Comparadun. I took some deep breaths and watched the water.
The sitting fisherman approached me, he was very cordial and told me to look off to the faster moving water on the downstream river-left. He said his spot had been productive and he thought there were some larger fish holding near his former spot that he couldn’t interest in anything in his fly box. He pointed out an area across from me on calmer water that he had seen some rising fish earlier in the day. I thanked him for sharing his observations and he headed off on the trail. Within minutes I had the Comparadun drifting nicely in the water he pointed out, and I hooked a small brown trout that rose to my fly. Within minutes more and more Sulphurs were coming off the water, and more fish were rising around me. I ended up having my best day at the Gunpowder, catching eight trout in about an hour and twenty minutes, missing or losing about the same number in that time.
I left the river to get back in time to have dinner with the family, but also left with another imprinted memory of fishing during a hatch. Watching a fish rise to take your fly is one of the best feelings I have experienced while fishing. The visual composition of the setting and the anticipation of the rise set the background for the moment the fish approaches your fly. It can seem like slow motion or a quick flash that jump starts your heart. Some takes are spectacular with the fish leaving the water and landing in a dramatic splash, others are very subtle sipping motions. All of them feel like a victory of putting together all the elements of the correct fly, with the correct location, the correct presentation, and the correct hook set. It feels like I’ve learned enough to call myself a fly fisherman.
And then I thought of the sitting fisherman, how he was so friendly and how he gave his spot over to me while giving me some tips. My conversation with him reminded me of the openness I have felt with the fly-fishing community and how willing people are to teach and to share. When people share fishing stories and advice, I am able to learn and feel connected to their moment of excitement. I also see that many fishermen/women are genuinely happy for others to grow in the sport and to catch fish. The sitting fishermen reminded me that there is more to being a fisherman than just catching the fish.
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