You gotta move
You gotta move
You gotta move, child...
- Mississippi Fred McDonald
On first sight, the brain simply can't reconcile it as a flying insect; it grasps at more familiar profiles to overlay - a hummingbird, or a titmouse, perhaps. But these tiny birds aren't known for skittering across the surface of the water. Suddenly a violent silver explosion shatters the surface calm and what you have mistaken for a small bird is gone. This is the visual feast of the salmonfly hatch, and it can be enough to make you put your rod down and marvel.
If you are lucky enough to hit this hatch in the first day or two of adult emergence on a particular stretch of river, you might just experience the kind of lights-out, combustible fishing that you will likely never forget. Fish don't tend to take #4 dry flies gracefully, and you'll be witness to something akin to a shark taking a pelican off the surface of the ocean, time and time again, albeit on a smaller, inland scale. On some rivers, this hatch alone can represent 70% of a trout's protein for the year. If your timing is thus, treasure this day and keep it stoked as an ember to forever coax your fishing fire.
Those of us who live close to the rivers that host this hatch, and are fortunate enough to have numerous seasons of it under our belt, smile and nod as we hear these stories. But we also know that these experiences are only part of the tale - that continued success after that first day or two of stoopid good fishing involves effort and strategy, or fruitless days of watching your fly slowly saturate unmolested. Fish quickly become stuffed given such abundance. Removing your fly from the mouth of a trout that is still holding on to two other live specimens trying escape its maw, and a belly extended and crunchy from those big bugs that weren't so lucky, is a wonderful example of nature's gluttony. To find success now, you must force these voracious predators into fitting just one more Oscar Meyer down their gullet at the hot dog eating contest.
Choice of pattern will definitely help - you want something big and bushy that will ride high on the surface of the water, not in it; something that suggests fluttering and struggle. However this alone won't seal the deal - you need to toss everything you've heard about drag-free, dead-drifting of a dry fly overboard and make that fly move. Skate that enormous bug across the surface. Coax that porker into launching after your fly without being able to give it a second thought, the way a dog bolts after something for no other reason than because that something running away.
As I write this, the salmonfly hatch is in full-swing on one of the most glorious, fertile rivers in the American West - the Henry's Fork of the Snake. The brief window of stoopid good is gone, but the bugs are still there, as are the abundant, healthy trout. Time's a-wasting my friends, and I can think of no better way to waste it.
- Bruce Smithhammer
Henry's Fork Field Coordinator