Chasing fly hatches

Friend and reader Todd Irwin of Patricia emailed a hard question during his nine weeks of fishing in New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania this winter: “A New Zealand couple, Mick and Julie, are coming to Canada and the U.S. on the May long weekend for seven weeks and want to try some dry fly fishing.”

Friend and reader Todd Irwin of Patricia emailed a hard question during his nine weeks of fishing in New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania this winter: “A New Zealand couple, Mick and Julie, are coming to Canada and the U.S. on the May long weekend for seven weeks and want to try some dry fly fishing.”

Simple so far, but he had to add: “I remember you saying there is a famous salmon fly hatch on a river in Montana in late May or early June. I think it was the Madison, but not sure. Could you let me know if that is the one or if there are any Montana rivers with a good salmon fly hatch that are closer to the Canadian border?”

Yes, it was the Madison in Montana where I experienced my first salmon fly hatch, lured there by a magazine article I had been saving, The Month the Madison Goes Wild, by Norman Strung in the June 1966 issue of Field & Stream, about the river’s legendary July salmon fly hatch.

Son John and I enjoyed several good salmon fly hatches on the Madison, until we took two decades off to chase the hatch elsewhere, including at home, here in Alberta. Seven years ago, we made a sentimental July trip back to the Madison and will not return: you all but had to book a reservation to get in the constant line of drift boats, all ruining the fishing for each other.

After considerable research, including 50 years of fishing diaries, I chose Alberta’s own Crowsnest River and the very similar Rock Creek, near Missoula in Montana.

I rejected my home stream, Prairie Creek, because its formerly fabulous salmon fly hatches have really been “off” for the past couple of decades; the last time I nearly caught it perfectly was June 10, 2000.

To be clear, we are seeking the fabulous dry fly fishing phase of the hatch of Pteronarcys californica, our largest stonefly, when the mature, mated females fly from the streamside foliage and down onto the water to lay their eggs.

This “brush hatch” is almost impossible to predict, as opposed to the earlier stage when the thousands of black salmon fly nymphs march en masse from the water, and transform into the winged adults, which fly off into the trees and brush to mate … and wait.

Other hatch chasers tell me I have been very lucky to have caught the brush hatch perfectly maybe 18 times in 40 years of seriously seeking it. I decided to submit my stream selections to two well-known hatch chasers, Vic Bergman of Crowsnest Angler at Bellevue, and angling author and fly fishing teacher Jim McLennan.

“It sounds like you have done well catching the salmon fly hatch over the years,” Vic Bergman says.

“I think I’ve caught it perfectly, maybe three or four times. That is, where you could fish dries for most of it.

“Mid to late May is when the salmon flies start to hatch on the Crow. The hatches have been really good the past couple of years, with lots of bugs. Water conditions were great for the first day or two and then the spring runoff (floods) started. It’s almost as if the salmon flies plan for this to happen. We’ll have to wait and see if they do this again this year. Chances are, they will. Who knows, though? Our snowpack is way below average at the moment, and if we don’t get monsoons in late May and June, as in the past two seasons, this could be the year.

“I’ve always considered salmon fly hatches to be the most overrated of hatches,” Jim McLennan says. “As you know, in most places they coincide with poor water conditions. I think the Crow is their best choice here, but I know of no way to predict the ‘brush hatch.’

“I do like your idea of Rock Creek. I fished it during the hatch one year when I was there working for Orvis. I actually caught fish on dry salmon flies. Can’t remember exactly when it happens (maybe early July?).”

Rock Creek addicts start looking for salmon flies in mid-May, but the one time I caught the brush hatch there was in early July. My best Crowsnest Salmon fly hatch was on a cold, rainy July long weekend just downstream from the east Hillcrest Bridge. I was the only angler on the river and caught huge rainbows on dry salmon fly imitations until my hands were so cold they quit working.

If you know the nymphs have emerged and the adult bugs are in the bush, then the weather starts to ugly up, get out there!

At least half the salmon fly brush hatches I have caught perfectly have been when it was rainy and cold and … oh yes! … for every brush hatch I have caught, the flower buds on the streamside dogwoods were just starting to burst into bloom.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

Just Posted

Scares and chills await at haunted house in Red Deer

Zed Haunted House helps raise money for Boys and Girls Club of Red Deer District

PHOTO: Renewable Energy Fair at Red Deer College

The Renewable Energy Fair and Workshops event was held at Red Deer… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Red Deer College Queens host third annual Pink in the Rink game

Queens raised $12,035 for the Central Alberta Cancer Centre.

PHOTOS: The Mustard Seed CEO speaks at Seeds of Hope Gala in Red Deer

The first-ever Seeds of Hope Gala was held at the Red Deer… Continue reading

Person airlifted to hospital after collision near Innisfail

One person was airlifted to hospital after a serious collision west of… Continue reading

WATCH: Make-A-Wish grants Star Wars loving teen’s wish

The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Anakin Suerink’s wish in Red Deer Saturday afternoon

Turkey to reveal details of probe into Khashoggi’s killing

ISTANBUL — In a sign of growing pressure on Saudi Arabia, Turkey… Continue reading

Utah truck driver is jailed without bond after crash kills 6

HEBER, Utah — A man suspected of driving under the influence remained… Continue reading

A ragged, growing army of migrants resumes march toward US

TAPACHULA, Mexico — A ragged army of Honduran migrants streamed through southern… Continue reading

Postal workers to begin strikes in 4 Canadian cities Monday if deal not reached

OTTAWA — The union representing 50,000 Canada Post employees says it will… Continue reading

Migrant caravan swells to 5,000, resumes advance toward US

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico — Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the… Continue reading

“I don’t feel real”: Mental stress mounting after Michael

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Amy Cross has a hard time explaining the… Continue reading

Toronto residents set to vote Monday on the next four years of civic leaders

Toronto’s municipal election campaign, marked by unprecedented provincial interference, ends Monday when… Continue reading

Former PQ minister Lise Payette remembered as role model for female politicians

MONTREAL — Members from across Quebec’s political spectrum gathered at a downtown… Continue reading

Most Read