“What are the best soft hackles (or wet flies) for fishing the Hendrickson hatch?” is one of those questions I get a lot this time of year. As always, the best flies are the ones in which you have the most confidence. I should also make this clarification: technically, with Hendricksons you’re fishing wet flies under the hatch. On the Farmington River, prime time for swinging Hendrickson wets is generally in the 11 am-to-3 pm window. Every day is different. Once you see duns on the water, and trout snapping at them, the wet fly game is all but over. But if you want to catch more trout, you should be swinging wets in this pre-hatch time frame. (Of course, you’re fishing a team of three wets. Here’s how to build a wet fly leader.) And so, in no particular order, these are some of my favorite Hendrickson wet fly and soft-hackled patterns.
On Saturday my son had a soccer tournament in Avon, and I had a two hour fishing window between the afternoon and evening games. So I hightailed it to the lower river for a highly productive and entertaining two hours of fishing between 4:30 and 6:30. Caddis were out (mostly smaller, size 16). But the real story was my first sighting of Light Cahills. (Call them what you will — Vitreous, PEDs, whatever — if they are creamy-colored size 12 mayflies that hatch in the late afternoon in May, I go with Light Cahills.) it was a proper hatch — I’d rate it a 7 on a 1-10 scale — and there were plenty of trout having at them, slashing and splashing and making a general spectacle with their showy takes.
The wet fly is a fine default method for covering water when there’s nothing much happening. But when a hatch is underway and the trout are actively feeding, it can be highly productive. And besides, fishing under the hatch is just plain fun.
I fished two kinds of water. The first was a snotty, boulder-strewn run with seams and pockets, about 75 yards long. I walked its length, covering the fishy looking areas with my team of three wets, and connected with a half dozen trout and a JV Atlantic salmon. The runaway favorite fly was the size 12 soft-hackled bead head Pheasant Tail.
Next, I focused on a run with a mottled surface that was moving at a moderate walking pace. The hatch began to pick up in intensity, but I still had no takes. So I swapped out the bottom and middle flies (SHBHPT and Dark Hendrickson, respectively) for a size 12 Light Cahill winged wet and a size 14 Pale Watery wingless (Magic Fly). That made all the difference. I caught trout after trout for the better part of 75 minutes. They took all three flies (Squirrel and Ginger was the top dropper), but the Cahill and the PWW were the focal points.
What was interesting about yesterday’s hatch was that even though I got into double-digit numbers, I had to work for most of them. Sometimes when you’re fishing under the hatch, the trout are so keen on gorging themselves that you just need to swing the right fly in front of their noses. Not so yesterday. I specifically targeting actively feeding trout, and only two of them took on the first presentation. Most took a dozen or so casts, often with a break between presentations, and several wouldn’t give the flies a sniff. Also, I typically like to fish wets across and/or down. Yesterday I had a lot of success targeting active feeders that were upstream of me.
I had to drag myself away to get back to the last game. Cam’s team won.
So did mine.
Part One: The Guide Trip
I had the pleasure of guiding the father and son team of Bob and Tim today. They booked this trip a month ago, and they won the weather lottery. Wotta day! We started off outside the permanent TMA and found trout and solitude (and a girl in a bikini). Not a bad way to spend a few hours. Tim had never indicator nymphed before, so I set him up, gave him a quick lesson, then went to go check on Bob. A few minutes later, I turned and saw Tim’s rod doubled over. Way to go, Tim!
Off to Spot B where old pro Bob connected with a feisty rainbow on a wet fly swing. Spot C was in the permanent TMA, and despite a few random rises, we were unable to persuade any trout to jump on. Spot D was on total lockdown (I’ve never seen so many anglers in such a small run), so we headed for Spot E where we had the pool mostly to ourselves. One more trout on a wet and we called it a day. Thanks again so much, Bob and Tim, for such an easy, relaxing day on the river. Water was 280cfs in the permanent TMA, cold, and clear. Midges, caddis, and a few random mayflies.
Part Two: The Quickie
I thought it would be too early for Light Cahills, but I had to see for myself. Besides, the lower TMA was conveniently on the way home, it was evening, and I might find some risers to present to. There were indeed a few trout shattering the surface with splashy takes. No Cahills, but there were size 12-14 tan caddis, sz 20 caddis, and midges everywhere. I fished some snotty pocket water for 30 minutes and took five trout. A plug for the team of three wets: I caught fish on every fly, one on the size 12 Squirrel and Ginger (top dropper), three on the size 12 Dark Hendrickson (middle dropper) and one on the size 12 Light Cahill (point). Browns and rainbows with one wild brown in the mix. Regrettably, I had to call it (there was a grilled flank steak and a spicy zin awaiting me at home). How exhilarating to see the fish rise to feed, boil on the surface, then feel the tug moments later. I love fishing under the hatch with wets.