After their long overdue debut, they're finally here. Hex have taken the spotlight on northern Michigan rivers.
If you've ever heard of the "caddis hatch", this is what guys are talking about. In fact, "caddis" is a misnomer for these giant mayflies, one of the largest mayfly species in North America... but some old trends never die, and when guys in Michigan mention the "caddis hatch", they're typically not talking about the type you imitate with a #16 elk hair caddis.
The Hexagenia limbata, or Hex for short, is a very common species in Michigan - mostly due to the silty substrates we have in our rivers and lakes. They hatch at the end of June & beginning of July depending on the locale and river conditions, but regardless, they have a tendency to bring the biggest trout to the surface for several weeks in early summer. In Michigan, it is likely one of the best chances of the year to get a trophy brown trout to eat a dry fly. Here is the catch... unlike some of our other hatches where you can get good trout in the day - Iso's, Drakes, Stones - hex happen in the dark. The spinner flight starts around dusk, and lasts for an hour or two... with spent spinners floating down the river until the wee hours of the morning allowing additional opportunities for those that prefer the hunt. An emergence will bolster the activity, as these giant mayflies are a bit clumsy to get off the water leaving them easy pickin's for the trout.
To quote Kelly Galloup in Robert Thompson's 'The River', "The best salmonfly hatch I've ever seen is one tenth of the biomass of a hex hatch... this is biomass of epic proportion... this is not small time shit."
If you've never experienced a hex hatch, you should do yourself a favor and get out with one of our guides or stop by the shop so we can point you in the right direction. If you have fished the hex before, but want to up your game, here are a few of my personal tips to help you out.
(1) Buy a glow-in-the-dark fly line. No, they do not spook fish. No, they are not cheating. Glow lines allow for better casting and presentation in the dark. They allow you to see your drift and determine your mind... and sometimes can even help indicate that the rise you just heard was in fact on your fly. We offer a couple styles of glow-in-the-dark fly lines from RIO Products and Scientific Anglers.
(2) Tippet up. What I mean by this is go heavy. This is not 4x stuff. The old go-to for determining tippet size (one third of the hook size) get's close... but for the most part... you shouldn't have to exceed 2x. Go with flouro... the abrasion resistance can mean the difference between a fish to hand or one lost to the log jam.
(2.5) Use a stout rod. This is in addition to the heavier tippet. Please, for the trout's sake... leave your 4 weights at home. Get a 5, or a 6, or even a 7 weight for wrangling big trout at night. Fight a trout quick, get them to hand, and get them back in the water. Unnecessary fighting of a big fish on a small rod usually results in fish lost to the wood, and if not, may result in a fish who was fought too long. Water temps start getting warmer this time of year... give the trout a break.
(3) Slow down and listen. This is a little easier from the boat since the noise of the river wooshing past a wading angler is fairly noisy. On most nights, the trout will give away their position due to their reckless nature in the low light. If you pay attention to the quieter and more subtle eats, those are typically your better fish. The smaller fish are splashy (and usually therefore, the loudest). The biggest fish in the river is caculated and precise and does not waste unncessary energy slurping his calories.
(4) Let's talk Instagram. We all love fish pictures. Let's be honest, it's the best way to share a memory with someone who may never get to see a trout that big. However, IF you are practicing catch & release (if not, this doesn't apply)... a fish picture shouldn't take priority over the health of the fish. Keep the fish in the net until absolutly ready for the picture. Quick lift. Snap. Back in the water. Or better yet... take the picture with the fish still in the water. #keepemwet. Each year I see anglers struggle to get a picture of the trophy trout they caught during the hex that they released "to fight another day." I'm all for catch & release, and practice it 99% of the time... but let's remember some of the basics of c&r... (a) fish need to stay wet (b) they can't breathe air (c) they just got done fighting for their lives. Dropping a fish on the bottom of the boat doesnt help the cause. Keeping the fish out of the water for 2 minutes to get a better angle or lighting doesnt help the cause. Be smart.
(5) And finally... have fun! It's fishing for God's sake. Guys get pretty pent up after a few sleepless nights and not enough cups of coffee. If you see a new angler struggling, help them out. If you're new to the game, stop by the shop and we'll help you. If someone is in "your spot".... find a new one. Enjoy the comraderie. Find peace in the quietude of the river after dark. Trip over a log and fill your waders... a story for the grand kids.
And folks who don't want to pursue the night game... brook trout are on fire, smallies are still cranking, carp are showing up, and fun can still be had in the daytime.
Now get out and enjoy early summer in northern Michigan! We're really glad Mother Nature finally let summer show up.