Friday, March 8, 2013

The Hatch is On!

Oregon resident Chris Santella must have quite the bucket list. He is the author of several enormously popular travel and adventure books: Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, Fifty Places to Dive Before You Die, Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die, and Fifty More Places to Fly Fish Before You Die amongst others. Santella's books span such an eclectic mix of topics and locations that I'm not sure anyone - regardless of time or resources - could possibly hope to visit even a small fraction of the places his titles feature. For my part, I'll likely only visit any of those places when I dream, and when I dream - I dream of golden dorado in Bolivia and rainbow trout in Kamchatka (both covered in Fifty Places). I will have lived a full life if I live to see either place. 

Santella's latest book is slated for release on April 2nd of this year. The Hatch Is On! has a very interesting premise insofar as it deviates slightly from Santella's previous work. This book is not necessarily about locations - although the places mentioned in the book feature prominently. Rather, The Hatch Is On! is about the one thing that - more than any other - makes fly fishing distinct and different from other forms of angling. The Hatch Is On! is about annual rites of nature that draw fish and fishermen alike: green drakes and salmonflies, golden stones and hendricksons, olives and sulphurs. The Hatch Is On! is all about the hatch. As it happens, one of the hatches detailed in Santella's book is one that I know well. 

Tricos usually begin to appear on the Battenkill (to say Battenkill River is redundant as kill means river) in mid July. By the time the morning spinner falls reach their peak, the fish have keyed in on the diminutive bugs, and the fishing can be simultaneously very rewarding and excruciatingly frustrating. There's something about watching an eight inch wild brook trout follow a fly for 10 or 12 feet before refusing the offering that can get into a bug chucker's blood. I'd be lying if I said I have the hatch figured; to the contrary, the hatch mystifies me as much now as it did when I first chased the bugs from riffle to riffle. I am fortunate, however, to know someone who does have his finger on the pulse of the Battenkill trico. As it happens, this man is a close friend, and I wasn't the least bit surprised when I was told that Santella had approached him about penning a chapter for the book.     

Shawn Brillon is a curmudgeon. It is ironic that for most of his adult life he has worked in industries that require him to associate with people because as a rule - Shawn is not a people person. I've known the man for nearly two decades, and some days I'm convinced he only tolerates me because I'll drive to the river and I've exceedingly good taste in beer. What Shawn lacks in people skills, however, he more than makes up for with an uncanny ability to commune with all things piscatorial. Every aspect of my game - tying, casting, reading water - has improved directly as a result of my having known Shawn. He is exceedingly talented, and when one finally surmounts the brusque exterior, he can be among the best of friends and teachers. More to the point, Shawn is a bona fide trico-whisperer.

Anything else I might write at this point would likely seem disingenuous. What I'd like to do instead of continuing to sing my friend's praises, is to leave you with a small excerpt from Shawn's contribution to The Hatch Is On! - including the recipe for one of his favorite trico patterns (both reproduced here with permission from Chris Santella). Again, Santella's latest offering will be available from and other retailers come April 2nd, but the book is available for pre-order even now. You'll find the details here ...

Shawn's "Get-It-Dun" Trico as appearing in The Hatch Is On! (photo: Shawn Brillon)
Hook: Orvis Big Eye dry fly, 22 to 24
Thread: Black 8/0
Tail: Cream hackle fibers or Cream Mayfly tails (aka Micro Fibetts)
Abdomen: (Male) stripped peacock eye or Black 8/0 thread ribbed with white 8/0 thread (Female)  bleached stripped peacock eye - use as is or tint quill with olive green marking pen, or 8/0 White thread.
Thorax: Black Dry fly dubbing sparsely dressed.
Wing: CDC wing post white, or white turkey flat.
Hackle: Grizzly dry fly tied sparsely. 

"The wild browns of the Battenkill are the kind of selective trout that can make a difficult hatch even more maddening to negotiate.  The river is slow moving, the upper half (where the best Trico emergences occur) has a silt bottom, making wading ill-advised; and the fish hug the banks.  Nor is there much structure.  “A spot where a tree branch hits the water passes for a riffle,” Shawn added.  “It might be the only break in the water for 200 yards.  Even the native brookies are skittish.  The Battenkill is the only river I have ever fished where brook trout will turn your fly patterns down after following them for 20 feet and not come back to take a second look.  You have to make a downstream presentation on the Battenkill, and you have to control your expectations; a good day is three or four fish.  The fish are tough, and you should feel happy if you find a few.

“In the early days, I ran through the gamut of questions as to why I couldn’t consistently hook up during prolific Trico hatches.  I examined my presentation techniques; they seemed correct.  I looked at my fly selection—it seemed spot on.  So I began a closer evaluation of the flies themselves.  I returned to the river and started collecting naturals and comparing them to all the commercial patterns I’d used.  I figured it was time to take what I had observed in the field and apply it to some of the patterns I had had some success with. I concluded they were over dressed, the tails too short, the bodies too fat and bulky, the wings too large.  Also, there was little consideration of the color difference between the males and females.  Not all tricos are jet black in color; the males (which hatch before dawn or late the night before) are black, but what came off the water in the early morning were olive to cream in color and a little larger than the males.  To complicate matters even more, the spinners were a mix of smaller black-bodied bugs and larger white-bodied bugs ...

... This particular day I sat down and watched this angler have his way with several of the nice fish that I had seen sipping spinners over the past several weeks.  Being a guy who goes to the river to relax and get away from the reality of life, I always respect the silence and don’t tend to talk to anyone who’s fishing.  But this time I just had to figure out what this angler was doing or what fly he was using that granted him such great success.   I purposely hung out until the angler started to walk in my direction. We introduced our selves, and he said he knew who I was, ‘The Orvis guy who worked in the retail store.’  To this day I cannot recall his name, though when I mentioned him to other Battenkill regulars, they called him ‘The Heron.’  As we chatted, I learned that we had lots in common:  We both fished bamboo rods, had CFO reels and knew the river in and out.  The difference was that on this day, he was catching fish.  Eventually, I just had to ask, ‘What are you using to hook so many nice fish?’  I about passed out when he passed his rod to me so I could examine a size 10, heavily chewed-up Royal Coachman dry. That’s right, a huge Royal Coachman.  As I laughed, he explained that he gave up trying to figure out the Trico hatch 20 years before and went back to the confidence fly of his youth."

- italicized text excerpted from The Hatch is On!, Chris Santella (2013)

1 comment:

Robin Hill said...

Can't wait to see any serious bugs floating down the river. Last year was early, don't think this year will be. We'll have to get out and hit again this spring.